After a decade of work, local art critic, journalist, filmmaker and occasional MilMag writer* Mary Louise Schumacher is just months away from completing her documentary exploring the ever-changing world of art criticism. With the interviews and research for the most part done, the finish line is in sight – it’s just final touches and fundraising from here forward.
Schumacher started her documentary out of a place of concern, because when newsrooms started seriously slashing budgets in the 2000s, art critics were among the first to go.
“For most people, the subject of art criticism is sort of esoteric, and the only way to humanize it is to tell the stories of the people who do the work.” Schumacher says. “I just felt like there should be a conversation about, you know, what does it mean to not have witnesses in places like Milwaukee and Billings, Montana and Houston, paying attention to what artists do?”
So Schumacher started researching, and after conversations with journalists and filmmakers, the vision that would become Out of the Picture started to come together. She’d use weekends and vacation days to put time toward the film, but life would often get in the way. After all, she is an art critic herself – formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – navigating the modern media minefield, alongside the subjects she filmed.
She’s now been working on the project for a full decade. To give you context: When she first started, Twitter was barely a thing, TikTok hadn’t arrived on the scene, and iPhone cameras were still pretty terrible.
“The tools that belonged to the artists for a very long time are now in everybody’s back pocket, and everyone – or most of us – are generating visual culture all the time,” she said. “By working on this for the period of time that we have, we really documented this incredible period of change.”
The film follows five critics from across the country over the course of those 10 years. Some rise to become prominent voices, while others drop out of the industry.
“As an audience member of this film, you kind of go through that and should be able to ask yourself: Are these the people who should be in, or who should be out?” Schumacher says.
Filming is mostly wrapped, and Schumacher and the rest of the Out of the Picture team are onto the post-production phase, including further fundraising. Right now, they have a campaign that is running through May 31 on Seed&Spark. The goal is to raise $25,000 to help complete the project and “pay people.” As of May 9, they were 62% of the way there.
There are incentives for donating, including Schumacher’s art and architecture guide to the Milwaukee-Madison-Chicago region, a personalized culture reading list Schumacher will curate to your taste and even a credit in the film. There are physical gifts too, such as a dogs sticker pack, which features art critic-owned canines like Mr. MG (a mutt veteran of the Seattle art scene), Edna (Schumacher’s pandemic Schnorkie) and more pups. You can donate at the link here.
“No gift is too small, and we will meet every kind of support – including simply talking up our project and sharing this campaign –with genuine gratitude,” the description promises.
Schumacher is hopeful the doc will be finished by the end of the summer, and she plans to enter it into the 2023 film festival circuit. The Out of the Picture website will have the latest updates on when and how to see the movie. Schumacher says the most exciting part of the project will come after the movie is released – the national impact campaign.
She plans to take the film to communities – like her own here in Milwaukee – and present free screenings for artists, journalism schools, art galleries and more. After the screenings, she’d like to start conversations:
“How is this community going to think about sustaining this work in the long term? What does that look like? What can we do? Who is doing this work? Who should be more amplified in this place? And how can we support and sustain their work?”
*Sure we’re biased, but take a look at her work and you’ll see that she is worthy of our respect.