December 16, 2009

The continued under-valuation of art bloggers

Last year we all cheered when New York's Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation, which "aims to support the broad spectrum of writing on contemporary visual art," included a blogging category in their program, and this year, I received several emails from colleagues urging me to apply. As an academic, I thought it seemed greedy to seek grant funding in addition to my salary when most bloggers are struggling to pay the bills. To be honest, I had good, grant-worthy ideas about expanding Two Coats of Paint in new directions, but I was too busy to complete the application. In addition, I was leery of adding new duties to my already overwhelming workload (teaching, writing, blogging, painting, parenting...).  It turns out, however,  that over 150 bloggers actually found the time to apply, but only one, Greg Cook (New England Journal of Aesthetic Research), was selected. In the LA Times blog, Christopher Knight wonders why.

"Twenty-six mostly N.Y. scribblers were the happy recipients of anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000, designed to help them ply their typically underpaid trade.... As writers on art, bloggers just don't seem to measure up. Although the Internet has gobbled up the globe, just one blogger made the cut. The remaining 25 grantees mostly proposed projects for print, including books, magazines, newspapers and other dead-tree media. In fact, in the four years that Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grants have been awarded, only three have gone to writers who produce blogs. Given a total of 87 grants since 2006, bloggers have racked up less than 4%.That's not a very good ratio.

"In fact, it's dismal.... Maybe art blogs are generally a waste or only really bad bloggers submit applications or the jury doesn't like the form. The bad news doesn't stop there. Two successful applicants this year got grants to start blogs. That's a nice vote of confidence in those established writers' abilities, but it also suggests the jury's rather sizable degree of dismay with existing bloggers who applied for assistance."

Isn't it obvious that with funding, existing bloggers could devote more time to their blogs and the quality would improve? Comments are welcome.


15 comments:

Hmm. When I first read Knight's piece I dismissed it as off-base and, frankly, a baiting tactic. In an era where all writers are struggling, when newspapers are going under and publishing is wobbly, it makes sense to offer grants to proven writers. That two non-bloggers who have written and edited extensively (McHugh and Schor) have been given grants to produce new blogs is a green light for cross-fertilization of mediums and for upping the writing standard of blogging. Make no mistake, the competition is stiff, and most of the writers who won have been writing since long before blogs even existed. I think crying foul over bloggers not being supported doesn't rate.

I suppose it would be easier to judge if we knew which bloggers had applied.

Sharon,

Thanks for your enlightened view about not applying for grants when you have a perfectly good salary to live on. I wish there were more academic-affiliated applicants who shared that view.

I'll tell you why I didn't apply for the blog grant. Though it has been a tough year in the selling-paintings department and I have spent more time than usual on my blog (I believe my coverage of Miami, though biased, is the biggest and best effort anywhere), I can't see spending time on a process whose jurors are unknown to me. Who, exactly, are the deciders?

I know anonymity is supposed to be the strength of a grant panel, but when I submit work to a gallery at their invitation, or when I begin a dialog with a curator, I know who the person or persons are and they know me.

Everyone, everyone, has an agenda. When you know who the deciders are, you can decide whether or not you wish to submit. With grant panels, most of don't have a clue, and thus from the getgo the effort may be doomed. This is not to say that Gregg, an excellent writer, didn't deserve the award, just to tell you why I didn't apply.

Though I have applied for and received grants, my days of spending hours on applications are over. I'd rather take on a project for a fixed fee, complete it and get paid.

I wonder if the issue is not about dissing blogging per se, but perhaps there was a particular point of view the decision-makers sought?

A blog can take the view from on high -- surveying the landscape and contemplating, comparing, musing, and discussing -- or it could be more of a "day in the life" centered on an artist's personal experience and process.

If the panel thought they wanted a forum for wide-ranging discussion of aesthetics, etc. then they might default to the overview rather than the personal insight.

I applied for the grant and I know at least one other art blogger who did. We never made it past the first round. I don't think it comes as a surprise that art blogging is only starting to be respected in the art world. I think it's a shame that the Warhol foundation doesn't embrace it more. Those of us with day jobs who applied, including me, do so in order to devote more time to art blogging. I really wish I had more time.

Now that the early bloggers have managed to make the blogosphere respectible, professional writers and critics are moving in. Kind of reminds me of real estate gentrification.

I was traveling today so I haven't been able to weigh in on the comments, but thanks everyone for posting. I agree with Joy that more quality writing in the blogosphere is definitely a good thing, and I look forward to seeing what the new bloggers do with the medium. As Richard Lacayo pointed out in his final post (http://lookingaround.blogs.time.com/2009/11/24/all-blogs-must-pass/) the learning curve is steep and a one-person blog can be a grind, so, regardless of writing skill, the format isn't for everyone.

I would like to see creative, committed, veteran bloggers like Hrag find financial support because with a little extra time and help that funding would enable, I have no doubt that Hyperallergic could be a powerhouse. I'm sorry his application was passed by.

Joanne and Sabra--I agree. More specific guidelines and criteria would be helpful. The 152 unfunded bloggers might have prepared more competitive applications had they had more information.

And finally, my guess is that the two non-bloggers selected put more effort into their grant applications simply because they had more time--and by this time next year they'll know what I'm talking about.

The Warhol, as I understood it when I served on one of the first panels, is about good, interesting, even innovative writing. The format is really secondary, and the inclusion of blogs is designed precisely for the reasons Joy suggests. My year I pushed hard for a project that, while not a blog, was wholly digitally realized, because as writing it pushed at boundaries of genre, authorship and even process.

We did have some blog applicants that year and, for what it's worth, we all felt that the writing was simply not interesting as writing. Again, the Warhol isn't there to promote text about art; it's there to promote the craft of writing, writing about art as an art. Some projects fell by the wayside on those grounds while the best proposal, from someone well off the NY radar as well as off the circuit of "art bloggers," and as I recall it didn't go through, despite much interest, because the proposal itself was undercooked.

The jury is anonymous precisely so that applicants can't game it. For that very reason we recused ourselves from the applications of folks we knew well. As a result, the deliberations were very frank. I served with people I knew of but had never met and it was completely fantastic--exhausting (and exhaustive) but fantastic. As a jurying experience this was easily the fairest and most thoughtful and stimulating I've ever had.

It's interesting, because even while it's understood that there's a lottery aspect to grants, and a who-you-know aspect, it's hard to say how a medium whose self-proclaimed priorities put speed, real-time topical relevance and the magic of distribution before stylistics and craft can compete with forms and writers whose priorities are just the opposite. Sweat of the brow? I don't think it makes sense to compare the writing of blogs to the writing of books. Hence the separate categories. Clearly the competition is amazingly stiff. Grantees this year include some truly polished professionals who deserve the support. I think it's amazing and wonderful that the very young medium of blogging with its comparatively young writers is included, and that rather than see the small number of blogger grantees as a slight, it is in fact a sign of openness and supportiveness; I also imagine there was a far greater number of 'dead tree' applicants than bloggers. My 2 cents.

Like I said: blogging loves controversy, and Christopher Knight is 'chancing his arm' by trying to push some bloggers' buttons. He's poking a sore spot. It's positively disingenuous!

Anonymous 10:18pm: thanks for the fab insights, from inside as it were. I've applied twice (not in the blogging category) and I was pleased to see that the grantees are as seasoned as I am green. Of course, writing the application is itself a part of the process of conceptualizing a project. As a not-so-green-anymore painter, I also know that some grants take many years of applying before they bear fruit, if at all.

(The Warhol)... it's there to promote the craft of writing, writing about art as an art

Frankly, if that's the best they can come up with for a criterion, I'd be suspicious of concealed agendas as well.

I'm with Joanne on this one.

Anon 10:18,
Thanks for the valuable insight into the CC/WF selection process. It's good to know that the quality of the proposal as well as the ideas contained within are equally important.

I admit my proposal wasn't the best thing I have written but I also think the process for blogs should be different than it is. Perhaps the organization should change the criteria for bloggers. I remember the application asked what you will do with the money that is new and as a blogger my biggest battle is sustaining what I have and improving the quality, not creating new aspects to the site.

Joy--I'm not sure Knight was being disingenuous. In any case, his post has led to a worthwhile discussion.

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