Exploring the art blogosphere

Three artists on popularity and breaking barriers.

street art tel aviv 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of MutualArt.com)
street art tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of MutualArt.com)
As internet media sources continue to expand, art blogs have gained popularity and offer a unique form of content development. Three art bloggers supply insights into this dynamic platform, their online habits, and the differences between blogs and traditional content distribution.
After years in which art critics and writers of traditional print publications set the pace (not to mention the tone) of the art world, the Internet has broken barriers and introduced an entirely new concept of content distribution. The Web is constantly evolving as one of the top trends of 2009 and 2010 is the soaring and unprecedented popularity of social media platforms. Facebook, for example, will soon reach the 500 million monthly unique visitors mark. According to comScore's latest estimate, it had 484 million unique visitors worldwide in March 2010, up 64% from a year ago, and up 22 million from just February 2010! Traffic to Blogger.com, which is the biggest blog-hosting platform on the web, has risen nearly 50% in the last two years alone. The art blogosphere is no exception and today, more than ever, art bloggers produce volumes of innovative content.
To provide a glimpse into this world, we asked three art bloggers to answer a few questions about their online habits and the difference between the art blogosphere and art in the mainstream media. One is Paul Mclean (who blogs at ArtforHumans.com), a veteran art critic who moved from traditional media to the blogosphere in 2001, and two others are Mike Darnell (whose Twitter page is a hub of activity) and Sarah Peguine (who blogs at ) - both of whom are young bloggers who use use their platforms in new and engaging ways.
What does the art blogosphere have to offer that the mainstream media does not?
Paul: As far as I know, I was one of the first art writers to make the switch from print to digital format. In the late '90s I was writing reviews and critique for Nashville Weekly In Review, and previews for The Tennessean's weekly calendar The Rage. At the time I was on a trajectory to become a contributor in the city's "mainstream media." I also hosted a radio show with artsies of note that essentially functioned as a scene survey. I migrated to [blogs platform] Blogger in 2001. My migration was more attuned to art production issues and concerns about sustainable reach. I think that early bloggers were arriving at the conclusion that the Web medium was viable on the basis of comfortability with the technology, which had a certain premium value in the emerging digital output/tech-art genre for the market and more attentive institutions. It's an interesting history that is only now being focused on in academic scholarship, which is putting its own branding on it.
Although now the two formats are comparable with regards to media capability, this is only due to the print media acknowledging that they were being outperformed by web-based vehicles. By this I mean primarily the inclusion of embedded images, video and audio with the text. The major newspapers have hurried over the past few years to adapt technical strategies in an effort to improve appeal and garner market share/ad dollars.
Art blogging has become incredibly diverse in the meantime. The art blog is ubiquitous. Artists maintain them, as do museums, galleries and art-related businesses of all kinds. In fact calling a blog an "art blog" really is only a function of self-determination, which is in some ways problematic. It really is impossible to discuss the "art blog" today or "mainstream media" without narrowing those terms to something meaningful. Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes is functional as a magazine covering a selected set of issues relevant across a spectrum of market and artist concerns. Art Forum's Diary is an extension of the magazine's interactive presence, in one way a document of AF's potent access to the world's elite art market and social life. Jerry Saltz and John Yau recently conducted a critic war of personalities and words primarily in blogs and social media sites. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times use blogs to post material that can't make it into the print vehicle, probably due to space allotments.
Mike: I think the differences between the “art blogosphere” and “art in the mainstream media” are a subset, or example, of the differences between blogging and “professional media” in general. The blogosphere isn’t constrained by any considerations of the limitations traditional media has, be them commercial, editorial, political, etc. The only considerations bloggers have when pondering whether to cover a topic or not are their own interests in it and, possibly, the interest or value they perceive for their readership.
This freedom means that lots of content that would never “make it” onto mainstream media is covered exclusively by bloggers - for better and for worse. There is no doubt that today, there are volumes of excellent art that is getting exposure it could never have dreamed of even a decade ago thanks to the efforts of bloggers. Artists are far less at the mercy of so-called “art professionals” than they used to be, and blogging artists have a direct channel to their audience, whereas once their message was always filtered by some form of middleman. The downside of the phenomenon is that there’s a lot of trash spamming up people’s attention spans as well. I personally prefer having the freedom to approach this smorgasbord art buffet and make my own choices over what to pile onto my plate, rather than have someone make the choices of what’s fit for me.
Sarah: The art blogosphere is like a diary.
Unlike in mainstream media, art bloggers can write about whatever they wish, without editors censoring or editing them. Visiting art blogs allows readers to travel, which is exactly what the art world is about, as art enthusiasts, collectors or professionals cannot stay in their own bubble. Art blogs allow one to discover an endless amount of information about art. You go from blog to blog via hyperlinks, it is a dynamic world, again exactly like the art world and art market.
Finally, it is immediate and often it is much more viral than mainstream media. Information travels much quicker and I believe it provides a great way of staying
informed and up-to-date. One does not have to wait a month to receive the latest information about art from an art magazine, but instead you can subscribe to many different art blogs (and it’s free). The art blogosphere gives a stage to bloggers who otherwise wouldn't have had the possibility to be read because often they are not linked to any institution, they are independent, like young people or artists. It is a free and flat space.
Who are your favorite art bloggers and why?
Paul: I listed a few above. I recently have undertaken a scan of art blogs, which I linked on my Art for Humans Facebook page. I think perhaps more useful questions for me would be, "What is an artist, and what is art?" Depending on your answer to these questions, you as a wired end user are going to be able to find art blogs of interest. For me those questions are points of origination in dimensional analysis.
Most blogs are not published on a proprietary basis; in the beginning, none were, which is why they became so popular. Unfortunately, corporate capitalism operates in the same consumer model of "addiction" or client "sustainability" as a drug pusher's. One major problem - for the short-term profit-centric media - involves confronting "competition" with free "content" on an equal value basis. I find it just as pertinent to review what, for instance, the powerhouse web design agency VIVIKI is proposing to do to serve the interests of its impressive roster of clients, as I would the impressions a blogger communicates in response to a painting in a small gallery show in a regional US city of 200,000 souls. To sum up, my interests are research-based and evolving.
To answer the question, I would recommend the aforementioned Tyler Green's blog roll as a worthy listing of notable art blogs. Or the reader can Google "best art blogs" and find a huge database from which to originate a scan of the field. I like the example of the Yau/Saltz dust-up above for its revelatory aspects, uncovering how the perception of art writer persona is being affected - and projected in new media.
Sarah: I am a big fan of street and urban art, therefore many of my favorite blogs specialize in this field. For example, www.pilpeled.com, one of the most talented graphic designers/artists out there. One of the reasons I love art blogs by artists is that they often offer a closer look and provide a 'window' into their work from a more personal perspective. Another one, www.ph7mag.tk, is a very recent blog but I love the layout, the fact that this blogger publishes new posts almost on a daily basis. It is original, to the point and with an edge. The famous Wooster Collective keeps me updated about all the news on street art around the world. I also visit blogs to keep myself up-to-date about the contemporary art world and on the latest exhibitions. This is why I particularly appreciate this blog: Contemporary Art Daily. It simply consists of press releases and a few images from shows that illustrate the post. Every week they also publish a “Week in Review” post which sums up all the week's events. I also enjoy vlogs (video blogs), especially for art blogs such as Vernissage tv. For me the beauty of blogs in general is to share an experience with the reader. Vlogs allow you to do exactly that and break the barrier between the event, person or project documented in the video and the visitor. A shift has occurred from hard copy books, magazines and newspapers to the virtual world of blogs and more recently to vlogs. Last but not least, new-art.blogspot.com - great critics and writings on art, installation, photography and much more.
Mike: In the past, I used to follow a few artist bloggers and art bloggers. However, today it’s difficult for me to say I’ve got a fixed set of favorites. As my web content consuming habits evolved and I encountered more and more sites that I respected, it became increasingly difficult to exhibit any sort of loyalty to any single website or even any set of sites. Gradually I moved from visiting a more or less fixed set of destinations to visiting links recommended by an ever expanding community of people whom I interact with via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. I maintain a list of artsy people I run across on Twitter and every so often I’ll click a link promoted by them.
What effect does the blogosphere have on the art world/market and vice versa?
Paul: At the moment, there are some really amazing instances of the blogosphere pushing stronger accountability in the art world. The recent appointment of Jeffrey Deitch to MOCA is such a case. Another involves the hidden-market structure driving art commodities acquisition processes on a global platform. Another worthwhile instance of cause/effect to study is the discourse documented and responded to throughout the wired art scene, precipitated by an Intelligence Squared panel/summit held in the aftermath of the financial sector meltdown of 2007-8 ("The Art Market Is Less Ethical than the Stock Market").
I would also point to two other panels, conducted online: former NEA chairman Bill Ivey's push for "Expressive Life" (Arts Journal) and the forum on the NEA and Federal arts policy hosted by WESTAF, on which I served as a panelist. The blog or web-expanded policy discussion is decisively undermining status quo processes designed to insulate special - corporate, institutional or governmental - interests from interventions by those affected directly as a result of policy mandates. Unfortunately, the one percent elites and their policy instruments tend to respond not by expanding openness in debate, much less by inviting necessary regulation or legitimate inclusion in determining future development. Transparency and free discourse tend to radicalize the monopolizers of power, who have specific usages for "art" in social management.
Mike: I think that the blogosphere has forced art professionals to reconsider their positions and habits.
The simple truth is that most art galleries and art institutions have been influenced by the grass roots blogging movement to the extent that they’ve either picked up blogging and social media practices directly, or are participating as individuals on platforms like MutualArt.com or Saatchi Gallery, which are offered by others.
Can you point to any recent trends, developments or anything other that is new and interesting in the art blogosphere?
Paul: The most obvious trend, and potentially most dynamic, is through the social Web 2.0 to "Cloud" computing praxis. Central to this sequence are the issues of privacy and individual value in the collective. For art, which is at root a studio-based craft, these considerations are of great import to the future valuation and definition of art as an essential element in the social fabric.
The critique is being displaced by the comment, on the fly. The onus is on the end user to insist on substance and art, as opposed to superficiality and artificial art. Clearly any free-minded citizen will be hard-put to maintain a real-world, craft-pertaining, traditional definition of art and artist in the existing environment, which is designed by very clever and accomplished (well-financed) professionals, to reformat our culture to grease the machine of corporate profit and the legitimize the "culture" enjoyed by its prime beneficiaries.
An artist today is forced to choose whether to aspire to be a corporate or Superclass art start, or to cleave to a meaningful and difficult procedure towards personal excellence that has almost nothing to do with what one is pushed to believe constitutes legitimate excellence. The self-questions have not changed at all. Is this art work great? Could it be great? What is the next thing I must make or do as an artist to improve my skill, to become more attenuated to "inspiration" as Agnes Martin defines it? Who is this art for? Will it last long enough for he/she/them to experience it viscerally? Am I representing reality? What is my vision, and am I good enough to translate it to my community through art? And so on. One of the usages of art writing, now art blogs, is to support and encourage this set of values, to sustain the meaningful in art. Whether an art blog does so should be a relevant question to the reader/user.
Which tools do you use to distribute your content and boost the size of your audience?
Mike: I'm a classic "Early Adopter," which is a polite way of saying I spend too much time online, and have a weakness for all things shiny and new. As a result I tend to be most active on whatever is the buzz site du-jour. Currently I'm particularly active on Twitter as @pop_art and I use my Flickr account as a showcase for sketche, thoughts, and images which may or may not later become the basis of my artwork. People have found me via all of the above but also via my Facebook profile and the comments I've left on numerous posts on blogs across the web. I have the good fortune of being also pretty well ranked for many relevant key-terms on Google; that has led to a fair deal of exposure and a few exhibition gigs.
Sarah: Facebook (fan page for Oh So Arty, art galleries' fan page, the "like" facebook tool), Twitter, Flickr, email subscriptions (feed burner), and that's about it.
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