In our recent whirlwind of name change adventure, the New Art Examiner un-earthed its history, reclaimed its soul and sprang forward. This was the tough medicine that was called for – almost as if it was ruefully preordained. We brushed up on our mission statement, indeed brushed it off, for all to see. The New Art Examiner then sprang from the flames, leaving our formally named, recently titled, however briefly, The New Art Gazette — to ashes and dust. May it rest in peace.
What is in a name? We found out, as our mind’s body of writers and publishers would not let us forget, despite a post-modern urge to do so. And therein lies a major lesson I will share with you, dear reader. There is a lot of power in a name, be it of identity, purpose or meaning. And history plays an unforgettable role in our determination to maintain its naming in the future.
In terms of my own history with the Examiner, it is worth noting I have known the publisher Derek Guthrie and his now deceased wife, Jane Addams Allen, with whom he co-founded the New Art Examiner, since the early 80’s of the previous century. They were both dynamic and intellectual, brave and creative in ways I am just beginning to appreciate.
I was always concerned with and about art, having been to art schools and practiced art since my early childhood. I grew up with the old masters of the National Gallery of Art and other collections here in Washington DC. I have met many artists on many levels. I am a student of art history and art criticism, but it was not till my current state of aesthetic maturation that I have truly gained my whole respect and dedication to the New Art Examiner. This has been a significant insight into my life, this current awareness and practice. This may be indicative of personal evolution; it probably is. Fine. One does not age for nothing. At least that is my take on it…. for the time being.  But the travails of the NAE have not been for nothing either. It has prevailed. And as I have asked deeper and more pervasive, sensitive questions of art, my intertwining with the Examiner has been more pronounced and important to me, I need art and criticism in my life, like never before. I believe, we all do. And I really do not care who you are or may be, wherever you may be in time or history – you need the curiosity, creativity, adventure and intellectual investigations embodied in art.
The New Art Examiner has had a circuitous history. Born in Chicago, originally an eight-page tabloid, it grew to a magazine that covered the whole of the US and now is an international publication in scope, both in print and on-line. It went through various episodes of fits and starts; different helms were at hand on the rocky road of time… but now it has been restored to Derek and his team both in the United States and in Europe. And for this we take pause. For it’s time to take stock of this beast and see what it is and has to offer.
It so happens the NAE is not always popular with its readers or artists or other art institutions or art types. The NAE has the courage to take a stand, criticize, offer a voice and report what it decides to do without “fear or favor”, without commercial permission, without political correctness or what may indeed be the fashion or consensus of the day.  Concerning this task, in what we have increasingly found to be a corrupt art scene or market, school, museum, gallery or studio or publication… we gauge our courage. We are not always right. We are not always totally informed or knowledgeable, but we will take a stab at trying to tell the truth, as cynical as our society may be or our readers may find themselves. We make it a true value to come to grips with our society and it’s art in the conscious act of confronting the context of art and hopefully, art itself. We endeavor to check our cowardice at the door, as what we say often involves a soul searching, so we often find ourselves frozen or in a gut check in the writing/thinking process.. but we try to push through. So it just so happens we are often in serious disagreement with prevailing attitudes of the time. So what? We advance free speech and democratic thought … our task. As Orwell said, “in a climate of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.. as deluded we may be, we will aim high for ourselves and our readers.  It is much more interesting that way. We do not want to bore you. Or ourselves.
We also hold that art may be a language/culture/sensibility, or so it may seem. Our history of a culture rather rides on that idiom of art messages, whether it tries to hold up or not. Art often diminishes in time, sometimes not, we often will never know what survives or what predictions will unfold. It is a mercurial, our living history. We take a look at things or art and look into them and tell you about our look. The act of looking and thinking can be a very creative process in and of itself, so we share our enjoyment, our pleasure of what we see. And how we see it. How we see it is often more important than what we see or what we have seen. This is a very living struggle; we try to bring to bear.
Our viewing need not utilize complementary jargon to wade into our subjects, or a specialized language to appreciate or criticize what we think or discover… or write.  We will try to be clear, aware of words and the problems with words. We try to work it out, to delve into, to assess. It is perhaps to see the NAE as a breathing organism that is unpredictable, not to be cowed or coerced,  or rethought or pre-thought or bought, bought off. Or shook off or denied.
We do have a certain respect and faith in artists — for what is art without artists? It should come as no surprise they are often given rather shoddy treatment — at any time in history, hence their lowbrow/hero status in society. This is a pressure that we recognize as vital or condemning. The mere stating you are indeed an artist is a courageous act — for it invites the “come what may”, most often defeat. We are sensitive to this condition and at the same time we do not shy away from our critical task of being/living critical — and that is often nerve wracking. For we acknowledge the value of the artist to his or her community as a reifying force. And that force is tragically often not recognized, noticed or just given an easy pass, a pass it did not earn or create… the vast problem of our culture today. Criticism not brought to bear. Art often languishes in a celebrated limbo or diminishes in false popularity, one way or another. We have something to say about that.
So we find ourselves having survived the temptation, of a post–modernist tug, to rename ourselves, to fit into some faction to gain a new traction and survive in a post mod terrain. We were about to deny our authenticity and history that would have been a tragic and vital mistake. For we, not unlike Luperitz said, “we sit at the table of all great artists”. Is it not amazing that we actually take that seriously? As our readers and colleagues, we invite feedback and support and adventure to all. And who can say what will happen. The next step.

Al Jirikowic

2 thoughts on “Phoenix? What Phoenix?

  1. Hi Al,
    I’ve been reading the New Art Examiner online now for over 2 years and must say I have seen enormous changes going on, also in the quality of the writing. I only wish that new articles would be published more often. However, looking at the numbers of visitors in the counter and also on the map at all the places people are reading from, makes me hopeful that your magazine will survive the crisis of journalism in digital media. My best wishes from Manchester, Oliver Kelly

    1. Thank you Oliver… we really need to know our hearts now more than ever and say what we say …. not what we should say. The Examiner is a constant reckoning to some sense of what we may mean, what emerges, what is worth struggling for in our lives. We will not be perfect… so what?… and I am not going to say the humdrum of the journey is the point as opposed to the destination…. at this point it is the cost/means of the process of seeing, telling, listening and then figuring out what is there and it’s story that matters. We die without criticism… to know that is to ride that stallion, that beast, that calling…. we can all do it. And what holds us back? Everyone has answers and solutions…. let us know.

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