In January 2015 Derek Guthrie arrived back in Cornwall after a gruelling experience in Chicago when the New Art Examiner for the third time in its history experience a coup attempt which, mercifully, failed.
Let me tell you a little about the New Art Examiner. The most widely read journal of art criticism outside of New York still used as essential reading for students across America wishing to understand art criticism and art history. Why? Because of the perfectly poised prose of Jane Addams Allen and the guiding intellect of Derek Guthrie, one of the unsung heroes of modern art history and a role model for dyslexics and any high functioning autistic, who have to strive five times harder than others to succeed.
Their joint minds worked the wonder that is the New Art Examiner which without rich backers gained the respect of thousands, a paying readership of 12,000 a month, an international audience and a place in art history.
What is that place? It is the place that was offered to DePaul University. A place that some of their staff wanted very much. To introduce students in how to write about their visual experiences whether it be in galleries, in the street, in the cinema, in the landscape … the visual experience is ubiquitous and even when we close our eyes our brains till continues to try to make sense of what we have seen. So important is the visual experience that nations dwell upon it and wrap such experiences into their defining myths. From flags to towers, castles to ships, monuments to parades the visual experience is our politics. To have given birth in Chicago to such a phenomenon as the New Art Examiner and have Derek Guthrie as a resource for students to mine Modernism and Post Modernism and understand the American and European avant garde is, one would think, a brilliant addition to any University.
For eighteen months of talking and negotiating, we all thought so too. Even the sticking point of not having a DePaul co-publisher was finally agreed. Not because we didn’t want DePaul involved a every level, we did. But because the strength of the New Art Examiner is its independence of thought and we could not allow anyone to countermand what the publisher had decided should be published in any issue. We also have to protect our writers and those who contribute and we can only do that by making the onus for all that is published fall upon the shoulders of the publisher. In 40 years of publishing the New Art Examiner has never been used.
We were to have an office inside DePaul, already allocated, we were to start this year to bring students in to help them learn not only about writing and editing but about how to run a magazine. 250 copies of Volume 31 no 1 were to be distributed across Chicago, printed by DePaul. Everything that went into the magazine from content to cartoons would be discussed with staff and students, ideas would come from us and DePaul. Nothing was off the table for discussion, nothing was closed to oversight but the one things, the final decision of what went into an issue, became the one thing DePaul’s Dean Dr.Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco would not countenance. In the July meeting the new Dean pulled DeDaul out of final discussions and closed down the partnership.
This wasn’t a decision. This was and is a crime against teaching and intellectual rigour. So absolute was the final ‘no’ that the staff who were supportive won’t even prefer the New Art Examiner to arrange students exchanges between the US.
Let me tell you about the UK, In our first, two hour meeting with the only art college left in the UK not working within a University, Plymouth College of Art, we signed a partisanship agreement in principle. 2 hours. Not eighteen months as with DePaul. In the first issue after that meeting we have three reviews from students. We are working this year and the students are leading the discussion, with ideas from cartoons to articles, through to web designing.
The UK has many problems, is as artistically chained as the USA, but somehow academia has pockets of pure energy and a will to see things done. When we asked them if there was a problem with our being the final authority on what was and was not published they said to us that they would not expect it to be any other way.
They could see what this Dean at DePaul could not. That to have a co-publisher from DePaul would make people think we were censored. And of course the Dean’s pulling out of the partnership proves that is exactly what he wanted to ensure. Any by ensuring it he would have killed the New Art Examiner dead. We have made a huge contribution to the cultural history of Chicago by working from the street upward, using community to investigate and challenge. Take that away and you have nothing more than Art in America. Nothing more than the UK’s Art Monthly – which was started because the first editors read the New Art Examiner.
There has been some criticism of Derek Guthrie, for his handling of the meeting with the Dean which resulted in the end of discussions but it is unmerited. Anyone who wanted clarification would have sought it. An academic worth his salt would have ensured he fully understood everything before the meeting n ended. And Derek Guthrie could have easily given that clarification if it had been sought. For whatever reason, and I was only involved in discussions over Skype and by email for eighteen months here in the UK, this Dean did not want the New Art Examiner working with his students.
I wrote this on the news:
@I read with a deep sense of horror the deconstruction of over a year’s worth of talks and discussions into the mealy mouthed withdrawal of support which was your email to Derek Guthrie.
There was never any suggestion of a lack of participation at the highest levels and all others. The line that could not be crossed was the simple one – if you became co-publishers you could censor and that would destroy the independence of the NAE. The very thing you say your prize. But with the financial might you wield comes power and your vanity is too strong for you to see what you have done, so let me tell you.
Countries are born by the strong and the brave. By men and women who come together to do something that rings down the generations, but what people fail to understand is that every generation must recreate their countries again. Must be as brave. As courageous. As self sacrificing. The generation that sits on the laurels of the previous generation is the one
that brings about decline.
America is in crisis and independence of thought is the only thing that can save it. Strong, courageous artists whom you are not worthy to teach. Men and women whose suffering defines a people. DePaul was going to be at forefront of the fight back, to go head-to-head with the corrupted art system and fight for its beliefs, its people, its country. You have not
walked away from the New Art Examiner, you have walked away from your dedication as a thinker, your value as a university and your place in the history of your country.
I am ashamed for you, for you will never feel shame yourself. You feel you made it, you have power and position. You cannot see the quicksand upon which you stand. Only artists can but there are actually only a few of those, there are millions like you in the Western world and I do not think, in as far as you have lied in your email about the level of participation we offered to the faculty and students of DePaul, there is one drop of worthiness in you.
In anger, disbelief and finally sorrow for our dying culture”
Chicago gave birth to the New Art Examiner but it doesn’t know how to get on with the adult. It’s way of doing business is to control. Art, when it is controlled, is debased. We stand by men and women who have been murdered for their art, held is suspicion by every government on earth, persecuted, tortured and ignored. There is real bloodshed in the history of art, real pain, real suffering. And yet artists transcend their graves, civilise succeeding generations, and make humanity better for their pain.
Anyone who works for the New Art Examiner will learn to share that pain, and learn why they must. Art is not for the feint hearted. We have no tenure. No security. All we ever have is our talent, our health, our spirit and our minds.
Daniel Nanavati, UK Editor
Volume 31 number 1, September / October 2016 pp 7-8