In March of this year, the Mindshare Awards, acknowledging innovative websites that support lifelong learning, creativity, professional skills, or social responsibility in 25 categories, were announced. The awards, from eLearners.com, a PR-savvy organization that aims to connect non-traditional college students with online programs and universities - admittedly for profit - targeted 25 categories, such as visual arts, history, writing, food, crafts, and travel. McSweeney's, The Wooster Collective, The Chronicle, Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise, SmartHistory, TED, Big Think, and numerous others (including Two Coats of Paint) were cited.
Is this a big deal? Maybe medium-sized. Bloggers are as interested as artists, curators, critics, and gallerists in competing for grant funding, promotion, and ad sales. But with no established gatekeepers or referees in the anarchical blogosphere, it's hard to separate the good, the bad, and the ugly. A Mindshare Award may not be a Pulitzer. But even modest awards bestow legitimacy on blogging and online publications. Just as novelists whose books may appear on the bestsellers' list for a nanosecond can forever be described as "bestselling authors," these websites and blogs will be "award-winning" evermore.
Prizes and other accepted forms of recognition might also help persuade academics and other traditionalists that the best art blogs, although unconventional, are as good as - sometimes better than - the ink-on-paper presses and peer-reviewed journals that quickly fall out of print. For scholar-bloggers, awards could be important in determining promotion and tenure.
Even without awards, in the mainstream media, where massive layoffs have decimated space for arts coverage and criticism, art blogs are slowly gaining respect. Art critics who previously dismissed them as impulsive vehicles of unconsidered opinion and inaccurate information are beginning to blog themselves. In addition, galleries, curators, and museums have come to recognize that coverage on the art blogs is good for business. The fact that artists are beginning to put art blogs on their publication lists indicates that online criticism is as valid as reviews in the venerable art magazines.
Of course, not everyone in the art community is warming to blogs. The same week that the Mindshare Awards were announced, Lisa Radon reported in the feisty art blog Hyperallergic that Richard Flood, curator at New York's supposedly forward-thinking New Museum, likened art bloggers to prairie dogs and declared bloggers (many of whom were locked in a fierce debate about the New Museum's integrity at the time) uninterested in truth, facts, or history.
And so it goes. For art bloggers, securing legitimacy is tough. Awards, whatever their provenance, are more likely to advance their cause than hinder it. Last year, in "Rob Pruitt Presents The First Annual Art Awards," a performance piece at the Guggenheim Museum, artist Rob Pruitt gave awards to honor and publicly acknowledge the successes and achievements of artists, curators, critics, and gallerists. No one was quite sure if they'd actually won an award or simply participated in a satirical performance piece, but the event raised money for the museum, generated publicity for the participants, and posed interesting questions about the nature of awards. I propose following eLearner and Pruitt's lead by introducing awards for independently operated art blogs. Who knows? Maybe a truly forward-thinking organization like, say, Apple would agree to be our sponsor.
NOTE: This post is also online at the Huffington Post.