The Birth of an Art Review
by Ron Scott Teachworth · February 03, 2019
Norman Rockwell, Art Critic, 1955
Norman Rockwell, Art Critic, 1955

The Detroit Art Review was born out of the financial difficulties in and around the city of Detroit. Everyone remembers the grand bargain of 2014, which ended the city’s flirtation with selling some its art collection to help with its Chapter 9 bankruptcy condition. Several major foundations stepped in and bailed out the city, resulting in contract language that separated the Detroit Institute of Arts from the city as a condition of the bailout deal. By then the newspapers had all but abandoned covering the arts in favor of focusing on politics, violence, and sports. That was 2014, and as it came to a close, a rebirth was afoot. It was that same year, I was contacted by the Cleveland Institute of Art to cover Detroit in a regional arts blog that set its focus on art exhibitions in the Midwest: Pittsburgh, Toledo, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. It was called Art Hopper.

I had just retired from writing, producing, and directing educational TV, and also had a visual art practice with over 60 exhibitions of my work behind me, one in New York City. I took the daily writing experience from working in television and turned to fiction, wrote a children’s book, a collection of short stories and a novel set in the art history genre. I took on Art Hopper assignments, and after about 30 reviews, I began to consider starting my own online arts publication in Detroit. All I had to do was teach myself how to make a WordPress blog and publish an online art review site that covered the venues of the Detroit Metro area, which spans three counties.

I had seen many online art blogs, and what caught my attention was the idea of a button logo on some websites that linked to museum exhibition pages. It was December 2014 when I approached the Detroit Institute of Arts with this marketing idea. The museum was immediately on board. After that, many others were interested in promoting exhibitions on the site. I worked hard at finding the best writers in the Detroit area who had been writing freelance art reviews for many years wherever they could get placed. I called this new publication the Detroit Art Review. I started out as the sole contributor, but with each additional sponsor or two or three, I was able to add a writer. At the end of year one, we were seeing about 300 page views a month. Today we average around 12,000 a month.

While in graduate school where I majored in painting, and for many years after, I had made it my business to read Art in America, Artforum, and Art News. Every visual artist I knew, in one way or another, could not make heads or tails from content that required an unabridged dictionary to decipher words that seemed like they were written for hauteur art elites. The first thing I did was establish a philosophy: Speak plainly for an educated audience of laypeople. When people asked me, “What is the Detroit Art Review?” I told them it was similar to what people would look for when they were considering going to see a movie, except this would be for a trip to the museum.

I now have six writers and seventeen sponsors. Each writer contributes one review a month, which means we are publishing a new review each week. I encourage contributors to write something when they travel, as I have done when visiting the Venice Biennale. This past November, Jonathan Rinck wrote about the Charles White retrospective at MoMA as it made sense to introduce our readers to his work.

I consider this a model that will work for any medium in any large city in the country. We have no building or office. About 90% of the revenue stream goes to pay the writers and our sponsorships are unusually low, about $600 per year. Ten percent goes to technical support. I tell the writers we are performing a public service to the Detroit art community.

I ask my writers to read the Friday New York Times and pay attention to the writing of Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter, Ken Johnson and Jason Farago as influences, while pointing them to Jerry Saltz, Martha Schwendener, Peter Schjeldahl, and Andrianna Campbell. In my view, they are all writing for a broader readership by writing about art in an accessible way.

My membership with AICA-USA has been helpful, especially for people here who place value in and seek validation from respected associations. I have attended some AICA-USA meetings in New York City, and enjoy the frequent retweets, and now, a better website.

To the question, what is art criticism? I like A.O. Scott’s explanation, “that we are, in fact, all critics, because criticism informs almost every aspect of creation, social interaction, and private feeling.” It seems that what has worked here in Detroit could easily happen in dozens of cities across the country.

Ron Scott Teachworth, Photo by Jeff Cancelosi
Ron Scott Teachworth, Photo by Jeff Cancelosi

Ron Scott Teachworth works in visual art, film, and television. He wrote and directed an independent feature film for Vestron Pictures, Going Back, starring Bruce Campbell. He has written a children's book, Two Stones, a collection of short stories, Beyond, and a new novel, The Annunciation for Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. He has maintained a visual art practice for 35 years with 60 exhibitions, one in New York City at Union Square Gallery. He has taught at the high school and college levels and currently writes art criticism for the Detroit Art Review under the name Ron Scott.

AICA supports art writers around the world through public programs and membership that includes free access to museums across the globe. Since its formation in 1950, AICA has been committed to elevating the values of art criticism as a discipline, and acting on behalf of the physical and moral defense of works of art.
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AICA supports arts writers around the world through public programs and membership that offers free access to museums across the globe. AICA-USA represents the largest national section of AICA International with over 450 distinguished critics, curators, scholars, and art historians working throughout the United States. As part of the international organization, we benefit from a global reach in presence. AICA-USA is intent on international communication, elevating the values of art criticism as a discipline, and acting on behalf of the physical and moral defense of works of art.

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