01/13/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2013

'What Is That Art Worth?': Lessons From the New York Times

What a newspaper chooses to print goes hand in hand with their editorial proclivities, most especially what commentary that is selected to propagate issues reflecting the paper's mindset. Recently this was clearly the case whereby the New York Times elected to regale its readership by twice publishing a screed fulminating against the construct of the contemporary art world.

The New York Times, in a blatant editorial election, contrived to use its banner of influence to revile contemporary art by flagging in two separate editions the same letter parading the moth-eaten defamations of the contemporary art world.

First, in the letters to the editor column on January 1, 2013 and then with much fanfare, over again, in the January 6th Sunday Review section's 'Sunday Dialogue' page.

Taking issue with the Times' machinations, the following letter to the editor was emailed by this writer.

To the Editor:

January 6, 2013

Re: Letter to the editor
"What Is Art Worth"
First printed January 1st
Repeated January 6, 2013 under 'Sunday Dialogue'

Hilton Kramer lives on. Not since the late and pugnacious Hilton Kramer graced the pages of the New York Times as her chief art critic has the Grey Lady dedicated so much ink to the defamation of contemporary art and the contemporary art world besmirching the achievements of artists, art institutions and collector alike (an aside, I am a collector of contemporary art).

Mr. Cole may have his opinions but for the paper to give it so much credence bespeaks of a Neanderthal understanding of what role contemporary art plays in the lives of so many, not only here, but ever more abroad.

Art is in many ways the lingua franca spanning the earth's cultures, bringing people to together in spirited and respectful dialogue of mutual passion. It is the expression of both personal and cultural formation in communication with other cultures in an increasingly complex and threatening world. It anchors our humaneness and shared sensibilities.

That there are high rollers, so has it always been from the Medicis, the Popes of Rome, to the Royal Courts of Europe and Asia, to the great and celebrated American collectors, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Mellon, J.P. Getty, Joseph Hirshhorn to name but a very few. In their time they had their collecting particularities, but the greatness of the art they collected endures and brings joy to so many today.

Very Truly Yours,
Raymond J. Learsy

(Needless to say the letter never reached the light of day in its august pages.)

For those not familiar with Hilton Kramer, he was the acerbic often brilliant chief art critic of the New York Times who had preference for bucolic landscapes and who militated for years against all that was new, edgy, difficult and personally revealing in the plastic arts. His hectoring was also instrumental during my tenure, many years ago, on the National Council of the National Endowment for the Arts, in terminating the Endowment's Critics Fellowship Program that awarded minuscule but highly meaningful stipends to critics to help hone their skills. A significant loss to the field and the nation.

It is a blessing that the current line-up of critics of the New York Times' arts section is extraordinarily talented, professional and unencumbered. One can only hope that the editorial page's meanderings on this issue are but a transitory aberration.