Getting Your Arts Blog Off the Ground—Arts Blogging Part 2

So, let’s say you have established your blog name, and you’ve honed in on what type of art you’re going to write about. What comes next? Maintaining an art blog has its rewards, but if it’s your own blog, it’s easy to feel like you’re on your own. Who is your audience? Is there a community of other arts bloggers that will share their processes and lessons learned? What’s the pay off?

As you saw in part one of this series, I spoke to arts bloggers Daniel Temkin, Kate Albers, Sharon Butler and Gelare Khoshgozaran & Eunsong Kim about their individual sites. In part two, I asked them what they have learned in their experience of running their own blog, and if they had any valuable insight to writers just starting out.

Sharon Butler: Ten years ago, the art world and mainstream media were dismissive of blogs and bloggers. But I quickly realized that blogging tools could give unrepresented artists and unpublished writers a voice in the critical conversation. I also learned that posting frequently and writing compelling content were the best way to develop an audience.This past year, I decided that in order to keep publishing, I would have to make more focused and forward-looking financial choices. Rather than, say, seeking a Guggenheim, this time around I decided to apply for fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas and start a fundraising campaign.

Once my sponsorship application was approved, I designed some Two Coats of Paint tote bags and launched the campaign. Over 200 readers stepped up, premier contributors got their tote bags, and I met my goal. Now I’m getting some IT professionals to overhaul the code, archive over 1,300 posts, and migrate away from the free Blogger platform that I have used since the beginning.

Kate Albers: One of the first things I learned was that it was harder than I expected to switch modes of writing, from footnoted academic journal articles to something that felt a little closer to talking, or giving a lecture. And I’ve had an even harder time writing anything less than about 1,500 words, even though I think there is real value to expressing shorter thoughts. But old habits die hard, or evolution is slow, or something.

I’m using Jekyll to build the site, and GitHub to edit and host the content, and the process of getting here—rather than using a standard blogging site like WordPress—has taught me something about the various options in online publishing, and also expanded my thinking about what a “blog” might mean (more on that in the next question). GitHub acts as a publicly accessible repository of any changes I make in the text after publishing. In that way, it’s really different from a typical blog or publishing someplace like Medium (which I’ve also been experimenting with) because it preserves the original form of the piece as well as subsequent changes, if any. That kind of transparency has been interesting—if a little scary—to engage with. The site has also been configured to offer a downloadable pdf of the essays, which appeals to my material interests.

On a practical level, I’ve learned a little bit about things closer to the world of coding. Not coding itself, but I understand a little bit more about html and Markdown text mark-up. It’s not a language I’m anywhere close to fluent in, but I’m more aware that it exists and that I can speak at least very modest versions of those languages.

I’ve also learned that the momentum really shifts from day to day or week to week, in terms of what I’m able to produce. But that’s not so different than any other kind of writing.

Amy Lincoln - Veranda Study, from an article on the artist on Sharon Butler's blog, "Two Coats of Paint"

Amy Lincoln – Veranda Study, from an article by Jonathan Stevenson on the artist, posted on Sharon Butler’s blog, “Two Coats of Paint”

Daniel Temkin: In social media land, short pithy posts always win out against interviews in terms of attention; but it’s important not to get distracted with those and put the time in on the interviews, which is the material on the blog that’s worth coming back to again and again.

I found that I had to be much more active social media than I’d planned; using it to get folks reading the blog, but also resisting the kind of writing that is more likely to be shared through it.

During the grant period, I used Tumblr as my blog management, which was low-fuss and easy to format. This was actually a replacement for BlogEngine.Net, which I used in the first iteration of the blog (hosted on my website). However, I am now actually contemplating another move from Tumblr to something more of an archive. Although the content will be very much the same, I believe this change will make the interviews more searchable / accessible to other researchers.

It also gets rid of the bloggy expectation of frequent posting (which was always a struggle with a primarily interview-based blog), allowing me to continue focusing on quality posts after the grant period is over. For the archive, I will likely build on existing code (there are a few projects I’m looking at on github that might help), but the tools are still up in the air.

Mishka Henner, "Strada Provinciale Binasco Melegnano, Carpiano, Lombardy, Italy," from No Man's Land.

Mishka Henner, “Strada Provinciale Binasco Melegnano, Carpiano, Lombardy, Italy,” from No Man’s Land. The image is part of Kate Albers’ review of Mishka Henner’s exhibition

Gelare Khoshgozaran & Eunsong Kim: Things are a lot more time-consuming and slower than we tend to think they are. Especially when working with other writers, artists and poets, we need to give ourselves plenty of time because communication involves lots of back and forths and waiting. One thing we knew but needed to be reminded of was that no matter how hard you try and how specific you are, there will be unknowns. It’s important to be able to work with the unpredictable surprises in the writing/collaborative process, and to have a good amount of flexibility and ingenuity. And fun!

This is such a genuine joy: working together, speaking to artists and writers we love, writing about it, reading each other’s writing and offering suggestions—it’s as close to a constant work party as we can imagine!

The Arts Writers Grant Program funds blogs, as well as articles, books, short form writing and new media.

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