Friday, January 16, 2009

When Interns Write Obits

Growing up I had three major artistic influences ever present in the home: reprints of Norman Rockwell on True Value Hardware store calendars, a reprint of a girl created during Picasso's pink period, and a reprint of Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. The reprints were framed in various parts of the house and the calendar usually hung in my bedroom.

To learn of Andrew Wyeth's passing is met with shock and nostalgia. Shock: I thought he had already died. Nostalgia: he is no longer an influence, and I cannot say I still admire the work, but I am somewhat fond of it in much the same way I am still fond of soda pop (it isn't nourishing, but having one every so often can't be all that bad, either).

However, at this moment I am infested with an overwhelming sense of disappointment, not from his passing but from the obit I just read on CNN. Compare Wyeth's obit with Ricardo Montalban's obit and you'll see some major differences in writing style.

My friend Claire once worked at NBC's flagship. She'd tell me stories about how she (and others) had to research and fact check the biographies of world leaders and celebrities while they were still living so that they could be archived and updated, and easily accessible once news broke of the death. In the event of that celebrity death, the biography became the obituary. This practice merits the skit of Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw announcing the death of Gerald Ford before going on vacation.

The Montalban obituary reads like it had been prepared months, if not years, in advance. It is polished, meticulous, and is identifiably news. The Wyeth obituary reads like it was handed to an intern late last night - an intern who, when given the assignment, immediately asked, "who?" What gives this away? Citations to Ask Art and Info Please! (For comparison, notice that the author of the Montalban obituary did not cite the Internet Movie Database.) Though I cannot expect the author to discuss the significance of Wyeth's realism in relationship to the movements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, or Minimalism, at the very least the author(s) could have mentioned that Wyeth's work is included in the permanent collections of The Whitney, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery, and The White House. Perhaps t(he)y could also include his National Medal of Art award, received in 2007, in the body of the article, rather than in the caption of the accompanying photograph.

This tenuous obituary would hardly merit a C- in college writing, lacking in both style and research, and is unworthy of publication. Perhaps it is an editorial decision by CNN that reflects their perspective on fine art, which from this angle makes them a less trusted source for news and information. It is bad enough that schools across this country limit the importance and value of fine arts by cutting arts programs from elementary through secondary curricula. Providing death notice attributions to various Internet sources - boring, general sources at that! - further cheapens and deteriorates the contributions artists are capable of providing to a populous. Though Andrew Wyeth may only possess nominal importance to 20th Century American Art as a stalwart apex for the conservative harrangue, and from a news perspective the value of that is a considerable trifle in comparison to Israel using white phosphorous on Palastinian civilians in what is an unparalleled military offensive, I find the debate over how we perceive objects and value art to be considerably more significant than the sordid details about Boy George's conviction for imprisoning a male escort. But that's just me.

Maybe CNN should take a lesson from The Boston Globe.

"That's the news, and I. am. outta here." - Dennis Miller, Weekend Update.

No comments: