Robert Pincus on the hard-knock world of contemporary art 

The roomful of students gathered at Herron on Feb. 18 heard authoritatively what they already knew intuitively — it’s a hard knock world when it comes to getting public attention for creative work. 

Dr. Robert Pincus, in tracing his trajectory from student to respected critic, pretty much told the story of public art criticism from the halcyon days of daily newspapers touting their community’s art scene to the present situation of print media cutbacks. What’s left is a scramble for valid attention and a wary eye towards anyone putting anything out on-line.

Pincus has been art critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune for over 25 years when the paper summarily dismissed him in 2010, along with 34 others, putting economics above community responsibility. Pincus’ readers demanded his re-instatement, but to no avail.


Pincus since has taken his expertise to the Contemporary Art Museum San Diego as a staff member, Art in America as a corresponding editor and ARTNews magazine as a contributing writer. You can follow his criticism on Twitter at @rpincus, where he stands up for what he believes are the essential elements of being a credentialed voice in the emerging art scene — having a passion for connecting the general public with artists and writing about current affairs in the art world.

To develop a personal style of writing, posing valid questions about the work of art one is viewing and framing observations with descriptive language, a critic needs to be knowledgeable and honest both about art history and about what a reader wants and needs to know.

“You have to contextualize movements and individual works of art," Pincus said. "You are really writing about the art, not about personality. People need to feel you are writing about art."

Connecting with a general public is different from penning an academic treatise, but Pincus is at home in both spheres. Regardless of the forum, Pincus believes his essential mandate is to expose bad art. That responsibility is paramount when it comes to public art, which holds a special place in the way a community presents itself to the world and in educating citizen to way good works of art can be part of a good life.

Engaging the general public in the arts requires active participation on the part of artists and institutions that present their work. The audience during the Q&A concluded that despite the cutbacks, printed media newspapers — still matter when you’re a young artist, and Pincus believes his seminar in art criticism at San Diego University is a way to lead. Pincus is not someone who wallows in dismay.

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

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Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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