It sadly begs the question, “who can AFFORD to be an art writer today?”. I’m not only referring to financial compensations, but the social cost of writing critically, especially within Asia.
All of us have expectations of how art criticism need to work and how shallow art journalism has gotten. This is a super long, Western-centric piece on the crisis in art reviewing, but there are a few universal factors we can note. It is one thing to criticise the quality of reviews we read and another to understand the structural reasons behind it.
“The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which conducts research in around 40 countries including the US, found that both traditional ‘legacy’ print brands and new digital entrants had been hit by ‘structural shifts that have already led to significant falls in advertising revenue’—chiefly new entrants cannibalizing audiences, followed by advertising moving from individual titles and platforms to the social media giants.....Combined with free-to-air, ad-supported publishing, this has led to ‘journalism [that is] hollowed out’ and a lack of ‘distinctive content’, encouraging ‘clickbait that has devalued journalism’.
Arts news editors may recognize these trends but the correlation with art criticism—except for critics working in mainstream newspapers—is far from exact...’Art magazines don’t tend to make money,..Art Review was always supported [subsidized] through the difficult times by an interested backer, a collector or a group.’
In 2005, Spiegler wrote that ‘even the swankiest art publications such as Artforum, Frieze and Art in America pay only $150 per review’—and in the 14 years since, rates at many arts publications and platforms have barely increased.
That question is only amplified by the education level that arts writers (like curators)‚ appear to be expected to attain. Almost all the writers surveyed had undergraduate (college) degrees, but more than two-thirds (almost 70%) also had postgraduate qualifications—including more than 30 with PhDs. It’s no surprise that all but the best-off find there are barriers to entry.
‘This raises serious questions about who has access to our field and who can afford to work for such wages. One of the critical questions facing the profession is how to support the work of cultural writers in a sustainable way,..’”