Rumbling afoot regarding the “genetic lines” of visual arts reporting. Jonathan Jones writes in The Guardian:

And yet there seems to be a set of hackneyed priorities, in the coverage of visual art as a new story, that come into play automatically and always turn a certain class of non-event into an event, for news purposes. I’ve read this same story so many times it’s depressing. I’ve even written it a few times. I think maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the conventions by which newspapers and online news outlets cover visual art stories. …

  1. The most expensive art work ever
  2. Anything about graffiti
  3. Lost masterpiece rediscovered
  4. Contemporary artists are plagiarists
  5. Art historian/archaeologist makes earth-shattering discovery
  6. Restoration stories

Bad reporting along these generic lines distorts understanding and can destroy our pleasure in great art. The worst recent example of this is the global media attention paid to a study of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Adoration of the Magi by the “diagnostician” Maurizio Seracini , who was invited to apply a range of technologies to look beneath the visible surface of this great work in the Uffizi Gallery. Seracini was able to photograph underdrawings that add to the number of figures and images in what is already a picture that teems with possibility. … Seracini went on to make totally unfounded, badly argued claims that in effect this is not a Leonardo at all…. I’ve spent two hours in front of a computer with Seracini hearing his argument – and it is based on a profound lack of insight into Leonardo da Vinci’s art. There is no reason to think it was anyone other than Leonardo who brought the painting to its current unfinished state. It is a unique document of his genius, the key that connects his paintings with his scientific notebooks. But look it up on the internet. You’ll find lots of websites that confidently say it’s not a Leonardo.

This is a tough nut to crack, but it exemplifies a larger problem that is not only true in arts reporting. It’s true, for instance, in reporting on the war in Iraq. Reporters stay in their hotels in Baghdad, content to see the whole country through their immobile lenses. The country, if it is a country at all, however, has many different viewpoints and wildly varying regions. But what we see are stories about: ethnic divisions, sectarian violence, suicide bombings, and troop deaths. We don’t see stories that explore the other side of it. Utilities we have built. Hearts and minds won. The history of General Petraeus (do you think if he was anti-war, he might get a biography on CBS News?). This is true with almost everything, because sometimes people don’t want to go beyond the surface. But as I’ve been thinking about it, there seems to be one that stands out from the pack: sports!

Sports coverage often runs the full range of positive and negative stories, covering any and all manner of statistics or human interest stories. Is it because people feel like they have a more vested interest in it? No doubt they are more interested in it, but one wonders about what it would all mean if true.

If we want better reporting on visual arts, we need to engage people. Not by silly public spending projects, but by taking people to places they have never been before and teaching them where they can go if they try.

(h/t moreover)

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