Introducing MADELEINE

A primer on how arts & entertainment editor Madeleine Peck Wagner thinksA primer on how arts & entertainment editor Madeleine Peck Wagner thinks


I am an artist and writer.

I make art to know how I feel, and I write about art to know what I think. Practically, that has taken lots of shapes, and in the 17 years I’ve lived in Jacksonville, many of my colleagues have been privy to my successes and failures. Failure in the arts is a faceted thing; courted carefully, it can result in risky works that are richly rewarding—but even abject failure can result in surprising moments of truth, transcendence or humor (thank you, Mark Creegan, for that lesson). Carelessness and laziness generally result in the airing of tepid ideas, which, if I see it, I will say it.

That’s how I see my role at Folio Weekly—not as the sole arbiter of taste (though I do have some strong opinions), but mostly as a curious and informed observer always willing to be amazed. I advocate for the arts and artists. Advocacy takes different forms, and as I refine my craft, I aspire to nuance, subtlety and surprise. And, as I hope to bring an anti-Dunning-Kruger-brand of advocacy, I also will not shy away from historical or contextual criticism.

Writing about the arts is a lot like wandering around a pitch-black room with a bunch of other people: claustrophobic yet tender, thoughtful of collisions and discovering boundaries that are often as self-defined as they are constrained by space, all the while straining to see. Writing about art—like making it—requires a surprising amount of vulnerability married to bravery and a willingness to be wrong, publicly.

In a recent article about opportunism in education, specifically Masters of Fine Art programs, art critic/celebrity personality Jerry Saltz wrote, “A lot of artists in these programs learn how to talk a good game instead of being honestly self-critical about their own work.” As a relatively recent recipient of an MFA, I agree: These programs certainly foster a sense that anything (meaning anything an artist makes) can be justified within a rarified language that is self-referential and very hard to penetrate. Within this lexicon of jargon, though, there are ideas and descriptors that have helped, and continue to shape the ways in which we understand contemporary art-making, and the thinking that surrounds it. What I can do, I hope, is to help cut through some of the “artspeak” while still offering insight that is compelling and relevant. As one of the inheritors of John Ruskin’s mantle, I hope to avoid some of his pitfalls (not least unfortunate interpersonal relationships) while situating our local scene within a broader national and international conversation.

As a self-identifying, staunch feminist, I look forward to discussing intersectionality, access, feminism, artists of color, and the LGBTQIA community. I look forward to talking about materials, ideologies and technique. I know that as I look around the community, I will see works that linger in my mind/heart for much longer than the exhibit to which they are attached, and I intend to write about that, too.

Indeed, the way a work can linger in the mind is a defining aspect of art/artmaking. For me, recently, that work has been David Hammons’s In the Hood (1993)—where simplicity wed to a deft linguistic trope results in a work that carries relevance and resonance. Made of a hood cut from a dark green sweatshirt, and lined with wire (to maintain its shape), with its seeming nonchalance and ignoble materiality, Hood predicts and memorializes Trayvon Martin and so many young black men who have been murdered out of fear and hate. It is not an easy image to look at, and the associations it conjures are of the most unpleasant sort, but they are the things we (as a country) need to see, so that we can remember the cost of ignorance and malice.

I know that the arts are a vital part of life—they are the part that cracks our hearts and minds open, that reminds us that there is truth in narrative and truth in reflection. I think that every home should have original artwork on at least one wall, and within these pages, I hope to convince readers of that, too.

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