Editor’s Note: From Theory to Practice

Our Executive Director Cameron Shaw introduces our final thematic series before our close on November 30, exploring the ideas and methods that have been important to Pelican Bomb’s development.

Ryn Wilson, Velvet Curtain, 2018. Archival inkjet print. Courtesy the artist.

Recently I was asked to speak to a room of grantmakers about the importance of arts criticism. For those who have followed Pelican Bomb’s work, you may have heard me say that criticism is core to the infrastructure of an arts community. Just as artists need places to exhibit their art and people to fund it, they need writers and thinkers in dialogue with that work to promote it and propel it forward. A critic’s job is to situate a work in its political, social, or art historical context. For the artist, that context can shed new light on areas that might warrant clarification or further exploration. For the reader, this may very well be the first place they even learn of an artwork and the only way they’ll experience it. If the reader is indeed in a position to view the work, a critic can offer an entry point for understanding before or after that encounter. But I think criticism does something more.

Criticism is an act of translation. The critic is in dialogue with the artist and the reader and helps them both reach a deeper dialogue with one another. Criticism translates the lived experience of viewing an artwork to lived experiences in the world at large and vice versa. And what grows when we see ourselves in the lived experiences of others? Empathy. At its best, criticism also teaches critical thinking skills. Whether as artist, critic, or reader, when we participate in this triangulation, in this act of translation and connection, we exercise our critical thinking muscles, those muscles we so desperately need to be an informed and questioning public that is better equipped for all forms of civic participation. Criticism has been central to Pelican Bomb’s work, most evidently in the Art Review, where we’ve published reviews, interviews, essays, digital artist projects, and thematic series focusing on contemporary art and visual culture. But this desire for dialogue, for connecting art, ideas, and people, has informed all of our initiatives—from our Community Supported Art program and nearly a dozen exhibitions and public projects to the recent ASAP/10 conference, co-hosted with the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South.

In an effort to pull back the curtain and share a behind-the-scenes perspective, we’re turning over the Art Review before our close on November 30 to reflect on the ideas and methods that have been important to Pelican Bomb’s genesis, growth, and sunset. Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish essays and interviews exploring the strengths and limitations of regional arts publications, recent changes in the New Orleans’ art world, and the future of critical conversation about art in our city. We’ll also look at the ways archiving and mentorship have informed our decision-making and evolution. These things have been incredibly meaningful to our development as an organization and we hope this series will prompt further discussion in our community and elsewhere about sustainability, defining success, turning ideas into practice, and the value of arts workers. On Facebook and Twitter, we’re also looking back at highlights from the Art Review, including reviews of important exhibitions, art historical essays, and interviews with artists who have changed the ways we think about our work and the world around us.

Thank you again for all your support, and for coming with us on this journey over the last eight years.