Listen to almost any magazine publisher's public yawp these days and you'll hear one of two things.
You'll either hear the cement mixer grind of accountancy minds grumbling on about declining ROI, plunging EBITDA and the urgent need to reduce FTEs to return to profitability by Q4 of Year Three of the Five Year Plan.
Or you'll hear mewling excuses for force-feeding Lady Gaga onto the cover yet again in order to boost newsstand with an eye to arresting the decline in ROI and return EBITDA etc. etc.
Greg Wolfe, by contrast, talks about French philosopher and religious mystic Simone Weil. He talks about Simone Weil talking about the need for us to pay attention as a cultural act. More precisely, as an act of cultural renewal.
"Any act of attention is a countercultural act," the publisher of IMAGE journal said last week from the stage of an auditorium on a quintessential New England college campus.
"In Simone Weil's words 'the burning desire that drives attention purifies the soul. Prayer is made of attention.'"
The occasion was the inauguration of IMAGE's Glen East workshops at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, a complement to its established Glen West "summer institute for artists, writers and spiritual wayfarers" in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The inauguration of the Glen East venture is itself a testament to how far Wolfe, and the group of unbelievably hard-working, committed people around him, has taken the original vision of IMAGE as a magazine for the creation of a community of culture makers.
For those who aren't familiar with IMAGE, let's just say it's like Cardus's own Comment magazine with about a two-decade head start. (For those who aren't familiar with Comment, let's just say it's time to find out.)
For 22 years, Wolfe has nurtured IMAGE toward the place it now occupies as the premiere U.S. magazine for intelligent reflection on the conjuncture of art, faith and culture. He has managed to do so while avoiding the trappings—and the trap—of beret-wearing artistic naïfs whose credo is that hitting up The Man for spare change is an act of creative liberation.
Wolfe himself was whelped by a stint at the Reagan-era National Review. You don't get much more hands-in-your-own-pockets than that. (His journey forward from that starting point is wonderfully told in his new book Beauty Will Save the World, recently reviewed by Comment co-editor Brian Dijkema.)
As a result, IMAGE relies in large measure on the old-fashioned, free-market magazine requirement of subscription dollars to keep going. Almost two-thirds of its operating revenues come from people who are actually willing to pay for it. There is, of course, a larger motivation at work than mere adherence to market ideology. It's the broader human truth that when you pay, you pay attention.
The pay-off is a magazine, and a gamut of offshoot endeavours, that contributes concretely to the making of culture new. What a refreshing alternative in an industry that too often seems to have little more to offer than grumbling or Lady Gaga.