Art Criticism in Oklahoma

Students in this spring’s “Art Since 1960” course spent the semester exploring the role of art critics in modern and contemporary society. Their final assignment for the semester was to analyze the role that art criticism plays in Oklahoma today. Where are the art critics? Who is their audience? What are they saying? Although these essays aren’t directly connected to the OSU Museum of Art or its collection, I believe that healthy art criticism is a vital part of an ecosystem in which museums can thrive.

The student essays shared here have been edited for length. Students’ content and overall arguments have not been altered. This week’s essay is by Nicole McMurry.

There are many different publications that originate in Oklahoma, including the Oklahoma Gazette, The O’Collegian (O’Colly), ArtDesk, and Tulsa People. Some have a central focus of art, while others are general interest publications, but all of them talk about art in some form or fashion. None of these venues have a great deal of art criticism and instead just focus on informing their readers about local, statewide, and occasionally national art, artists, exhibitions, and art events. These publications aim to inform their readers—local Oklahomans and tourists alike—instead of analyzing their subject.

quilt show

Seth Spillman and Tabbi Burwell examine the Quilts and Color from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at Oklahoma City Museum of Art. (Garett Fisbeck for the Oklahoma Gazette; see article link below.)

The smallest of the publications I have selected is the O’Colly, a student-run newspaper that prints three times a week during the school year. The O’Colly is not directly affiliated with Oklahoma State University, but is run by its students and is centered around the university. This newspaper is both in print and online. I believe most readers read it in print form. The O’Colly is not art specific; its sections include: News, Sports, Opinion, Weekend, and Multimedia. There are occasionally art-related articles that reflect the arts on OSU’s campus. Whether or not the O’Colly features articles concerning art is based on student writers’ interest—there is no dedicated art staff or section for it. In What’s The Tapestry Hanging in The OSU Student Union? Artist Bring African Exhibit to Stillwater, student Brandon Havens writes about an artist, Olaniyi Akindiya, whose work was on display at both the OSU Student Union and The OSU Museum of Art from September 2015 to January 2016.

This article, like other art related articles featured in the O’Colly, does not contain art criticism. Because they are most likely written by English majors who are not particularly educated in the arts, O’Colly articles simply inform readers (students of OSU) about the art on campus and in Stillwater. The O’Colly often interviews students and staff to give more information and offer some personal opinions. This article states,

“Matt Williams, sociology senior, likes the tapestry in the Student Union. ‘I agree it’s a good way to get people to come see the exhibit because when you give students a piece, they want to see more.’ Williams said. ‘I like getting a piece of art exhibits because I can’t always make it to the exhibit, so it’s nice to have one piece where I can see it.’”

This article, as explained by this quote, is not focused on art criticism and is instead about giving students information about an artist and the opportunity to see his work. The O’Colly offers no critical judgment of art and can discuss anything from student work, campus exhibitions, exhibitions featured at the OSU Museum of Art, to other arts related opportunities. The O’Colly aims to educate students about what’s happening on campus and around Stillwater.

Another local Oklahoma publication is Tulsa People, which has a bigger audience than the O’Colly. Tulsa People is basically a guide to Tulsa aimed at both tourists and locals. It is a monthly general interest magazine with various sections including People, Food & Wine, Arts & Culture, Life & Style, Home & Garden, and Things To Do. Under the Arts & Culture section, there are a few writers. This section offers information on local art, artists, exhibitions, fashion, performances, and other local arts related stuff.


108 contemp yarn

Karl Siewert; Romy Owens, artist and project leader; Krystle Brewer, interim executive director for 108 Contemporary; Ellen McGivern, gallery coordinator; and Isabelle Phillips seam together submissions for the knitted mural that covers 108 Contemporary’s façade. (Evan Taylor for Tulsa People; see article link below.)

As in the O’Colly, art criticism does not play a role in Tulsa People. Because the magazine’s purpose is to inform readers about Tulsa and what it offers, art criticism would not be fitting. The magazine is promoting Tulsa; specifically in the Arts & Culture section, it promotes local artists, exhibitions, music, and arts related events. There are at least a few articles every month under this section of the magazine. The article “Yarn Bombing the Prairie,” was written to introduce and inform readers about a local artist who, with the help of many knitters across Oklahoma, covered the side of a building in a “scene of blue sky and green grass, representing how urban sprawl has slowly consumed the Oklahoma prairie.” This article is merely an informative piece, letting readers know of an opportunity to see local art and introducing them to a new artist.

The Oklahoma Gazette is a newspaper whose audience is local Oklahomans and whose interests are quite general; their sections include News, Music, Life, Arts, Food, Programs, and Media. Under the Arts section there are a few writers that post articles at least every week, if not a couple arts related articles a week. In looking through the Arts section I saw a lot of different writers, which makes me think there is no staff dedicated to this section. In “Early Quilt Makers Inspired a Fleet of Modern Artists, and Oklahoma City Museum of Art Shows Us How,” Kerry Myers (one of about seven writers under this section) writes only to inform readers about the Quilts and Color From the Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. She briefly describes the works and how they came about, and includes the date, museum address, and price of entrance.

This article, like other art articles featured in the Oklahoma Gazette, is aimed towards a wide audience and does not include art criticism for a couple of reasons: 1) the writers at this newspaper are probably not educated in art and are simply writing about the opportunity to view it rather than “digging in to” the content, and 2) the newspaper is a general interest newspaper and does not focus on art itself and therefore not art criticism. The arts section of the Oklahoma Gazette discusses local exhibitions, local and visiting international artists, and schools, but offers no critique. They write mostly about modern art, however, if there is an exhibition that displays older art they will not shy away from writing about it—they are not biased towards contemporary art.

Lastly, I will look at ArtDesk, a print magazine that is also offered online. ArtDesk prints new issues twice-yearly and is devoted to the contemporary arts. On their website they state, “We focus on events, exhibitions, and education about will keep readers informed about need-to-know art happenings during each issue cycle.” They also wish to educate everybody; they want to reach people outside of the art capitals of our country. This magazine has several sources including Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and worldwide. The audience for this newspaper is a bigger array of people than the previous venues because it is more of a national magazine, not completely local. It does support local artists from each of its sources (TX, OK, CO, etc.) and is mostly about different artists. This magazine writes about artists and their work and is aimed at introducing readers to new artists and supporting local artists. Like all of these venues, ArtDesk does not feature any art criticism section and is only meant to support artists and educate readers about contemporary art.

Whether it is a newspaper or magazine, the publications in Oklahoma do not seem to value art criticism much. None of the article from the publications I looked at hinted at any art criticism and were more focused on educating readers about exhibitions, shows, or artists. Some of these publications were art specific, like ArtDesk, and other were general interest publications who only occasionally featured art related articles like Tulsa People, the Oklahoma Gazette, and the O’Colly.


Works Cited

Banzet-Ellis, Gail. “Yarn Bombing The Praire,” Tulsa People, Dec. 2015.

Havens, Brandon. “What’s the tapestry hanging in the OSU Student Union? Artist brings    African exhibit to Stillwater,” O’Colly, 29 Sept. 2015.

Myers, Kerry. “Early Quilt Makers Inspired a Fleet of Modern Artists, and Oklahoma        City Museum of Modern Art Shows Us How.” Oklahoma Gazette, 11 Dec. 2015.





About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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