The Future of Arts Blogs—Arts Blogging, Part 3

When blogs first started to become popular, they offered a unique opportunity to share personalized, more inclusive forms of expression. There was a sense of freedom with the platform: you didn’t have to be a known writer to publish, and you didn’t have to conform to editors wishes, or a publication’s standards. In the art world, blogging still maintains this prestige. As artists offer new ways of seeing the world, blogs allow writers to express and describe the different ways this reframing actually manifests itself.

We asked past awardees in the blog category to offer their perspectives running their own blogs. I have been talking to Daniel TemkinKate AlbersSharon Butler and Gelare Khoshgozaran & Eunsong Kim about what they think of the future of arts blogging.

Nik Hanselmann's "Bodyfuck," as written about by Daniel Temkin in "BodyFuck: gestural code"

Nik Hanselmann’s “Bodyfuck,” as written about by Daniel Temkin in “BodyFuck: gestural code”

Daniel Temkin: I think this is a great time to be writing about art online, especially working on a specialized blog like mine. Esoteric.Codes has an esoteric subject—there’s a sense of early-Web-utopianism when those ideas resonate in other parts of the world. At the same time, posts can inspire articles in mainstream press such as Wired (like my post on BodyFuck) as others

Sharon Butler: At first, we were all independent bloggers. Then a couple of structural changes occurred. Some bloggers, like Hrag Vartanian and Paddy Johnson, hired staffs and writers and grew their blogs into online magazines. Furthermore, mainstream media outfits like NY Observer, ArtNews, and NY Magazine, discovered the blog format and began providing online content outside their print editions. Both of these developments have expanded and entrenched art blogging as a media format and made it more sustainable. Of course, many independent bloggers left to pursue other opportunities—for instance, Carolina Miranda is now at the LA Times, and Andrew Russeth is a co-editor at ArtNews—while other bloggers just lost interest when the blogosphere became more corporatized. I’ve kept Two Coats of Paint going because it’s a key element of my art practice, but also because I think there’s a need for more arts writing rather than less. And it goes almost without saying that I enjoy it.

Art blogging is particularly important for smaller communities in which local newspapers don’t have knowledgeable art critics and can’t afford much space for art reviews or commentary. I’m very grateful to the Art Writers Grant Program for introducing the blogging award, and I applaud the organizations’ foresight. The recognition has helped validate the format and attract talented and established critics—like Raphael Rubinstein and Mira Schor—to blogging. Today, blogs increasingly give young art critics their start and young artists their first reviews. The art community has finally embraced bloggers, and acknowledged that we are invaluable cogs in the cultural machine. The Arts Writers Grant has helped make that happen.

Kate Albers: I think that calling something a blog used to mean something about community and direct engagement—blogs were a kind of public journal, a way to collect an ongoing assortment of thoughts and potentially build an online community of like-minded thinkers. But I didn’t really read blogs when they were so popular in this way. That said there are several arts blogs I’ve read a lot of material in over the years—especially, Modern Art Notes, and Conscientious—though actually none of those foster the kind of community that I think was both possible and desirable at one point. And, in fact, those three tend a bit toward the longer form essay.

With that in mind, I don’t think that calling something a blog is a particularly useful distinction anymore. I think more about the continuum of what we mean by a blog in relation to an online journal or a long form essay or any of the types of regular, sustained writing people do, especially on a defined topic, that lives and can be shared online. To me it’s more about writing online at all, and what that means for an academic, in particular, to have that immediate, share-able, non-peer-reviewed result rather than the years-long process of academic publishing. There is a lot that I value about the academic model of publishing, including a really invested and knowledgeable (if extremely small) audience, the ways one can be pushed by a good peer review, and the thoroughness required in an academic conversation in terms of engaging directly with a long and rich history of sources, footnoting them, etc.

On the other hand, that model also often produces an extremely insular form of writing that is generally only accessible to someone with a university library account and the time and interest to comb through the scholarly journals. I find that really limiting, particularly given the current topic of my research interests.

Images from Alec Soth's Instagram feed, featured on Kate Albers' post on the artist's Snapchat

Images from Alec Soth’s Instagram feed, featured on Kate Alpers’ post on the artist’s Snapchat

I’ve digressed a bit here from your question, but it allows me to articulate what I would like to see more of, which is the level of engagement, knowledge, and passion that I see from so many of my museum and academic colleagues, but that is so hidden from a wider audience, behind scholarly journal paywalls and within museum archives. I think that’s something that the AWG in particular really helped me understand, and having that support—the validation, I suppose—fuels my conviction that there could be a much more robust level of online and easily share-able conversation within the academic and museum communities and others who are so knowledgeable about art and often such good writers.

So to circle back to the question you actually asked: I’m less interested in seeing blogs sustained as a distinct form (whatever one understands a “blog” to be) and more interested in seeing platforms evolve to both attract, accommodate, and distribute a range of voices in arts writing that are not currently well represented online.

Read more about the Arts Writers Grant Program, which funds arts blogs, and other forms of contemporary art criticism.

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