Sarah Williams Co-founder of The Art Book Review asks “Why start an art magazine now?” As a webzine that features reviews of art books written by a community of artists and writers, The Art Book Review proves that great content doesn’t need to be in print in order to have a voice.
Just before we launched The Art Book Review, X-TRA Magazine asked us to participate in a conversation as part of a series of programs celebrating their 15 years of publication. The topic: “Why start an art magazine now?” My co-founder, Andrew Berardini and I sat alongside X-TRA’s founders and artist Travis Diehl who had just printed the first issue of his new project Prism of Reality. Optimism and idealism- in the best senses of those words– existed alongside questions of whether the publication is providing something unique, if there’s enough of an interested audience, and what a sustainable model for keeping it up might be. Aspirations of providing a platform for artists’ voices and seeing a need for critical discussion on art practices and ideas by and for the community rang throughout the talk.
In this age, in which we’re supposedly witnessing the death of print media, the concerns that hound even the most established publications trickle down exponentially to the newest of niche outlets. But it is also the younger, smaller, more specific who seem to be the most inventive in their goals and motivations and scrappy in their models for existing- whether it’s Installation Magazine built to take full advantage of the iPhone/iPad platform or Triple Canopy, who recently announced a fundraising campaign for their ambitious new model in an online essay. The climate is so difficult though, that even those starting up a fashion magazine, the only corner of the publishing world that still seems potentially profitable these days, get called crazy.
I came across a book on artists’ magazines the other day in which Benjamin Buchloh is quoted as saying, “I think you have to be very young, and very naïve, and very lunatic to do a magazine in the first place.” I don’t really consider myself any of these things, although, arguably they’re all relative qualities and hard ones to self-assess. My excuse? Maybe I’m a suckerˆ for a compliment about my organizational skills or maybe I don’t know how to say “no” to collaborating with a friend.
The Art Book Review was my Co-Founder, Andrew Berardini’s idea. Picking some music off my computer one night, he caught a glimpse of one of my rigid Excel sheet to-do lists and said, “I have this idea, but it needs someone like you to help make it happen.” Working in the art world, I’ve always been a bit self-conscious about my brain: it more easily thinks in rows and columns, budgets and to-do lists than the more creative and free-flowing modes of many of my peers.
Yes. Print media is dead. You’d have to be crazy to start a magazine. And maybe it’s true if you want to print something under the traditional format of subscriptions and ad-based revenue.
That’s what’s great about now though. I love print as much as the next person, probably more so, given that The Art Book Review is a project based around celebrating it, but it’s also shown that everything’s not necessarily best in print. Digital technology is helping connect people and ideas, information can be distributed faster and more democratically to a wider and more diverse audience online. As a result, there is a new model for magazine-style publications. There are reasons things should still be printed, there are things books and paper can do and pleasures they can bring that the tablet can’t. When the imprint of the type, the smell of the ink, the weight in your hands is more of a luxury than a necessity for that given body of writing, why not make it digital instead? On top of ease of access and wider reach, you can bypass constraining funding models: it’s cheap. Not that we’re turning our noses up at anyone who wants to send money our way, or that asking people to continually work for free or for trade is an ideal alternative, but for a startup, there is value in being able to try things out at a low cost and to being able to make and undo mistakes, to experiment.
In this freer format, there is a particular space for innovation. Expectedly, we have generated a dialogue around art books, and beyond that, art and books in general. Unexpectedly, it has become a way to engage with our community and in a larger conversation as well as an exciting way to regularly publish not only writers but artists’ work. Most personally, it has also changed the way I think about my own work, giving me the opportunity to think and write creatively in a way I hadn’t opened myself up to before, outside of keeping it all organized.
So, why start an art magazine now? Maybe because you stumbled into it, you see a hole to fill, a friend asks for help. Maybe you see an opportunity to foster space for your own creative growth, or a way to offer peers a chance to talk about a shared passion. Because you’re young enough to have the energy for it, naïve enough to think you have what it takes, and crazy enough to believe it just might work. Maybe now, that’s all you need.