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On Lame Duck Interview Subjects

November 9, 2010

Unknown.jpegJournalists love interviewing people who don't toe the party line, but give an opposing view on a subject. A detractor's opinions provide that all-important bit of tension in a story that makes it more fully rounded and readable. This opposing viewpoint is particularly important (but hard to come by) in arts journalism, where most interviewees -- not to mention the reporters themselves -- tend to spend their time talking about how great an artist's work is and how excited they are about it. This is why so much arts journalism is bland and expendable.

But what happens when you're lucky enough to stumble on a person willing to state an unorthodox viewpoint on a subject but that person ends up making points that seem worthless, petty and ultimately unusable? Disappointment prevails.

This is the feeling I got yesterday while collecting insights on the work of a famous artist whom I am writing about this week for the New York Times. In preparation for the story, I talked to a number of people yesterday on the phone ranging from one of the artist's project managers to curators at local museums who have worked with the artist on commissions in recent years.

With the exception of the detractor in question, everyone I have spoken with so far provided at least a few interesting insights.

Sadly, the one commentator who has an opposing view on the artist's output said very little that is usable. A reputed expert in the particular field of art in which the subject of my article operates, the interviewee launched into a negative tirade about the artist's work, but was completely unable to substantiate her feelings from an aesthetic standpoint. All I could glean from talking to her was that she objects to the artist on account of his fame and ability to command large fees for major commissions. She thinks that the money and commissions should be spread around and not automatically given to this particular artist.

Duh! Frankly, I would expect an expert of her caliber to provide me with insights that go beyond the blindingly obvious. That a few famous artists swallow up the lion's share of the limelight and the corresponding accolades and monetary gains isn't remotely interesting grounds upon which to base a critique of their work.

Oh well. On this occasion, I'll be hard-pressed to use this detractor's comments in my story.


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