With apologies to psychiatrists and brain surgeons, I think one can watch a mind at work. The way the eyes move, the head takes up its position and the mouth forms into odd little shapes are all unmistakable clues. Some people hate computers, and this is especially true of Daniel Brown, recently installed editor of ÆQAI Arts Journal. Funny that, because his mind resembles that complex box of sorting and scanning hardware and software! Give it a mass of complex information and wait while it whirs and buzzes. Soon, something coherent, original and often amusing is presented. To say this man is well read simply grazes the treetops. Not only does he positively devour books, but he also remembers everything in them! To say his education – cum laude from Middlebury, an MA in Chinese and Japanese art and postgraduate work in Politics, Art History and Diplomacy – is broad, at least gets one to the ground. But, a good brain integrates information, sees patterns, makes sense of it all – in short possesses the epitome of critical thinking, and that gets us down to the roots.
And this is what Brown at age 64 is aiming to do with ÆQAI Magazine, use good critical thinking to inform the public about art in clear and understandable language. That he has the experience to do it is unquestionable. He has run a number of publications, been an art dealer, collector, curator, and published arts writer and editor for decades. He has also been in business and worked in a university setting, both as a teacher/lecturer and in administration, all the while serving on a multitude of boards. Alas, enough deconstruction of Daniel Brown; the sheer magnitude of experience tires me. There is much more I know I haven’t covered, such as all the people he has mentored and championed along the way. As artist and gallery owner, Jymi Bolden said, “He is the great unsung hero of this town.”
I first met Brown at a dinner party, propped regally in a wing-backed chair with his lame foot on a stool. That he took interest in my art obviously predisposed me to liking the man. Flattery goes a long way with me, and not many people have actually seen my prints. He seemed a tad opinionated – no, really opinionated – but mostly that’s a good thing. Wishy-washy-ness is what really sinks people into a mire of tedium, don’t you think? Now with the launch of his editorial command of ÆQAI, all this experience seems to be coalescing into an essence worthy of a V.S.O.P. designation, not that I mean to imply he should swill about in a snifter. Too, I shouldn’t leave you with just one view of his personality and make him sound positively cranky – he isn’t. Along with being opinionated, he is admirably balanced and fair, and surprising for an editor, he does not fool with the writers’ content, just the mechanics and flow. “Redundancy is the most common flaw in writing,” he says. “For that reason, I don’t try to do my own editing. Maureen Bloomfield (Editor of Artist’s Magazine, for which publication Brown occasionally writes) does that for me. She is superb.” Brown has one other rare quality: he actually listens to what others say and further, thinks about it. Whirr, buzz, and another unpredictable comment follows.
“I have several purposes for ÆQAI, and of course the writers do too,” he begins. “The initial purpose is to reintroduce the concept of critical thinking, the ability to think and analyze. Criticism is, after all, a form of interpretation. We have a number of writers who go out and look at shows and give us informed opinions on whether the art makes a difference, which is Immanuel Kant’s criteria for art. Specifically: One, what is the artist doing? Two, is he or she doing it right or well? And three, does it make a difference? By reintroducing this kind of thinking, I am hoping it will spill over into the general culture and help people to better form their own opinions. That is the determining factor on where ÆQAI is headed.”
He expands on the history and the path ahead: “It started as an all-review journal when Alton founded it. (A. C. Frabetti has returned to graduate school and handed over the reins.) The original writers reviewed shows in the non-profit sector – Over The Rhine, Northside and some in Walnut Hills – mainly artists coming out of school. We feel the for-profit sector and museums are worth covering, and, too, photography was a medium not covered. We are expanding our coverage, thus reaching more readers and having more things to write about. Originally the idea of a museum was that it is not contemporary; we have changed that to anything that is written from a contemporary point of view. I am using as one model, Art in America. First of all I find it readable; it is not theory-driven the way Art Forum is. This is a journal of art not aesthetics and philosophy.”
Creating clear and lively writing around art is a tricky pusuit in my opinion. For instance I saw this tidbit the other day: “The mechanical mark-making of the gesture visually and conceptually activates the remarkable handling of light.” I always thought mark making was what the combination of a five-year-old and a box of crayons produced! So, how does Brown intend to address an audience that has never graced the halls of a graduate art school?
“We do not intend to be an arts journal rife with German footnotes, because curators and other people in the field have their own mechanisms to get ideas out of those journals – they write catalogues in their field. Occasionally we may quote one of those. What I am looking for is the informed person who is interested in art and reads ÆQAI to understand the shows and the intent of the writers. At heart, this is an educational mission”, Brown says. “And it is a double mission. One is about excellence in writing, and the other is to enhance the understanding of art. The writing is first.” – to be continued next month.
-Cynthia Osborne Hoskin
Such a well written article about a great idea and the force behind it. A tonic for our times.