Towards a world as we all want to see it

Burnaway 'Where I'm Calling From' Miami Release Party 2023. Photo: Isabella Garcia.

Executive Director Brandon Sheats and Interim Editor Courtney McClellan discuss the field of art criticism and their vision for Burnaway, an online art magazine that celebrates art and artists from the South.

What role does art writing and art criticism play in the ecosystem of the arts?

BRANDON SHEATS: We are in a very flat world right now looking for nuance, context, a narrative. What we do is make the connection between art and audience. It’s easy for us as practitioners in the visual arts to have a presumption of audience knowledge, but that gets us into a discernable pickle. We want to connect an engaged and interested audience with artists and organizations— from major museums to small DIY spaces. We want to make it possible for artists to continue to create and sustain themselves. We initiate conversations and support symbiotic relationships between artists, writers, and communities in the South.

COURTNEY MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. I agree that context and description are vital to the visual art ecosystem. Description is both what a work looks like, but also the cultural, social, and political environment in which a work is made. In a review, a writer can archive an artist’s work for both a current and future audience. In addition to sharing the work of artists, art writing and criticism offers the capacity to experiment with how that description is achieved.

What audience does Burnaway currently serve and what audience does Burnaway want to reach?

BS: In 2008, Burnaway started as a local art blog in Atlanta, GA. Today, Burnaway is connecting places within the South and the South to the Nation. We’ve also uncovered a significant international audience by way of the Southern diaspora— something that surprised me this first year I’ve been at Burnaway. Our home is in the South, but we are balancing what it means to be recognized in places like New York, LA, Berlin, and Lagos, while directly serving our region’s artists and writers. We reach the art professional, but we also need to reach those that don’t have much access to visual art, the people whose very life trajectory might be impacted by exposure to art and art criticism. So many stories of that in the region.

CM: Yes, we love Southern artists and writers, and we want to honor the cultural production in the South. This includes artists with Southern backgrounds that might be living or exhibiting elsewhere. We know that Southern artists have and will continue to impact American culture. We continue to serve our regional audience, but we are also an outpost to an international network of practitioners, writers, and creators.

What is your vision for the future of Burnaway?

CM: Burnaway is an incredibly agile online platform. We’re dedicated to growing our diverse community. I want us to continue connect with our audience while also taking advantage of many unique opportunities to experiment with how we share and talk about art in the South. That includes recommitting to the work of long-form thematic essays and short reviews, as well as the Art Writing Incubator, our workshop and public speaker series that supports emerging arts writers. But there are additional means with which to celebrate art and artists in the South we want to consider: new columns, in-person events, and educational programs, as well as regional, national, and international partnerships.

BS: That agility puts us in a place to really expand not only our audience, but also how we create/engage in dialogue with visual art. Some of our writers have studied art history, but we’ve also worked with landscape designers, rap scholars, and people outside of visual art, all which offer unique perspectives that aid our readers. We want to do more of that inside/outside. The worlds of art and publishing are in major flux; now is not the time for existential crisis, we must see this moment for exactly what this is. We’ve got to take chances knowing this work is necessary and doable and remember independence is a catalyst for interdependence. All that said, Burnaway is an experiment disguised as an art magazine; the further we go, the better it becomes.



Burnaway 'Where I'm Calling From' Miami Release Party 2023. Photo: Isabella Garcia

Burnaway is a non-profit magazine of contemporary art and criticism from the American South, published online weekly and in print annually. Through its editorial program and cultivation of emerging arts writers and journalists, Burnaway connects the region’s diverse creative communities and develops exchange between Southern art, and the national and international art audiences.