PRINT February 1980


A good product has the ability to set forth true and false propositions. If someone comes on with only what’s true, it’s very boring, because nobody has that much truth in them.
—Iggy Pop

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE MASS of publishing experimentation makes “freedom of the press” a totally archaic slogan. The press is free as long as you can afford the rental of its accessible hardware. We are back to the same situation that existed before: if everyone makes their own press, it becomes no more culturally authoritative than one’s family photo album or a tourist slide-show. But the notion of The Press still matters and it should never be free from professional standards of production and dissemination.

The ideas which are produced in small, localized presses are different from those which are produced in offices from nine to five. These “alternative” periodicals tend to have as common characteristics a concept of the publication as an overall whole. They make their statements consistent within the boundaries of their self-imposed styles. They establish the magazine as a “piece” as quickly as possible and they tend to maintain this “pieceness” throughout. Often cover and choice of stock is more pivotal than the contributors or their credentials. Design and sequentiality create a make-believe world of the magazine’s own rules and logic. Interest in movement and pace tends to override thinking and analysis (at least in the rigid academic sense). Their most lulling feature is possibly their quality of freshness and character, the charisma of just having made something, a piquant kind of aggression and charm, and the sense of having been made from energy. These publications are not about business. Their idea is not one of containment, but one of movement. Movement from one container to the next. The Futurists painted this movement into a static image. The Cubists moved around the subject to have several angles. In Action Painting the brush moved. In Post-Modernist art the audience moved. With Periodical art the idea is to move the product in large numbers.

Five years ago I wrote in an editorial polemic in Art-Rite magazine:

I’ve got the media coming out of my typewriter. It is a very special media. It is small and free and designed to look insignificant, to avoid the sixties ego-tripping. Power trips are eliminated automatically by the nature of the givens: our not knowing enough, being little and cheap looking, poor, unreliable, vocational (rather than professional) and being motivated by belief—which is really quite different than by power, mutually exclusive really. And it is for the artist. . . . But since they are so busy promoting themselves I feel guilty giving them publicity. . . . Honestly what can a magazine do in such a screwed-up situation? Nothing, of course. Except one thing. Not give a damn about artists and their careers being potentially helped by the magazine, but concentrate on the magazine itself and make it good in its own category. A good magazine. O.K.

I find this very instructive about a reaction against what I saw as the monolithic art infrastructure and about my means to circumvent it. But now we are in an opposite situation. The power of art’s statements and contributions to culture has to be sent beyond the art world’s boundaries. If we don’t avail ourselves of the larger context, if we say it’s too vulgar out there, not only will “culture” remain vulgar but it could create its own popular surrogate art image. If art does not come forward a fake replica will be manufactured. So we are cornered. If the profession which communicates and deals with visual ideas cannot produce the greatest magazines, I say forget about art and its potential contribution to culture at large. We must make a vehicle and we must make it work.

Commercial magazines traverse information and communication spaces with the gracefulness of everyday practicality. Art and artists can influence culture by professionally assimilating into it. Magazines are a communication enterprise through visuals and design and graphics and type and statements and thoughts and theories and opinions. At a time when the intellectual, moral and artistic aspects of conventional media are in such a contemptible state—borrowing their ideas from a sort of circulating library of thought—art magazines could and should lend an intensity to what otherwise will become a dejuiced vehicle—the press.

Art is packaged and produced in most of the trade journals much as the film industry fabricates its commodity, the star. It has to be cast and then typecast, its esthetic persona has to be developed, it has to always have qualities up to a “standard,” it practically has to “play” itself to be suitable, with someone constantly checking over and straightening out every brushstroke (eyelash or shade). Most trade journals come out on schedule with their well-directed art and their packaged glamour. They are rarely hot, rarely cold. They usually have no particular beauty other than the accepted norm; they rarely have charm, they rarely make mistakes. They are often what ideas turn out to be when they have traded meaning for existence, and ambition for commodity. The persona of art has been stifled by the exclusion of its primal, personal, occasionally messy, unruly, unqualifiable aspects. Sometimes art is presented on almost fictive levels.

I actually believe that art magazines really do like art and that commercial magazines are not necessarily trade journals. They can be storage places for printed culture. They can be both matter and reference material. The size and power of mass media is by now that of utter wilderness. It is dwarfing. Artists are making gestures in this wilderness, like log cabins. They are looking for a context which would be a vehicle for their work.

The presence of art directly in a magazine could be like a bass drum, a thumping insistence that could lock the whole enterprise onto a meaningful track. As Aretha Franklin sings about a woman, that she is not just a plaything, she is flesh and blood, and if you take her for granted her temptation will be strong—if magazines take art for granted, it will simply leave.

Art could be a spectacular reality through magazines. Art right there on the page could be a diamond-bright syncopation within the magazine. If art and magazines could knock against one another in a planar twist of the pages, and quicken (or slow) the pace as the two kinds of elements spill into one another, the dual aspects could finally settle in a way that neither is victim of the other. Subtract the art and the publication does not exist. Often if you subtract the publication the art would not have been made.

After a century of art sagas let’s stop arguing for a moment about internal concepts and operational methods. The willful blocking of art from an open cultural context is a form of atrophy which kills everything but itself. Magazines, as a matter of their basic function and nature, do a lot of things artists need to do with their art. In the current “state of art” magazines could lend an intensity to the dejuiced vehicle the press—in the heat of which the vernacular public could receive that ultimately magical phenomenon so long voided from them. Art makes one wiser than one knows, better than one feels, nobler than one is.

Edit deAk is an art critic.