November 3, 2007

Homework assignment: Art Blogger Survey

At Grammar.police, Kriston Capps invited art bloggers to answer the questions Peter Plagens formulated for his Art in America roundtable discussion about art blogs: "Of course the great advantage to the blogosphere over print media is its boundlessness," Kriston writes. "After reading the Art in America roundtable on art blogs by Peter Plagens, my one complaint—beyond the fact that the article isn't available online—is that a Plagens's questionnaire really calls for a survey."

Although this post falls outside Two Coat's relatively narrow focus on painting, here are my answers to the Plagens questions.

What's the purpose of your blog?
I started Two Coats of Paint because I was interested in exploring and sharing art criticism from regions other than my own. Each day, I read through my bookmarked sites for worthwhile reviews and articles about painting. I used to print them out and store them in a three-ring binder. Eventually I realized that other people might welcome a digest of painting criticism, especially painters, painting students, collectors and curators, so I started Two Coats of Paint. [UPDATE, January 2010: In retrospect, I realize that I started gathering these articles as a way to assuage my doubt about painting's relevance--I'm fascinated by artists who believe wholeheartedly in the process of painting. In effect, Two Coats of Paint is part of my art practice, a journalistic undertaking, and also a community for painters and art wirters.]

What are the boundaries of your blog?
Two Coats posts excerpts from articles about painting and related topics such as drawing and printmaking. I’m drawn to articles that offer insights into the notion that painting is a lifelong process. I don’t make posts about painting thefts, auction prices, the art market, acquisitions, musical chairs among museum administrators, museum expansion projects, or other business-related items. I do have a penchant for the odd “celebrities who paint” stories, and tales of long lost painters who re-emerge after painting in obscurity for thirty years. I try to maintain a diverse mix in terms of location, gender, race, and age.

Joy Garnett's NewsGrist blog as doing a great job of "placing art within a sociocultural and political context." What I see on NewsGrist is a magazinelike interspersing of short profiles, exhibition reviews, op-ed pieces on how other people are covering things, and Village Voice–like political takes. Why are blogs in general better positioned than print to do what he describes?
I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. Placing art within a sociocultural and political context has mainly to do with the writer, not the medium. Blogs and the web may afford the well-qualified writer with a more expeditious and versatile vehicle for disseminating his or her ideas and gleaning a wide range of reactions to those ideas, but the substantive input has to originate with the blogger as opposed to the blog.

Why can't blogs go further, to the point where there's hardly any discernible difference between artist and critic/commentator, blog and work of art?
Blogs can go further, to the point where the skill and nuance of the syntheses that they provide may converge on art itself. A great art critic like, say, Arthur Danto, occupies a place in the art world that arguably rises near that of an Ellsworth Kelly or an Andy Warhol. But I think there will always be some distinction between the two insofar as the reporter/critic must always depend on artists to provide the raw material – the fodder – for his or her collations and deeper reflections. And again, how closely the blogger approaches the status of artist depends on the individual blogger’s skills, talent, and interest in turning the blog into an art project, not the medium per se.

What scope and degree of editorial control do you exercise over your blog?
I completely and exclusively control the content of my blog. Having said that, I have some help with editing and research. My husband, a non-fiction writer and experienced editor, sometimes edits the longer pieces, and contributes ideas for posts. He is keenly interested in art but doesn’t have a background in it, so sometimes I think he’s baffled as to why some stories make the cut and others don’t. Still, he often finds well-written articles out there that I’ve missed.

What about posting comments from readers, and what about anonymity?
TCOP doesn’t post comments because my purpose isn’t to engage in a fluid, ongoing conversation with the readers. Instead, my mission is to gather interesting reading material in one place and make out-of-the-way articles more accessible. (Note: TCOP added a Comments feature in February 2008)

What's "trolling," and why don't some of you allow it?
I don’t have comments, so I have no firsthand experience with trolling.

Is trolling really so easily identified and universally bad? Is having posters register a solution?
See above.

What about liability coverage?
I’m trying to raise painting’s visibility in a digital world, help under-recognized artists, and provide an engaging read for painters and a good virtual hang for those interested in painting. Since I always give credit to writers, liability doesn’t seem to be an issue. I've had artists and writers send me thank-you notes for including their work (or commentary about it) on TCOP.

What's the economic model of your blog?
I’m used to working compulsively and intuitively for little compensation. Accordingly, my economic model is essentially that of an artist: I work long hours, and if anyone appreciates my effort, that’s good. When I finally put a stat counter on my site, I was genuinely surprised at how many people were actually reading the blog. Maintaining Two Coats provides a distinctive existential clarity; I’ve grown intellectually and in some ways emotionally attached to the process, even without direct monetary compensation.

How do you see your blog's relation to the established print art media?
Clearly Two Coats of Paint relies on the print and online media to provide content. I suppose my editorial model would be something along the lines of a daily online Utne Reader for painters and painting aficionados – that is, a highly selective filter for existing published articles which I think would engage that audience. At the same time, I think my own point of view will become more pronounced in the presentation of blog material, and plan to include more of my own commentary.

What's the relationship between your blogging and your work in the print media?
Without Two Coats, which I started in May 2007, I wouldn’t have been writing articles at all. I’ve had two articles published this fall, one in The American Prospect and one in The Brooklyn Rail. They addressed subjects outside Two Coats’s relatively narrow scope, and by publishing them in other journals, I hoped they would raise the visibility of the blog, which they have. (Update: In January 2008, I became a contributing writer at The Brooklyn Rail, and in 2009, began writing for the New Haven Advocate.)

How do you attract readers/posters other than by word of mouth?
Most of Two Coats’s readers fortuitously stumbled upon the blog when searching for an artist or critic. Others found the blog through links on other people’s sites. Participating in the Blogger Show in New York and Pittsburgh, publishing articles elsewhere, and posting comments on other bloggers’ sites have all helped build Two Coat's readership. Mentions in Regina Hackett's blog and Charlie Finch’s slap-down of art bloggers on artnet also raised the site's profile.

In general, is blog art criticism more open and liberal, and print criticism more closed and conservative?
The unedited, immediate nature of blogging encourages impetuosity and therefore leads to some pretty brutal criticism, if that's what you mean by "open and liberal." Take a look at PaintersNYC for an example. Every few days, the blog posts a single image of a painting that is currently in an NYC gallery show. A group of regulars and a few stray visitors then have a go at the artist/artwork in the comments section. It’s horrifying but at the same time entertaining, like watching a hurricane on the weather channel. At any rate, I'm sure being the featured artist must be painful. (Update: PaintersNYC is on indefinite hiatus.)

Some people say that there's a dearth of art criticism at length on blogs. Is this true? If so, does it have more to do with reading on a computer in general, or with art criticism in particular?
Perhaps the most salient reason art criticism is shorter on blogs is that for bloggers, maintaining the blog is a second (or third) job. I would love to write more commentary and reviews, but forging well-written criticism takes more time than posting a few links to worthwhile articles. I am a artist and professor as well as a blogger, so my time is divided and all the more limited for each task.

Art magazines come out once a month. Newspaper art reviews usually appear once a week. Blogs appear more or less daily, and sometimes have updates by the hour. Do you think that the faster pace of blogs will start to affect the pace of art-making.
The introduction of computers has increased the pace of art-making for many artists, but I don’t think the faster pace of blogs will have much effect on how artists work. Unless, of course, it's to make the pace slower. Some artists get sucked into the blogosphere and neglect their artwork.

Is there more good art being made by more artists in more places than at any time in history? And if so, what's the reason?
I would agree that there is more art being made today, and the main reason is that the art market is so robust. But I wouldn’t say that the art is palpably better – or worse – than it has been in the past simply because I don’t think the judgment as to quality can be made on a day-to-day basis. In my view, the merit of an artist’s work has to be determined in the context of a path of personal artistic development that requires years to take shape. What the artist has made this week doesn’t seem like a sufficient basis for assessing quality, at least not on any deeper level. Many of the young artists working today won’t continue making art if/when the art market crashes. And many will give up art-making altogether when they turn thirty because the benefits yielded by the artist’s life are so often more elusive than those from other vocations. Only rarely will an artist whose career is severely truncated enrich an aesthetic or alter it in some enlightening way.

Do blogs help correct the geographical bias in print art criticism, i.e., the tendency to think that most of the important stuff happens in New York or Los Angeles, and the difficulty of art outside those places to get national attention?
The blogosphere makes it easier to promote art and artists who are working outside New York and Los Angeles, but since the art market isn’t developed and collectors haven’t been identified and cultivated in those areas, all the publicity in the world doesn’t necessarily translate into sales or an exhibition in NYC or LA. Most of the under-recognized artists who continue making art into their thirties and forties have teaching positions, independent wealth, or a talent for and dogged commitment to grant-writing or inventive self-promotion. Finding a way into the market from an outside position is tremendously difficult.

One index of a city's gravity as an art center is young artists—perhaps recent MFAs—from elsewhere coming to set up shop. Is that happening in Philadelphia and Portland?
The enduring dilemma faced by art school grads is this: Do I go to New York or LA where living expenses are high and I have less time to make art, but a better opportunity to make gallery contacts? Or do I stay in a less expensive area where I’ll have more time for art-making, but fewer opportunities for making gallery contacts? It’s a tough one and everyone has to answer it for themselves. If they go somewhere like Pittsburgh, where the housing is cheap, the artist density is thick, and exhibition opportunities are plentiful, artists will probably be tied to their day jobs for years to come because art collectors are scarce.

Is there any constructively negative edge to your blogging and, if so, what is it?
The only negative edge to Two Coats of Paint is that I like the odd snarky article about, say, Damien Hirst or other overrated art stars like Jeff Koons, for whom making art seems to have become big business rather than an authentic calling. I also like to poke fun at celebrities who take up painting to make a buck. I don’t think it’s necessarily constructive, but it amuses me.

Let's throw something back into the mix: naked human ambition.
The name recognition and goodwill that well-crafted blogs generate may translate into access and opportunity, and it would be disingenuous for me to claim that such prospects were not elements of my motivation for undertaking the blog. But even if I wind up one of those artists who dies with three thousand paintings stashed in the attic, being part of the dialogue about painting would have been worthwhile in and of itself.

Where will your blog be in three to five years?
In three to five years, I hope to be writing more reviews and commentary, curating shows, and continuing to paint. I've just been invited to contribute occasional reviews to a regional blog called Connecticut Art Scene. I’m not sure how Two Coats will fit in, but I’ll maintain the blog until it seems like a burden.

4 comments:

It's funny that in a post declaring that you don't allow comments, (and so avoid trolls) you then include a comments link!

I know! When I started TCOP, and when I originally wrote this post, I had disabled the Comments feature. Frankly, I thought it would be too much work to moderate comments. Later, when I figured out how to streamline the workload, I added it.

--Sharon

Thanks for the link to London Painting BTW -

Although not a blog, another interesting site/link for these topics is www.depictionandpainting.net

I hit delete instead of publish on this Comment, so here it is under my name. It's from Denny Greenway.

I have found a structural feature of blogging that gives blogging a unique distinction in terms of the act of making criticism. Print/scholarly media have the advantage of longer more in-depth articles with scholarly citations, etc., so that a topic or painting can be fully developed. Blogs with the commentary offer a nest of spectators with the chance to see if a consensus exists on a topic, painting or painter. You find out what the world thinks. Criticism in an Artforum, for example, is like having sex in a joy hole, u don't know what the person on the other side thinks or cares. Both forms of articulation, print and blogging, are valuable, more like apples and oranges.