Managing Editor Sean Keenan on Trebuchet.
How did Trebuchet start?
Trebuchet was born through a desire to provide a platform for popular non-fiction. Many of our staff come from commercial media backgrounds or regimented academic backgrounds, the thrill then is to write from a place that is neither beholden to financial interests nor academic process but has the impact and appeal of the former and the insight of the latter. We hope that to this day Trebuchet conveys our belief that smart fun creates joy.
Art, Culture and Politics. What they have in common, what they shouldn’t have in common.
This is a societal game of rock, scissors, paper. Art shapes culture, culture directs politics, politics inspires art. Each of them is a driving force to the other, and also a limiting agent. Art crystallises and concentrates the issues of its day, whether through a painting like Guernica or a meme based on the pepper-spray cop. It focuses complex issues into instant expressions, rendered suddenly sensory instead of cerebral.
And therein lies its danger, because converting complex issues into instantly experienced artistic epiphanies bypasses our rational, analytic impulses. And unless we are very, very wary, can just as easily become a tool of propaganda as of exigesis. That’s where politics and art have too much in common – when the techniques of art are used for political ends.
Nevertheless, it happens. It exists in every stage-managed pause on a presidential autocue, down to the typography on a campaign poster. Which is why culture and society has to constantly evolve and develop its skills at deconstructing those propagandist messages. Ironically, it is through art, and artists, that societies are best at doing so. That can be something as simple as clever kids re-writing the slogans on billboard advertisements with a spraycan and a quip; through to a visual metaphor as instantly iconic and meaningful as the ballerina posing on the Wall Street Bull during Occupy. That’s where art, culture and politics become one and the same.
And as for culture, dear old culture. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The bottom-up leaching of ideas, customs, manners, attitudes and every other human concept that defines any one group of people (usually in contrast to another group). A growth sector, liberated from its traditional boundaries by pocket technology that makes anyone with a fully-charged phone an international broadcaster. Culture: where a well-honed hashtag can topple governments, or alternatively, where the political, artistic, aesthetic and moral judgement of entire nations can be neutered by a cute picture of a kitten. Soak it up, it can’t be avoided, only documented.
What do you think are the problems of aesthetics and art critics in your context, and how do you think they could be solved?
Seeing, feeling and writing beyond the press release. Beyond the established consensus. Every piece of art now comes with a meta-narrative, written by the artist, or by the artist’s PR agency. Suggestion is a powerful tool, and it takes a strong-willed critic to visit an exhibition and take the time to form their own judgement. Something as amorphous and subjective as an opinion on visual art is very easily manipulated, especially in a context where the viewer can feel intimidated into following a consensus. Everyone else thinks it’s wonderful, I think it’s dross. What’s wrong with me?
It’s important to have art critics who are strong-willed enough to trust in their own experience, knowledge, and instinct. It also helps that many of Trebuchet’s art critics are established artists themselves, and know how to recognise a polished turd.
Secret wishes for Trebuchet Magazine?
That we get even more self-confident and obtuse, more stubbornly intransigent in the face of dumbing-down; search engine optimisation; social network link-baiting, and all those peripheral but insistent distractions that ultimately dilute the impact of what is put on the page by our writers and photographers. Secret wish in a nutshell? That content will always be king.