Art journalism is one of the most important, yet commonly overlooked genres of writing today. In this field, writers are both observers and critics. They’re the eyes and ears of art enthusiasts, critics, and curators alike. Art journalism is a challenging area of specialization because it requires a unique approach to writing, which considers the very different ways art is perceived in different contexts.
The artworld is rich in complexity and diversity. While several art enthusiasts believe that artists make work that only their contemporaries can appreciate, this isn’t always the case. A great art journalist should be able to look beyond the work itself and identify what is important about it and why. And that’s the art journalist’s job to present this information compellingly to the public.
This guide serves as a directory of some of the top names in art journalism. It is a useful starting point if you are interested in becoming a journalist.
Top Eight Picks Worth Studying
To better understand art journalism, it’s essential to know the contributing writers to this field. Here are some of them:
Tyler Green — Photo Credit: Our Choices
Let’s kick off the list by mentioning this prominent figure. Tyler Green is considered one of the most important art critics of the 21st century. Through his work as a historian and author, he has brought the arts to light in various publications, especially when it comes to the impact of artists on national histories. Most notably, he is the producer and host of popular arts audio program: The Modern Arts Note Podcast. In his books, including Carleton Watkins: Making the West American, he takes a critical view of writing and art analysis.
Jerry Saltz, the art critic for the Village Voice, has written extensively on contemporary art and criticism since the 90s. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including New York Magazine, where he joined in April 2007, and Vanity Fair. Saltz has also published several books, including Seeing out Louder, Beyond Boundaries, and How to Be an Artist. His co-authored book De Kooning: An American Master has earned him the Pulitzer Prize. One thing’s certain, Saltz’s harsh criticisms are interesting to read and he is not afraid to call out the “pretentiousness” that plagues certain elite circles.
Christopher Knight — Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times
American art critic and writer Christopher Knight is recognized for his Pulitzer award-winning works, ranging from his critic note on LACMA’s precarious restructuring proposal to a Betye Saar’s artwork review. The L.A. Times’ art critic, Rabkin Foundation award winner, and three-time nominated finalist has made several appearances on such media outlets as CNN, PBS, and CBS. While covering global art, the Hartwick College alumnus centres on the California scene.
Award-winning investigative journalist and one-time, long-serving ARTnews editor has covered art for over two decades. Some of her previous works have appeared in publications as varied as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and The Village Voice. The Yale graduate has earned a reputation as a social media consultant and mentor for digital content creators. Among her initiatives is Art Writing for Art Professionals.
Jason Farago — Photo Credit: Apollo Magazine
Art historian, editor, and Critic, Jason Farago, has carved a niche for himself in the art world. A regular contributor to The Guardian and other publications, the Even co-founder covers art and culture within and beyond the U.S. His sharp wit and insightful perspective have earned him wide acclaim from art enthusiasts. The New York-born art journalist has won the inaugural Rabkin Prize award, a prestigious annual international prize recognizing excellent art writing. He currently writes for the New York Times.
James Elkins — Photo Credit: Instituto de Historia de Arte
Art historian and critic James Elkins has been active for more than two decades. Known for being a theorist and practitioner of modern and contemporary art, the Ithaca-raised author also specializes in structural criticism. Elkins has published extensively on issues of art criticism, often incorporating the insights of philosophers, art historians, and literary critics into his books. He lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His works include Pictures & Tears, Why Art Cannot Be Taught, and What Painting Is.
British art critic Adrian Searle’s career in art journalism spans over two decades. A one-time painter for the Nigel Greenwood Gallery, the art journalist took a different path when he became a contributor for Artscribe magazine. He has had works featured in Time Out, The Independent, and the Financial Times. Adrian refers to his transition from painting to art journalism as somewhat conflicting as he enjoys both disciplines. His curatorial projects include Glad That Things Don’t Talk and Promises Promises. Adrian has been a part of The Guardian’s establishment for 26 years, currently serving as its chief art critic.
Roberta Smith — Photo Credit: Artforum
A contemporary art critic for the New York Times, Roberta has written on art and culture for 40 years. Her essays on contemporary and visual art have been featured in various publications, including one from the National Gallery of Canada. The three-time award winner and wife to Jerry Saltz approaches her job with a fine-tooth comb, using her journalistic skills to uncover and highlight compelling works of art, from museum exhibitions to gallery shows.
The individuals represented here are just a few of the most successful art critics out there. Considering how challenging this discipline can be, their achievements are all the same remarkable.
Elements of Art Journalism
It is challenging to conceptualize art journalism, as it is a field that combines elements of art criticism and art history. However, at its core, it is a journalistic discipline that reports the creation, practice, and history of art. Below are some important elements of art journalism:
This is the most crucial step for any journalist, especially those in art journalism. You can’t write anything that you haven’t researched. It is important to study works of art that interest you, even though you might not understand them initially. Doing so will help you to identify what is good about them and what may need improvement.
Art critics are encouraged to interpret art. This means that they can present the artist’s work in a certain way to highlight their strengths and weaknesses. But it doesn’t mean that they have to interpret art in a negative light. A critic should always maintain objectivity. Research and analysis should be conducted to highlight a work’s merits and challenges. In that sense, art critics are artists too. That’s what makes them different from the average writer.
To fully understand art, it’s necessary to see it in the context of its history. It is also important to appreciate art within its cultural, economic and political environments. Without context, a work of art is meaningless. While it may seem easy to draw connections between artworks, their interpretations vary in many ways. You have to understand what motivates an artist to create a particular piece of work. That way, you can bring an average reader to appreciate it.
Becoming a great art journalist requires more than excellent writing and presentation skills. It demands a deep-rooted understanding and application of art history, techniques, and forms. Consider majoring in art history to ingrain yourself in the historical and cultural significance of art. You should also have a deep interest in various artists and their works. Develop additional skills, like reporting and researching, via journalism courses. This will prepare you for a career as a skilled art journalist.
About the Author: A professional academic writer and researcher, Laura C. Fields is the founder of BetterWritingServices, a platform that provides review services for students at all levels. Her passion for closing learning gaps has helped improve countless academic papers. She is the go-to expert on all things related to essay writing.