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Art magazines operate in a sphere of journalism that knows none of the rules of logic, grammar, coherence or entertainment value that generally prevail in the world of the published. To get published in an art magazine you need to follow criteria that are almost the total opposite of what you need to write for general publications. Anything that might interest or enlighten the general reader – or any reader – is to be ruthlessly avoided.

This is why there is almost no crossover between such magazines and the mainstream press. But, amazingly, there has in recent years been a feeding frenzy in the bizarre media subculture of art magazines. The vogue for art has apparently convinced many publishing titans that there’s money to be had in art fairs. What with all the idiots who’ve been buying art (until recently that is), there must surely be a market for an idiot’s art magazine?

ArtReview, for example, having gone through innumerable changes of editor and style, now features big celebrity interviews that treat artists as if they were not so much gods as something much greater than gods – say, reality television stars. There’s also one, I believe, called Art World (ugh) while Modern Painters has intensified what was always a fairly celebrity-struck gloss.

Other magazines have adapted to the frenzied popularity of art without entirely losing their souls. Frieze has obviously had a massive boost since its publishers founded an art fair. This is one that I actually wrote for. I’ve recently been reading it again – and have been amused by its funny pedantry. A piece I was looking at last night cited the old children’s television programme Why Don’t You? and some intern had actually checked the dates the series ran. Who knew it was on the air until 1995? And who says you learn nothing from art magazines?

I’m relieved that I haven’t needed to fork out more than I have on magazines during a period of intense contemporary art research. Google goes a long way. One journal I have enjoyed looking at, however, is Afterall. This magazine is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary and I was pleasantly surprised that it kept me diverted during a train journey yesterday.

Afterall is the very opposite of the slick, ugly new breed of mags that try to feed off art’s perceived glamour. It publishes essays rather than interviews, and the essays do try to explore real ideas. I found an article on the return of the “spiritual” in art pertinent and provocative. It pointed out something I hadn’t quite noticed, that the vogue for the gothic in art so visible in a show like Mythologies at Haunch of Venison is related to the anti-Darwinian religious resurgence in society. Afterall seems aware that art exists within a larger world. That’s much more worthwhile than offering pathetic secondary access to a glamorous “art world” that doesn’t exist.

Jonathan Jones
Guardian

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