Bill Berkson and the beauty of Art Writing not Research


“Frank O’Hara was born in 1926, a good year for births, it turns out: Marilyn Monroe, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Wallace Berman, Joan Mitchell, Fidel Castro, Tony Bennett, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Michel Foucault, Morton Feldman . . . Pretty good for openers, no? Doubtless, there are more.”  Bill Berkson- Sudden Address (p. 77)

I revamped my main website today.

In the revamp I pondered how to describe the stuff that might be considered ‘art criticism’ up to and including the Interview with Mathew Collings that was published in the first issue of Modern Matter magazine. A section that withered and died in the 7 years of being driven like a weary sheep down the road of ‘academic’ research. Now that I have finally got to escape into pastures new for a while I have at last had time to realise that ‘Academic Research’ means limiting oneself to something particular and narrow. This is why too much art research is by its nature closed off from the world and frankly irrelevant to most people as well as frankly being nonsense in most cases where it designated as fine art.


In the revamp I retitled the ‘art criticism’ blog to ‘Art Writer’ because writing about art is what it contained.  I then found this post on artcritical webzine (a fab resource by the way which I found through a link from Painters Table blog again an excellent resource for painters) about the poet and art writer ‘Bill Berkson, a friend of one of my favourite painters Philip Guston. What he stands for and reveals here is his insistence on ‘art writing’ not criticism and in another interview (Third Rail) he says such wonderful sensible things it was a joy to read.

This led me to the wonderful Cunieform Press website and his book Sudden Address:

On artcritical this is David Carrier’s description below:

Emphatically not art history, this certainly isn’t normal art criticism. No one else, except maybe Adrian Stokes, whom Berkson loves to quote, writes even a little like this.

Art writing is a strange sort of creative literature. Within the commercial art world, it is a comically marginal activity. But doing it well is oddly difficult, as every editor knows.  And so it is surprising that there are very few really good art writers. When we praise Diderot, Pater, Adrian Stokes, Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg and Arthur Danto, we acknowledge that whatever our disagreements with their tastes, they are grand writers. Berkson belongs in their company. Do you think I exaggerate? Well!, we art writers are much given to hyperbole. And so read for yourself and tell me if I am correct.  Koch’s conception of poetry, Berkson writes, “made me see not just poetry but the world in and outside poetry differently.” (p.94-5)

That seems to me to be as sensible a way to go as fact the only way to go…

Do you know I really don’t give a shit about referencing or come to that about the shits who do give a shit about referencing either. In other words not only is most art research worthless anyway but that which exists will be mostly full of broken links in a few years..houses built on sand:

I would rather be scholarly and interesting like Berkson.

Interview with Matthew Collings: Matter Magazine first issue

I have an interview with Matthew Collings published in Matter Magazine No.1.

Matter magazine
Magazine / NewspaperPosted by Gavin Lucas, 12 December 2011,Excerpt from

Regular CR readers may recall we wrote about large format magazine Kilimanjaro and interviewed its creator Olu Odukoya back in 2008 (read that piece here). Now Odukoya has his own creative agency called OMO Creates and has just launched a new bi-annual men’s magazine called Matter that takes technology, style and conceptual art as its raison d’etre…

“I’m really excited about Matter, mostly about the content and what it could be,” says Odukoya of his new title, the first issue of which has just been printed. “A lot of men’s magazines are overly sartorial and I don’t think that’s really what the contemporary man is supposed to be about,” he continues, explaining that Matter is interested in technology but not in a way that is concerned with divulging the latest updates from Apple about forthcoming hardware, but rather in a way that is fascinated with how technology and humanity collide.

“Matter’s USP is that it is the first art and style publication to examine these subjects through the lens of modern technology,” says Odukoya.

And so it is that the first issue of Matter contains an interview with musician Tricky, who Odukoya managed to track down using the internet, email and no small amount of perseverence; an interview with Daniel Eatock about his DIY website tool, Indexhibit; a feature on Professor Gerd Hirzinger’s work with soft robotics; and an email discussion between Shaun Belcher and Matthew Collings about Collings’ recent experimentation with image analysis online using Facebook photo albums.

The website for Matter currently shows a film of someone flipping through the magazine, spread by spread. “We didn’t know how to approach the design of the website,” admits Odukoya, “so we just had the video of someone flicking through the first issue. But actually people seem to really like it. The site has already attracted more people than all the ones that have taken a year to do. I find this really interesting. I’m excited constantly by how the internet can surprise you and make you see things or experience things in a different way.”