Monday, March 06, 2006

Some Thoughts on Art Blogs

Tyler Green, of Modern Art Notes fame, has been kind enough to link to my site. As you might guess, this counts for a lot, since my site is new and obscure, and his well-established. (MAN is "the most infuential of all visual-arts blogs" according to this Wall Street Journal article.) As you can see, my number of visits went through the ceiling this afternoon. Thanks Tyler!

Green also wrote this little essay, in which he discusses the impact of blogging on the state of art criticism. Locally directed criticism, he argues, is fading away; "now every critic has a shot at a national audience". Surely, the latter
—if not the former—is true. He does point to one problem, that of trying to reach both a local audience and a broader one. He cites the case of Washington Post reviewer Blake Gopnik, who wrote a review of some shows in Chelsea (as I did myself a few posts ago). These were intended for a local audience, according to Green. The piece elicited this sarcastic response from the art blog From the Floor:
In what has to be the strangest lead-in to a multi-gallery review piece I have ever seen, Blake Gopnik announced to readers of The Washington Post last weekend that there is this neighborhood in New York called Chelsea. And that there are a lot of galleries that show art there. And some of the art is good. But some of it is bad, too.

Very interesting, Blake.

Of course, something like this could have been directed at my own Chelsea piece, which is a bit troublesome.

Green presents this as being simply a difference in sophistication, a split between the "arterati" and the typical Post reader (although presumably there is some overlap). In this particular instance, he might be on track. More generally however, I think that "sophistication" in the visual arts does have an significant local aspect. Judging by what most art bloggers (and other art writers) actually write about, physical proximity is central to the experience of most art. This seems to apply even to art that exists as multiples (prints, photography, video art, etc), which can be seen in different locations simultaneously. Green points out there are more book blogs than art blogs and that the former are much more influential. Although there are surely many reasons for this, I suspect that the major one is that anybody can obtain and read a book anywhere (usually inexpensively), which means that your particular locality is largely irrelevant to a discussion about literature. Clearly, this isn't the case with most visual art.

The result of all of this is that there is an asymmetry between the national (and even global) reach of art blogs and the local character of much of what they cover
—or should cover. This problem is of particular interest to me since I live in a small isolated town, but it applies to all art bloggers. If I cover locally displayed art, then my non-local readers will probably be unable to see the actual works that I am refering to. The same basic problem happens if I cover non-local art. Of course, both individual works and whole exhibitions do travel, and mechanical reproduction does make art more broadly accessible (a good thing). Still, the problem of the split audience isn't just one of uneveness in general education.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous JL said...

Still, the problem of the split audience isn't just one of uneveness in general education.

Very true, but there's an upside as well. It used to be hard for me, in my little corner to know much of anything of what was going on at ground level in places around the country. There's only so much attention the art magazines are going to pay to what's happening in the Pacific Northwest, in Boston, Texas, Virginia, and a host of other places. On the rare occasions these places get coverage, it will likely be in a rather superficial way. The virtual access to what people are seeing, thinking, and doing around this country and beyond has been of tremendous value, at least to me.

5:34 PM  
Blogger arthur said...


The virtual access to what people are seeing, thinking, and doing around this country and beyond has been of tremendous value, at least to me.


It has been of tremendous value to me as well. But I do think that the "asymmetry" that I mentioned does still apply. Isolation is clearly a relative matter. There is a huge difference between living in Boston (as I used to do) and living in Ithaca which has a population of 29,287(circa 2000, not including college students I think). Art blogging obviously does represent a great decentralization when compared to the "dead tree" art press. But is hasn't yet--as far as I can see--trickled down to towns like mine. I don't know of any comparable sites although no doubt there are some out there.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

I do think that the "asymmetry" that I mentioned does still apply.

Oh, I agree. And while I don't live in Boston (though I visit frequently), I can see how as one moves along the scale to small town - even one home to a distinguished collection with various events happening - the problem grows more serious. That said, I don't think Todd, to pick one example from the post, would react in quite the same way to an out-of-town blogger's assessment of Chelsea as he did to that of the lead critic of the Washington Post.

I'm not dismissing the issues you raise. Far from it, I think they're pretty fundamental to the whole enterprise. But I do think that, as tenuous as it may be, this web of connections between the large art centers and the most far-flung towns offers opportunities for interaction that didn't exist before.

7:22 PM  

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