"So many people write about pop culture, about what I consider the peripherals: the economics of art, the politics of art, the sociology of art," Rottenberg said. "I'm just saying, let's just write about the art."
The question is, will anyone care enough to spend $2.50 for the 88-page magazine?
Just out this week, Seven Arts, the Philadelphia Cultural Review, has an immediate circulation of 135,000 because subscribers to WHYY (90.9-FM) and WHYY-TV (Channel 12) automatically receive the monthly publication. Seven Arts replaces Applause, the magazine produced by WHYY, but includes a 16-page Applause section that lists the radio and television stations' monthly programming. Newsstands and bookstores also will carry Seven Arts.
The first issue delivers a feature on Christopher D'Amboise, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, an examination of how new music director Wolfgang Sawallisch will change the Philadelphia Orchestra from its days under Riccardo Muti and a look at how tobacco companies have become the guardian angels of arts funding.
These and other stories might well have appeared in a local daily or weekly - the D'Amboise piece was written by former Daily News dance critic Janet Anderson - except that Seven Arts is produced primarily by academics.
"My theory about why the world is so screwed up is that the people who really have the great knowledge are the scholars and the academics, and they don't know how to communicate with the rest of the world," said Rottenberg, former editor of the Welcomat. "And conversely, the people who know how to communicate, like you and me, don't really know anything.
"What I'm really looking for is a magazine that . . . is sort of a halfway ground between a very serious, scholarly, academic kind of review and a mass publication."
The cover painting of the first issue of Seven Arts, by Pew fellow Sarah McEneaney, could almost pass for a pre-Tina Brown New Yorker. Inside, advertisements for the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus brush pages filled with stories by such academics as poetry poobah David R. Slavitt, an author and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania; theater critic Gerald Weales, a former English professor at Penn; and Dan Coren, a music historian who, in his own words, hasn't "earned my living as one for more than 15 years." All this and a listings page that includes a Renaissance art exhibit and an Alain Resnais film screening.
"I give Rottenberg enormous credit for figuring that the people who listen to WHYY and watch Channel 12 are probably an economically, intellectually and socially desirable group," Slavitt said, "and the worst thing you could do is condescend to them."
In simpler terms, if the editors and writers who bring you Seven Arts ate soft pretzels, they'd dab them with Grey Poupon.
A former film critic who later became executive editor of Philadelphia magazine, Rottenberg says he left the Welcomat, that forum for ideological cockfights, in part because editing Seven Arts allows him to bone up on the arts.
"This is an opportunity for me to educate myself in the arts," he said. ''And I can do it by surrounding myself with really knowledgeable people and the readers will be looking over my shoulder."
This occasional contributor to Town and Country and the Inquirer's commentary page might have come up with an alternative method of education, but one local writer, a frequent contributor to Philadelphia publications, suggested that it reeks of exclusivity.
"Rottenberg was saying that arts was an area he didn't know anything about, that he wanted to learn about the arts," the writer said. "But it sounds like what he wants to do is the core curriculum at Columbia rather than a '90s multicultural base.
"I thought an arts magazine was about exposing little-known stuff - not walking around with one's nose in the ozone. A newspaper might not have time or space to bring to light little-known gems, but if there's going to be a magazine just about the arts, that's exactly what they should do."
Yet Rottenberg believes that Seven Arts will offer a different approach to arts coverage, one that targets people "who are like me, who are sort of dilettantes in the arts."
"I go the orchestra," he said. "I go to the museum, the theater, the ballet. But I've always had the feeling I could be getting so much more out of these things. I haven't really focused on zeroing in on educating myself about these things. And here's my opportunity to do it."
The name Seven Arts - which refers to music, dance, literature, theater, sculpture, painting and architecture - connotes a limited area of coverage. Although Rottenberg has no plans to run a piece on the importance of the produce section in the work of performance artists, he doesn't want to rule anything out.
"I like to think that the seven arts is like Baskin Robbins 31 flavors," Rottenberg said. "It can be anything you want.
"My definition of art is what endures, what can be considered beautiful and true 100 years from now, as opposed to what's popular. If someone can make a case to me that film is art, I'm happy to listen to it."