Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 15. 1969.
Art — Arts in Ascent
Arts in Ascent
Ascent, a Journal of the Arts. Edited by Leo Benseman and Barbara Brooke. Published by Caxton Press. $1.50.
Ascent has received on the publication of its three issues to date, heavy criticism from all quarters of the cultural community. Most of the critics of Ascent have made the mistake of comparing it with overseas publications or seeing it as the product of a particular groups of established artists thus retaining a conservative and unadventurous approach to the arts.
True too, until this third issue of Ascent, declaring itself to be a journal of "the Arts in New Zealand", there has been predominantly articles on Art as such, and the other cultural activities of the community have been pretty well ignored. Even this latest issue with an article on Jenny McLeod's production of "Earth and Sky" and a rather unimaginative article by P. Platt on "Music and the Future", Ascent has once again concentrated on the visual arts with only cursory mention of anything else going on in New Zealand or elsewhere.
But for all that it must be realised chat this is the only journal of its kind in New Zealand, in fact the only one which has looked like being a success in non-financial terms of course) since the approximately fifteen years publication of Arts in New Zealand.
The specialisation of Auckland as a centre of art activity, and to some extent Christ-church, has meant that those of us who live outside these centres have become reliant on visits to these cities and occasions exhibitions. New Zealand's professional artists, however much success they are gaining in their own localities, need to have their work seen and talked about out-side their immediate environment outside the community of other artists.
Ascent has neglected to some extent this part of its role by not providing a correspondence column, although such irregular publication might make this proposition difficult. Its extreme modesty has even failed to provide us with an address or any statement of editorial policy in any one of its three issues. This lack of apparent editorial control presents an unnecessarily bland, inscrutable face to the reading public, and fails to put the content in proper perspective.
The Caxton Press has made an attractive, if conservative, job of lay-out. The reproductions are of high quality. The price of Ascent although it compares unfavourably with overseas publications such as Studio, Artforum and Art International, is reasonable considering the relatively small circulation of the magazine, the lack of advertising, and the quality of production. Technically therefore, it is safe, and in fact a great deal better than most New Zealand publications of a similar nature.
What then of the content, It is quickly obvious that the standard of the commentary and article does not come up to the standard of the reproductions and illustrations. Except for a number of the directors of the Auckland Art Cillery who have broiught art to a wider public, and some few individual reviewers in city newspaper's, there have been few competent critics of New Zealand art. The ability to explain an artists' intention and value to a wider audience, is a particular talent even more necessary today when Western civilisation treats art as a commercial commodity.
This lack of a Berger, Greenberg, or the like has left New Zealand at the mercy of the mediocre critic, the rich indiscriminating patron, and the people with vested interests in the sale and production of art. Therefore, in Ascent, longer, more perceptive reviews of an artists' work may have been more valuable than sketchy outlines and disinterested comment.
Mark Young's synthesis of Hotere entitled "Love plus Zero/no Limit" has the admirable intention of being a different style of review but the author has so much allowed his style of writing to dominate that it reduces what he is saying to second place. When the lyricism begins to flag, and ideas run thin, an explanation of Hotere's work is still found wanting.
The introduction to The Performing Arts in New Zealand is the nearest Ascent has come to explaining itself—and this by someone I presume is an outsider. Talking through the magazine in the third party is no substitute to a statement of policy.
The article by Fred Turnovsky, based on a paper presented to Victoria University in April, 1966 is well-written and informative, but so much has happened in the three years since, it can only be used as reference material, not by the general reader seeking to gain information on the present state of the arts in New Zealand. True, such a useful article is dateless but failure to print it earlier in some form or other is surely an oversight. In no sense does Ascent, published in April. 19.69 pre-destine what was to be the major upheaval in the arts this year, the formation of the National Arts Federation. Had Ascent contained any degree of controversy or dissatisfaction with the status quo, it is reasonable to expect it should have played a part in the upheaval and change.
The book review section is useful but both books reviewed are on Art unfortunately. The reports from the four main centres give a brief resume of activities in each area, and while again dealing almost exclusively with Art and being well written and intelligent, they should never intend to be major articles in themselves. Whether, if what appears is going to continue to be an animal publication; reviews of long-past exhibitions is a particularly good idea must, I suppose, be left up to the editors to decide.
There are several examples where reproductions of an artist's work is shown with no apparent tie-in to an exhibition or text. While it is important to show an artist's work, a little more than straight re-producting of photographs is required.
There is an essential difference between working as an artist and writing about art. They are both important functions and very often, except in cases like Paul Klee, the artist is not the best person to interpret his own intentions. It is the job of a critic or a writer to attempt to tell us what he thinks the artist's intention is, and then to attempt to evaluate the work within the terms of his observation and knowledge. Commentaries are not merely to report an artist's work, but surely to illuminate what we can or could (or even should) see in his work.
Ascent is still finding its place in the publications of the arts. It is making a worthwhile attempt and is doing the positive "something" instead of the all-too-often "nothing". It therefore deserves credit for its very existence, for its stumbling infancy, and for what can only he hoped, a richer and more mature adolescence.