by Carollani Sandberg photos by Alex Crick
When I first spoke to Jen Graves about profiling her for Artists For Artists, she had one reservation. In her words, “I AM CONCERNED THAT I AM NOT AN ARTIST.” I beg to differ.
You may recognize her name from her work in Seattle’s weekly publication The Stranger, where she works as a full-time art critic. Her work has also been in a handful of national periodicals as well—Art America, Modern Painters, The Believer, Newsday, and Variety, to name a few. She volunteers for the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) and Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), too.
She had a job teaching Art History for three years at Cornish and she’d like to let everyone know that she would love to teach again! When we sat down over drinks at Bathtub Gin in Belltown for the interview, she jumped out of her seat almost immediately to snatch a copy of Essential History of Art off a shelf in the bar and set it in front of her like a good luck token. I was ready for her to drop some knowledge on me, and that she did.
She taught me about Dada, the very rebellious movement that would draw her in to the vast world of visual art. Jen Graves isn’t all criticism and paintings, though. One thing you should know about Jen is that she goes her own way, and she started early. She was always a writer, making up stories and coming up with ad campaigns for businesses and then acting the commercials on her staircase in her childhood home.
At Stanford where she attended college, she was a nationally ranked synchronized swimmer. Yeah. Totally awesome. She confessed that earlier that day she had been choreographing some sweet moves in her apartment while MG*, her dog, watched on. She’s a person moved to create—if that’s not an artist I honestly don’t know what is.
One of my absolute favorite facts about Jen is that she—pretty regularly—rents out karaoke rooms by herself, sometimes for hours on end, just to sing. If you don’t feel like you want to hang out with her by now, I don’t understand you. Being both an excellent athlete and a very creative person, Jen has learned to thrive as someone who does her own thing regardless of who welcomes her into their circle.
As a critic, Jen just wants to remind people that art is out there. “I never write a review to tell people not to see it.”
I asked Jen if artists should care about criticism: “If we had a healthier critical community, yes.” She told me, and I agree, that it’s important to find critics that you can trust. Some people are out there to be contrary or to show how sharp their wit is while sharpening it on an artist’s work. She suggests that young artists should find one or two mentors and one or two critics that they trust, and just keep working at it.
“You have to be your own motivation. Nothing external can be your motivation. Make it. Absolutely f—ing do what you do. So what if it’s wrong?! You should fail!”
That has some real weight to it considering the fact that every full-time position as an art critic Jen Graves has had and left has never been filled. Jen is now the ONLY full-time art critic for a weekly newspaper in the entire country. She knows she’s in a precarious position, and that changes the way she does her job in different ways. If she’s writing a piece about an art show, she knows that she has to pick the most enticing .jpg to go with the post on Slog (The Stranger’s blog) or she won’t get the precious clicks that newspapers and magazines have to count like pennies. The idea she’s currently working on is asking a musicologist questions about the popular music we all love, and why. She’s hoping it can be a regular feature in The Stranger.
Jen had some parting words to impart on artists on the grind regarding the criticism of their work: “It has to be about joy and love. It can’t be about anything else. F— everything else. F— me.”
*MG ran into busy downtown traffic during our photo-shoot and scared the crap out of all of us. No dogs were injured during the making of this article. We are all thankful for his safety.
notes on the author:
Carollani Sandberg is an actress and occasional film crew member based out of Seattle who is currently the only person I know to have beaten Lisa Coronado at a push up contest. Which trust me, is much harder than it sounds. She’s one of those people who is infectiously sunny without being irritating, witty without sounding pretentious and kind without being a push-over. I credit all of these great qualities to her instagram addiction and her dog (but only because her dog looks so much like my old dog).
notes on the photographer:
Alex Crick is a Seattle-based freelance photographer whose live music coverage has been all over locally and nationally in the likes of Spin, Esquire and Billboard. Anytime I go to google image a local artist, more often than not the first photo credits that pop up are courtesy of this fine gentleman. He’s also a super nice guy and likes to communicate in silly faces like this 😛 a lot. We love Alex.
On behalf of the AFA family, we would like to thank the amazing and invaluable Jen Graves, the sweet and salty (in a good salted margarita kind of way) Carollani Sandberg and Mr. Fantastic himself, Alex Crick for making time to share stories about art in this city!