I was a week late getting the news. Jen Graves resigns her position as Art Critic at the Stranger on February 8th.
“I spent months resisting the reality that The Stranger is not currently a viable place for me to do the work I’ve always cared about,” she said, announcing her departure on Twitter this morning.
Graves, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for criticism and a nominee for the best art reporting award from the U.S. section of the International Association of Art Critics, was an increasing rare entity: an art critic working full time at a major city newspaper. The number of people in that role has dwindled in recent years as the media business has struggled and publications have cut staff.
In an interview by phone today, Graves told me, “The Stranger supported my work for a long time in an environment where nobody else was supporting this kind of work, really. Critics have peeled off in Seattle.” When she moved to town 11 years ago, she said, every other major publication had a staff art critic. Following her resignation, none will. “Whatever kind of strategy infected those other places may have reached The Stranger,” she said.
I waited, hoping I’d have time to devote, waiting to write a Great V-Note: something worthy of this woman and the work she’s done. But time is not something I can wait for. Best not to wait until the perfect moment to offer my homage, my monumental thanks to Jen Graves. If it didn’t fall right off her sneakers, I would offer her my sniveling worship, but if I’m going to do it at all I’d better do it NOW.
I have the urge to paint her on a canvas 9′ tall, on a throne surrounded by flowers people like me would give her. The flowers are white, the painting and the woman is in shades of warm white and pink. Pink. I’m sorry, but yes, it’s pink. It just is.
Maybe it’s her friendliness. Her sharp mind blossoms into an open face that I can, and did, easily tell everything to on several occasions.
The woman hasn’t died, I tell myself. She’s still here. And to my knowledge she isn’t leaving the city. I pray she doesn’t. Not because I need her directly and not because I’ve read everything she wrote and would again when she again takes aim at the keyboard (I didn’t, but I should have), but because knowing she’s there, knowing she’s doing the work she does, just makes me feel better. Having Jen Graves as a weekly arts critic is like having a superhero, fighting for your cause while you keep focused on your own battles.
She is one of the smartest and savviest people I have ever met. She’s sophisticated and raw, beyond smart and hilariously funny. And she’s friendly. Warm. I trust her. I knew immediately that she would never do anything to hurt me or my career. How many artists can easily say that about an art critic?
She looked at, she thought about, she celebrated, she supported art.
There are others, of course. And anyone who breathed an unkind word about Jen Graves did it, admittedly, because they wanted more voices in the city, not just the One. I agree, but I fear what happens in the absence of her post will be the opposite. Our city artists wanted more, and now we’ve lost our One.
I don’t know what happens to Jen Graves (she’s not dead, she’s just changing business cards) and I don’t know what happens to our city after this, but for the turn the print culture has taken, I am very very sad.