Come Join the Vicious Circle

"That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment."
-Dorothy Parker

Over ten long, occasionally checkered, years as an art critic here in Minnesota, here’s one thing I’ve learned: Making your way in the world today, as a visual artist anyway, takes everything you’ve got. Upfront there are studio costs, exhibition costs, materials costs, opportunity costs, and the constant expense of keeping in coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol (although this last is probably true for most of us). And the money you get back from what you pour your heart and soul into creating is scant, at best. Mere pennies on the investment. And you know how valuable is a penny today, right?

I don’t even begin to know how a person in this day and age sustains an artistic practice.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned: The life of the art critic is no quiet afternoon at the corner bar either. You’re often up all night writing, even when you can’t pay your light bill. And your editor keeps telling you the check is in the mail; that is, when there still is an editor to report to, because you can no longer count the number of publications you’ve written for that have unceremoniously shit-canned the entire staff when you weren’t looking or else closed their doors altogether.

Sometimes I wonder how in hell I’ve lasted so long doing this crazy thing called arts writing.

And here’s another thing I have long wondered about: If we assume for a moment that we’re all–artists and arts writers–compatriots in the struggle to keep alive the dying, flickering light of artistic goodness in our culture, why, then, don’t we artists and critics get along better? Why aren’t we, at least metaphorically, raising beers to each other in the spirit of collaboration and mutual support for the cause? After all, we all have the same goals at heart, right? We all seek to advance the cause of art in Minnesota and to ensure the survival of ancient and honorable traditions that are much bigger than any single one of us? Right?

Or, are we all, like everyone else, just in it for ourselves, and ourselves alone?

Here’s what I know: I list these questions and postulations not to keep you up at night (as often happens to me), but rather to explain something about how we formulated our name for ourselves for this new visual arts blog, "The Thousandth Word," which you happen to have stumbled upon.

We are six arts writers and critics (some of us also–as explained below in our brief bios–artists and art lovers, friends and neighbors). And we’re calling ourselves "the Vicious Circle," mostly because we acknowledge that the art world itself is just that: a Vicious Circle. No one is getting rich. No one is getting along much. No one seems particularly happy. And yet, our troubles are all the same. We’re caught up in this circle together, against our better judgment. And we all love it despite ourselves in much the same way.

"The Vicious Circle" works as a name for another reason, because it acknowledges that sometimes, in the service to art, the critical person has to write somewhat negative reactions to what he or she has seen. A good critic simply, from time to time, has to be vicious. It’s part of the secret initiation to the club. Or as Groucho Marx put it, in regards to membership in the original "Vicious Circle" (which is how the Algonquin Round Table referred to themselves back in the 1920s): "The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."

We are not in this to be mean-spirited, though; we’re art critics, not Sicilian knife fighters. Our goal is to address the art we see with only the utmost lucidity and honesty. And if anything we write lifts your neck feathers, you can always throw a few sharp comments right back at us. It will show you care!

We hope, then, that you’ll come back often to read and engage with "The Thousandth Word." In the meantime, here are bios for the six writers of the Vicious Circle.



Rich Barlow: Rich Barlow has an MFA in visual arts from the University of Minnesota. He works as an artist, arts educator, musician, curator, and fringe theater and music producer. He is a founding member of Flaneur Productions.

Michael Fallon: Michael Fallon is an arts writer and arts administrator who’s written for more publications than he can count, really. But he’s proud that he’s been a member of the International Art Critic’s Association since 2000, and that he founded a local arts writers association, the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota (VACUM), in 2002. His other blog blatherings, and more about what he’s up to in his copious spare time, can be found at Art Happy Hour and the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

Glenn Gordon: Glenn Gordon is a writer, sculptor, and photographer. He was born in the Bronx, grew up in L.A., spent the sixties in Berkeley, lived for many years in Chicago, and moved to the Twin Cities about twenty years ago, working at many biographically colorful jobs all along the way. He’s written widely on architecture, sculpture, photography, woodworking, furniture, craft, and industrial design for national magazines and art journals, and locally for The Rake, Architecture Minnesota, Rain Taxi, and

Christina Schmid:
Christina Schmid’s writing on the visual arts is informed by the years she spent at universities but seeks to go beyond the narrow confines of academic discourse. Her aim is to chronicle her encounters and experiences with contemporary art in order to render the process of meaning-making that art demands of its viewers both more accessible and transparent. She holds advanced degrees in contemporary literature, philosophy, visual and cultural studies from the Karl Franzens University in Graz, Austria and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Andy Sturdevant: Andy Sturdevant is a Minneapolis-based artist, curator and writer whose work has appeared in ARP!, The Rake, and Bejeezus magazines, and on He curated the History Room: 20 Years of No Name and the Soap Factory exhibition at the Soap Factory this year, and is currently working on an accompanying book about the gallery’s history. Andy is also a contributor to the Electric Arc Radio Show music and performance series, which is beginning a new season at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis this fall.

Collier White: Collier White is a writer and filmmaker who lives and works in North Minneapolis. He attended the University of Minnesota where he edited the newspaper’s film coverage. After freelancing for several print and online arts journals, he co-founded Object, an online pop-culture journal that garnered much acclaim before dissolving when he left for film school in Denmark. Since returning to Minneapolis, he has written for Ruminator magazine, City Pages and whil
e continuing to write and direct short films.