Renowned journalist joins U of G as University research professor in art criticism
BY RACHELLE COOPER
One of Canada's best-known cultural journalists has joined U of G's fine art faculty. Robert Enright, editor-at-large of Border Crossings magazine, is a new University research professor in art criticism.
Enright, who spent 25 years as an art critic for CBC and regularly contributes to the Globe and Mail and international art magazines Art News, Modern Painters and Art Review, will spend winter semesters teaching in the MFA program.
“I'm enormously humbled and happy to be here,” says Enright, who will spend the rest of the year living in Winnipeg with his partner, writer Meeka Walsh, who edits Border Crossings. “There's no better job for me than this one. I'm entranced by the idea of intellectual exchange.”
Enright's relationship with the School of Fine Art and Music (SOFAM) began three years ago when he was invited to give a lecture on American contemporary and realist painter Eric Fischl. Enright is the author of Eric Fischl: 1970-2000 and has contributed to several other books on artists, including Tony Tascona: Resonance and Don Reichert: A Life in Work.
During his visit to Guelph, Enright met with students in the MFA program and was impressed by their work and the program.
“The magazine thrives on young artists, so I was delighted to visit and see the work of 10 students. It was then that we initiated the possibility of coming back at some point.”
Enright arrived on campus in early January and is focusing on discussing contemporary issues in art and writing with Guelph's 12 MFA students.
“The department here determines that, if you're going to be a practising artist, you also have to be able to handle language and know what the issues are, and you have to be able to talk about them and write about them. I think that will hold the students in good stead in the future.”
SOFAM director Prof. John Kissick says he's thrilled to have Enright on campus.
“Robert Enright is one of the country's most eloquent, incisive and prolific thinkers on contemporary culture,” he says. “His thoughtful and empathic writing on the visual arts has, over the past 20 years, made his voice among the most respected and recognized in the field. His presence on our faculty ensures that our fine art program will continue to be considered one of the very finest of its kind in Canada.”
Enright, who studied English in his formal education, says he has been self-trained in visual arts. “I learned everything about visual art by looking.”
When he was hired by CBC Radio — the employer of his well-known cousin, Michael Enright — as an arts critic, he was sent all over North America to interview artists. “The learning curve was really steep. I felt privileged that I was thrown in and obliged to sink or swim.”
He not only managed to float as a cultural journalist but also founded Border Crossings, the world's most respected quarterly arts magazine, which is now in its 23rd year.
Journalist Robert Fulford commented in an article for the National Post that “writers in Border Crossings accomplish, better than most, the critic's most difficult task: communicating art ideas to non-artists and artists alike, explaining what matters to the first group without boring or appalling the second. Enright conducts for Border Crossings some of the best published interviews in the country. He has a way of eliciting frankness from artists.”
A collection of Enright's interviews were published by Bain & Cox in a 1997 book called Peregrinations: Conversations With Contemporary Artists. In addition to writing about visual artists, he has conducted interviews and reviewed works in the theatre, dance, film and performance art worlds.
“I've always been a border crosser, and the magazine was based on the premise that artists never looked at only one thing,” he says. “I never think of writing about art as a singular thing. I think of it as being about the way we structure the experience of our lives in a very focused way that is often fed by the most unusual or curious things.”
Although some artists fear having their work reviewed by an arts critic, Enright says he tends to write about things he is passionate about.
“I think the act of good criticism is an act of congenial intelligence and rigorous generosity. That's always what's guided me. If you bring a preconceived set of conditions to art, you're not going to see it.”
On March 28, Enright will give a talk on beauty at 7 p.m. in Room 114 of the MacKinnon Building.
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University of Guelph