It was with some surprise that we found that a new line has been added to John McDonald‘s byline at the end of his art columns in the Sydney Morning Herald. Right there next to the obligatory acknowledgement that the latest critical piece was the result of a junket paid for by a distant host [Saturday’s entry being the Esteemed Critic’s visit to the Hong Kong Art Fair] was this curios addition: www.johnmcdonald.net.au. Yes, indeed, John McDonald now has his own website and blog.
The first entry for May 18 begins with a question, “To blog or not to blog? That is the question,” before moving on to a fuller explanation:
“Up until recently I would have answered: No way. But with each day, as newsprint becomes more and more obsolete, it seems that the virtual world is becoming a more reliable platform than the real one. My prejudices against this form of communication were probably honed by reading so many awful blogs, but hey, there are plenty of awful books too. Some of them, cf. The Da Vinci Code, become best sellers. This site is intended as an archive of the many reviews and essays, mainly on visual art topics, that I’ve accumulated over the years. Readers often complain that it’s impossible to find this material on the Sydney Morning Herald website, so this is an attempt to repair the omission.”
Along with a selection of recent McDonald pieces there’s a smattering of older columns dating back to 2000 as well as an assortment of other writings including film and book reviews from The Australian and The Financial Review. McDonald promises to keep uploading and backdating the archive we have thus far been denied by the SMH’s inexplicable [and ongoing] decision not to make its Spectrum content available online. Fans of McDonald’s writing won’t however be disappointed by what’s currently available – there’s enough erudition and sarcastic vitriol to keep everyone happy.
For those of us who need reminding the About section explains that McDonald “is art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, a post he has held – on and off – for almost thirty years.” One of the notable features of McDonald’s on-again off-again three decade tenure has been the near impossibility of those who disagree with him, no matter how politely, to get their voices heard in the SMH, either by letters to the editor or requests for right of reply. In that regard McDonald has been protected by the paper’s editorial policy and the non-appearance of his work on the web [which in turn means that his opinions are not challenged by the rough and tumble culture of reader comments].
So if you’re thinking that McDonald’s web adventure will mean a chance for you to finally tell the Esteemed Critic what you think of him, you’d be dead wrong – there’s nowhere on the entire site where you can leave comments. After all, publishing on the web has always been a one way street. You could try sending him an email but he’s out of the office – as the bio helpfully adds:
Increasingly, John is turning his attention to Chinese art. He was a major contributor to The Big Bang, the catalogue for the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, and will be leading a tour to Beijing and Shanghai this year, through the Art Gallery Society of NSW and Renaissance Tours. John is a highly popular speaker on art topics and is available for talks, lectures and corporate events.
Illustration: Bruce R. McMillan