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San Diego Loses An Important Voice In The Arts

The San Diego Union-Tribune made another series of staff changes last week, laying off 35 employees and adding a handful of new ones.

Robert Pincus, an art critic who's been covering the San Diego visual arts scene for over two decades, was let go. Sadly, in these times, there's nothing new about a major newspaper doing another round of bloodletting to save the bottom line.

And when it comes to the arts, there have been symposiums, articles and books written on the relevance (or lack thereof) of the critic in this new media world.

So none of this should be surprising in the bigger scheme of things -but it is.

It's a surprise because our city's cultural jewel, Balboa Park, is composed of multiple museums. San Diego is home to many galleries and one of the best visual arts programs in the country, not to mention many hard-working artists, and a new contemporary art fair. Reducing coverage of this rich sector of our cultural landscape puzzles me.

Pincus has historical perspective on this city's art scene. He's steeped in broader art history, which feeds into his writing. Context is helpful when trying to make sense of contemporary art, which can sometimes be difficult (as well as fascinating and at times, entertaining).

The thing I've always appreciated about Pincus' writing is how he clearly strives to make art accessible. Despite his academic background (and 10 years teaching a class at USD called "Critical Thinking About Art"), he doesn't bog his writing down with academic jargon.

So this is the voice we're losing, in a city-wide dialogue on the arts that has too few voices with platforms as big as his once was.

The great irony is that Pincus' departure comes at a time when San Diego's visual arts scene seems to be heading into some kind of renaissance. Galleries and art collectives are popping up everywhere. The city's contemporary art museum is currently host to an exhibit of 45-plus San Diego artists. The California Bienniel has chosen more San Diego artists to participate than in previous years. Weekly artist salons are being held at the San Diego Museum of Art. SDSU has a brand new gallery presence downtown. North Park and the East Village have emerged as vibrant arts districts in the last 5 years. As I write this, internationally-known street artists are placing their art on walls around the city leading up to a major exhibit this summer.

It's an exciting time for San Diegans. Pincus recently wrote a profile of 76-year-old painter Richard Allen Morris, an important figure in the history of San Diego art, and followed it a week later by one on a younger, emerging artist named James Enos. Will that scope of coverage continue without him?

I'm obviously concerned, but I want to know what you think. Will you miss arts coverage provided by a veteran visual arts critic? Or do you think bloggers (who, ahem, aren't all bad) and Twitter and the collective voice of our new media world will help fill in the gaps?


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