There are better ways to topple the power structures that make the arts inequitable

A collage of transparent silhouettes of different people’s profiles. Each silhouette is a different color (e.g. green, orange, blue) and when one overlaps with another it creates a third color.
A collage of transparent silhouettes of different people’s profiles. Each silhouette is a different color (e.g. green, orange, blue) and when one overlaps with another it creates a third color.

In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder — when people all over the country were taking to the streets in force, in anger, and in desperation for change; when an acrid cloud of tear gas was hanging over downtown Portland every night — my beloved art institutions were quiet. …


Cryptoart, cat GIFs, and burning an original Banksy

Digital image of a pixelated cat with a pop tart for a body and a rainbow coming out of its butt, flying through a dark blue starry sky
Digital image of a pixelated cat with a pop tart for a body and a rainbow coming out of its butt, flying through a dark blue starry sky
Still from Nyan Cat GIF sold for 560K

Imagine taking a digital portrait of someone famous — let’s say George Clooney. You embed a code into the meta data of the photo, which proves that you’re the photographer and that the photo is one of a kind, and then you sell the digital file to an art collector for $100,000. At the same time, you release a high-resolution version of the image on the internet so that anyone with a computer can see, use, download, and even print out the exact same “one-of-a-kind” image that you just sold for 100K.


An interview with Jaleesa Johnston and Sophia Wright Emigh

Still from “Bodies Apart, Moving Together I”

Scrolling through Instagram one evening, I came upon a link to a short film co-created by Jaleesa Johnston, a multi-disciplinary artist whom I follow. I watched the film — a meditation on our isolation and connection during the pandemic, explored through movement — and burst into tears. It evoked every emotion I’d been feeling over the past many months. I immediately emailed Jaleesa to ask for an interview. She told me that the film was the second in a series of three — a triptych titled “Bodies Apart, Moving Together” (the third has yet to be made) — the brainchild…


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The most difficult thing about being a writer isn’t the writing. Most people do not understand this. The writing is the easy part. You can control the writing. The hardest part of a writer’s life is the staggering and overwhelming uncertainty of it. What will happen when the poem, the essay, the memoir, the novel is finished? What if no one wants it?

Every writer wishes at some point in his career that he had pursued plumbing or nursing—something, anything with a prescribed path—a course of study at the end of which it would not be unreasonable to expect a…


It changed the way I see art. And people.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Most of us walk around assuming that our tastes and aesthetic preferences are specific to who we are, a singular marriage between our personalities and our own finely tuned sense of beauty and value. As an arts writer, I operated under that assumption for a long time. Then, years ago, I saw an exhibition that challenged that belief.

Constructing Identity, at the Portland Art Museum, featured more than 100 works by 84 African-American artists as a way to chronicle black identity over time. A textile piece, Blue Quilt by Marita Dingus…


In an attention economy, they do the opposite of what they‘re meant to

Photo: Jennifer Rabin (derivative of ‘Open Wide’ by Les Chatfield)

Humans are wired to crave attention. We want validation that our lives matter to other people. But our desire for attention has become bottomless, stretched, and grotesque. I keep reading reports of social media darlings meeting their ends—falling off cliffs to their deaths, drowning in picturesque waterfalls, and dying of hypothermia on treacherous climbs—in their quests to obtain the most over-the-top, swoon-worthy images to deliver to their followers. This is not a drill, folks: We are literally dying for attention.

We’re in this situation as a result of the fact that attention, which was an amorphous concept before the digital…


On capitalism, greed, and our desire to possess the unpossessable

Photo by Amer Ghazzal/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, during the ache and anticipation of the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, the art world endured a disaster of its own. Sotheby’s auctioned off a painting, Girl With Balloon, by street artist Banksy. A split-second after it sold for $1.4 million, its unassuming gold frame shredded it into what some reporters would have us believe are now worthless strips of a formerly precious work of art.

Arts writers were aflutter. What would happen next? Would this void the sale? How would it affect the resale value? “Sotheby’s has not named the client whose $1.4 million purchase was destroyed,”…


To make something is to lose something. Whether an artist is sketching, writing, composing, directing, or choreographing, she edits, she throws out, she kills her darlings. (Or, more often than not, someone comes along and murders them for her.) Artists are always attending to loss. They are in perpetual mourning, and we should treat them accordingly.

Loss is essential to what artists do; our task is not to shield them from it. But we would do well to be gentle with them. And I see the opposite happening today.

For one, the culture of criticism has overshadowed the culture of…

Jennifer Rabin

Arts writer + artist + arts activist + equity consultant. www.jenniferrabin.com IG: @jenniferrabin

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