A Response to the “One Question” with Derek Guthrie – Oct. 11, 2011 and the Upcoming Seminar at the SAIC for the Publication of “The Essential New Art Examiner” by Diane Thodos

As a former writer for the New Art Examiner I was excited to read Derek Guthrie’s Oct. 11 interview. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is planning a seminar around the recent publication of The Essential New Art Examiner, and Derek’s unwavering challenge to the set the historical record about the NAE straight is long overdue.

To fill in a bit on recent history – when the NEA came to its sorry demise in 2002 it had not only been financially mishandled but dispossessed of it’s true critical verve and diversity of purpose. Under the editorship Kathryn Hixson it had fallen on both monetary mismanagement and a program of ideological relativism in its choice of what to review and how to write about it. It no longer represented a plurality of critical voices and art exhibits but sought to imitate standard postmodern strategies and jargon – the pabulum that other fat rich commercial art glossies had been publishing for decades. Kathryn and the board had broken both the NAE’s finances and spirit, jettisoning what had made the it the most unique forum for art world debate on a national scale. It nurtured the fledgling voices of beginning art writers who would never have had a chance to publish otherwise. Even back in 1989 when I worked for an art library in New York the NAE was always the art first periodical picked off the shelf and always the first to get ear worn with use, more so than Art in America and Artforum. Everybody knew the NAE was an important alternative, even in the powerful art center of New York City.

This is why I cannot overstress the importance of having meaningful discussion on the NAE’s actual history regarding its founders Derek Guthrie and the late Jane Addams Allen for the upcoming SAIC seminar. First it is a real shame, exposing a kind of censorship in fact, that SAIC did not invite to sponsor the attendance of the remaining original founder Derek Guthrie to come and speak. Second it is imperative that the late Jane Addams Allen be memorialized at this event for her tremendous effort and foresight in establishing the NAE as such an outstanding exception among art periodicals. The NAE was Jane’s continuation of the progressive humanist tradition begun by her great Aunt Jane Addams by establishing it as a periodical for diverse opinions and voices against the power of censorship. Its original masthead read “The Independent Voice of the Visual Arts.” It did not escape my notice that this was later changed to the innocuously banal “Voice of the Midwest” under Kathryn Hixson’s unfortunate editorship.

I cannot agree more with Guthrie when he states that we live in a culture where independent spirit, meaningful discussion, and genuine intellectual debate have been trumped by tribal politics and institutional control. Such powers often disguise themselves in a cloak of seeming diversity, when they are quite the opposite – the wolf of censorship hiding in the sheepskin of tolerance and pluralism.

In 1973 when NAE was founded it was a time of social and political upheaval which we are experiencing again, right now, all over the world. Movements of protest are rejecting social, political, and economic standards that have turned out to be a lies. Masses of people are railing against manipulative propagandas disseminated by power élites. The NAE was born in such circumstances and the time has come again to seriously question who gets to have control. In this upcoming seminar will the SAIC prove to be a handmaiden to political intrigues and ideological revisionism as a way of “honoring” the uncensored and intellectual diversity and of The Essential New Art Examiner? Don’t forget it was the NAE who had a big hand in putting Chicago on the national, even international, art map in the first place. By not sponsoring Derek Guthrie to speak will its students and attendees be subject to censorship – fed a limited menu of issues for debate, controlling what can and cannot be discussed? Will the seminar point to the weakness of this fear – that those who have power cannot allow the presence of challenge or meaningful dialectical discussion? Or will they take up the gauntlet and invite him to inject some critical vitality into our over sanitized art discourse? We shall see…..

Diane Thodos is an artist and art critic who lives in Evanston, IL. She is a 2002 recipiant of a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant and recently exhibited at the Kouros Gallery in New York City in 2010. She is represented by the Alex Rivault Gallery in Paris, the Traeger/Pinto Gallery in Mexico City, and the Thomas Masters Gallery in Chicago.