I heard from Art Scatter friend Tim DuRoche that the Village Voice has let go Deborah Jowitt, its dance critic of 40 years standing, along with film critic Nathan Lee. Confirmation comes from dance critic Elizabeth Zimmer at the Arts Journal. The only other source I could find on the internet was Gawker (sorry), but it seems to be true. According to Gawker, she will be able to freelance for the Voice. Perhaps she will.
As the print media disassembles itself, arts writing of all sorts has become an early casualty, even “popular arts” such as film. Every week, it seems, brings news on the newspaper business website Romenesko that another critic position has been eliminated at a major newspaper. And as Gawker points out, the alt.weeklies — and the Voice was the ur-alt.weekly — have not been immune. The Voice has previously discharged the eminent pop music critic Robert Christgau, after all. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times eliminated its dance critic position, leading Lewis Segal to take a buyout from the paper. Segal is an excellent critic, and the idea that the LAT Times will go without his writing is sad — there is great dance in LA.
Back to Jowitt, for a moment.
To my mind she is one of two absolutely crucial chroniclers of contemporary modern dance in this country (along with Marcia B. Siegel). From her post at the Voice she was in an excellent position to explain and argue for the revolutionary dance developments in New York of the ’60s — from the individual brilliance of Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor to the Judson Church experiments that inform dance practice to this day. If you lived in New York, you needed her eye and understanding to explain what you’d seen. And if you didn’t, she was necessary if you wanted to know what was happening in the American dance capital. We’ll never understand how much, through the Intelligent Observer Effect, she influenced the course of dance during the past 40 years.
This sounds like a eulogy. Jowitt is still with us. I hope she writes more and better and longer. She knows more and has seen more than anyone, really. More books beckon. Maybe a prestigious website. Maybe even more prestigious freelance journalism opportunities will appear for her. They should.
But there’s no denying that writing about the arts is in flux. At one point, the Voice with Andrew Sarris, Robert Christgau, Jowitt and more was the most important repository for cultural criticism in the country. No longer. These days it’s the NY Times, almost by default, and there are no signs that Times will chip away at its cultural coverage — its arts pages are thick with ads and its critics are almost uniformly excellent. Maybe more important in the long run, its website attracts huge numbers of visitors every day. But the idea that the Times will have the field alone is alarming. Kimmelman is good, but he’s not enough!
Of course, he won’t be. We just don’t know what the landscape will look like in ten years time. Maybe Jowitt will be even more important then. Maybe the web will accelerate dance criticism by incorporating video and audio components with the analysis, allowing phrases to be shown and broken apart, their “meaning” speculated over. Maybe it will be possible to live in Portland and watch dance in New York or Paris or Lagos. And comment on it.
Gawker, in its little item on Jowitt, snidely (as it must) asserted that dance is culturally irrelevant these days. I suppose that passes for Conventional Wisdom in the chattering/gossiping class in New York. It’s a stupid comment: dance is as “relevant” as it wants to be; as relevant as you and I want to make it. Maybe it’s “snide” itself that’s irrelevant. Fun. And irrelevant.