There is so much for which to be thankful, despite the harrowing year. At Civil Beat, we have never been more thankful for readers like you. As we head into the final stretch of 2020, we’re asking you to support our local, nonprofit newsroom.
Civil Beat has raised $25,000 towards our $200,000 goal!
Even the shopping and events brand Art + Flea has an arts blog.
Hawaii arts and culture magazine flourish in print and online but none do a very good job covering the depth of the scene.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
But although these publications devote some (or all) of their content to art, it still feels like Honolulu’s arts scene is getting the short shrift. While a lot of ink goes to arts coverage and promotion, very little (if any) goes to honest-to-god critical writing.
Somehow — with more than a dozen different outlets for art coverage but not a single one for in-depth arts reporting and reviews — Honolulu simultaneously has a glut and dearth of arts writing.
The C Word
While most of the aforementioned outlets are lifestyle publications, not arts magazines exclusively, their promotional tone and positive perspective have more to do with advertisers than they do with serving reader interests. Throw in a small-town atmosphere and Honolulu is left with nothing more than a bunch of people playing it safe and keeping their criticisms off the record.
It’s probably a wise move, professionally and socially, but it doesn’t do our artists any favors. Without a thoughtful conversation — digesting both the good and the bad — how are they supposed to grow and improve?
Surprisingly, the self-promoting HMA blog is the only publication that consistently posts the most in-depth arts coverage in town. It’s run by the museum’s communications director, Lesa Griffith, a writer and editor who handles her staff like a newsroom, but it exists to promote the museum’s programs so it’s obviously too safe.
Everything is too safe. Honolulu’s arts coverage is a deafening sea of pacifism, but art begs to be digested. It exists to shake us out of our monotony and force us to respond to it.
If the art world had Yelp, maybe the kid gloves would finally come off. But for now, Honolulu’s lifestyle coverage is all just very nice. “Here is a write-up of how great it is that this artist got an art show. It is on view through March.”
With the exception of John Berger, who reviews stage productions for the Star-Advertiser, and David Goldberg, who wouldn’t write a negative review to save his life, the arts writing in Honolulu is so dependably peaceful that when I read most of it, I fall asleep.
Berger, bless his heart, seemingly couldn’t care less about who he pisses off, and the theater community is lucky to have him. Even though we are a small town, criticism shouldn’t be regarded as inherently negative. And while the all-powerful critics can sometimes get it wrong, by initiating an honest, thought-provoking conversation, they challenge all of us to think more deeply about the world around us.
Naptime Is Over
I can’t fully blame it on editorial decisions. I used to run an arts website myself, but recently turned it into satire — a reaction to how cozy and cuddly our arts scene has become. It’s as if the art scene has fallen into a deep naptime where everybody has their place on the floor, and they all sleep next to each other, peacefully.
Toward the end, my arts site had turned into a sort of SPF Projects update blog, because that was the only independent art gallery that, I felt, ever did anything exciting.
In order to write interesting articles, I discovered, you need interesting shows.
These artists have the product and brilliance to scream into an art gallery. They each deserve solo shows, but instead curators and gallery directors have been playing it safe, mushing them together in group show after group show.
It might be cliché and all, but at this point (what do we have to lose), we should take a note from Ed Harris’s voice in “Field Of Dreams:” If you build it, they will come. It’s on the curators and gallery directors to think outside of the box first, take some risks and give their spaces to innovative and exciting ideas.
Then, hopefully, magazines and writers will feel challenged, compelled even, to write something more than a press release. Then, just maybe, we can have a real conversation.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues