At the invitation of Art Miami, Art Bloggers @ convened a panel on Saturday, December 5, during fair week. While the rain fell in buckets outside, popping loudly at times on the enormous tarp that covered the roof, we stayed dry and audible in a specially constructed lecture room. Scheduled for 90 minutes the panel continued, with questions from the audience, for close to two hours.
Topic: Beyond Basic Blogging: Carving Our Niche in the Blogosphere
The premise of this panel, the third organized by Art Bloggers @, is that art bloggers have developed a greater sophistication in what we cover and how we cover it. We’re specializing—sharpening our focus, breaking stories, offering news and service features—and typically publishing more material, often faster, than conventional print publications. In an art world chronically short on coverage, we’re not just filling in the blanks, we’re breaking new ground.
Panelists: Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint; Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, Fallon and Rosof Artblog; Thomas Hollingworth, Art Lurker; Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City; Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic; Joanne Mattera, Joanne Mattera Art Blog, moderator
What follows are highlights of the panel (and what I could read of my notes):
Q: Did you carve your niche over time, or did you create your blog because you saw a niche you could fill?
• Fallon and Rosof started their Artblog in 2003 when there was, said Fallon, “a huge vacuum of art writing in Philadelphia.” Products of the city’s “huge DIY culture,” the two artists said, “let’s do it ourselves.”
Added Rosof, “We wanted to steer the discussion in Philly.” Their goal was to cover huge swaths of the art scene that were ignored by conventional print media: young artists, minorities, women. “We wanted to cover all the people who were underserved.”
• Thomas Hollingworth originally conceived Art Lurker as as a personal portfolio. "It quicklyevolved to be a community forum when my efforts got the writing ball rolling in Miami,” he said.
• Sharon Butler saw Two Coats of Paint as a tool for “building a community among painters” by posting reviews and links from a “curated selection” of articles from other publications.
• Hrag Vartanian recently launched the “blogazine” Hyperallergic while continuing to post to his eponymous blog. He sees Hyperallergic, for which he has a business plan and accepts ads, as a platform for people to discuss what bothers them (tagline: Sensitive To Art and Its Discontents). The new venture offers another benefit, said Vartanian: “I’m sick of having to write for other people.”
• Joanne Mattera: "When I started my blog in June 2006, I didn’t have a clue. But by that December, when I wrote about the art fairs in Miami, I knew what I wanted to do with the blog: report on the art I was seeing in New York and elsewhere. I’ve been doing that ever since.
Q: Have critics-turned-bloggers changed the quality of discourse in the blogosphere? Has their participation in the more democratic arena of cyberspace change the relationship between critic and reader, or critic and artist? Has the discourse of largely unsalaried bloggers changed how paid critics are approaching criticism—in terms of subject matter or length—in print or online? How are bloggers continuing to push the envelope online, thereby changing what and how everyone writes?
Not everyone responded to every part of this question. It’s also worth noting that just about everyone has written for print media. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
. Fallon: “Having critics blog expands the discussion.” In terms of length and content, she noted that writing for print requires a more conventional journalistic approach (she is the critic for Philadelphia Weekly), while on a blog “you can write about what you want.“ She pointed out that when a publication operates in both mediums, “a truncated version often appears in print; the full version on line.”
. Rosof: Whether she’s writing for print or on line, Rosof focuses on what interests her, what she likes. “We don’t take much time writing about what’s bad.”
. Butler: “The blogosphere has changed the whole landscape, flattened the hierarchy. As an artist you’re fairly powerless; in the blogosphere artists have the power not only to join the discussion but to lead it. And," she noted, “the tools of blogging are free and available to everyone.”
. Vartanian: “Critics bring their readership to the blogosphere.”
We all acknowledged New York magazine Jerry Saltz in this regard. While he’s not a blogger, his posts on Facebook generate a huge number of responses, so that a simple declaration on his FB page quickly expands into a conversation with multiple voices. (And a good deal of sucking up, as several panelist noted.)
. Fallon: “We’ve had ads for four years. They’re community kinds of ads [from local galleries, foundations and artists].” In the early format, said Fallon, the ads rotated so that each received the prime position at the top of the sidebar.
. Rosof: “When we switched from Blogger, we decided to fix the position and raise rates: more for ads that run at the top, less for the bottom. But if you add it all up, there’s not enough income to support the two of us, plus contributors and the techie crew. So, yes, we’re bringing in money, but it’s not enough. We’re thinking about going nonprofit.”
. Johnson: “I’ve been blogging since 2005. I’m a writer. One of the problems with running a blog is that it asks you to do things you’re not good at.” She’s referring, I think, to technical issues and recordkeeping. "Half the grant [she received the first Warhol/Creative Capital grant for blogging, in 2008] paid off debts that I’d accumulated. The rest has allowed me to live. I will run out by Christmastime. If you want to invest time in a blog, you have to find time to make it work. I can’t run the blog without the support of my readership. But," she said, “I hate asking for money.” She‘s also looking into strategies for advertising.
. Hollingworth: “I didn’t start my blog to make money. It’s a blog, not a job.”
. Vartanian: “I’m sick of culture being a grant charity case.” He’s promoting Hyperallergic with his husband, who is an interactive marketer. “I want to see what people respond to. We’re also going to be doing things like events.”
. Butler: “I'm exploring on-demand publishing to produce an edition of Two Coats of Paint artists' books that will be available for sale on the blog.” The first book she published was one of her own artist books, but she wants to branch out. “Generosity is the code among art bloggers.”
. Mattera: “I’m thinking along the same lines as Sharon. I’ve published books conventionally, but with my blog’s visibility, I think self publishing is the way to go now.”
Question from audience member Alexandra Greenawalt: “The biggest challenge for me is not the writing but the promotion. I find that print is not the most effective way to promote my blog. My grandparents are the ones who say, ‘I saw your work in the New York Times.'"
. Fallon: “With a blog, we know what our readers are interested in. It changes what we talk about.”
. Butler: “Go to popular blogs and leave good comments that inspire other readers to click on your link. The blogroll is where you link to other blogs, and they to you. Posting regularly is key to developing a following.”
. Rosof: “Postcards. When we moved the blog [from Blogspot to another platform] we put the information on a postcard and left them in the real world: galleries, art cafes.”
. Fallon: “Do you have a Facebook page?”
. Johnson: “I put most of my focus on the content. Professionals will find you if you are saying interesting things.”
. Butler: Twitter is good for driving traffic to specific posts.
. Vartanian: “There’s no way to achieve [what we do on the blogs] on social networking. Social networking, is more likely to replace phone calls than blogs."
. Butler: “Blogs and social networking are complementary.” But social networking, she notes, is more likely to replace postcards and other printed announcements than replace blogs.
Question from audience member Mary Birmingham, curator at the Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey: “I’m a museum curator, and I find we’re getting more traction from bloggers than any other medium. What can we as institution do to work with you?”
• Butler: Museums need to have good websites. List all the artists who are in each show, link to their sites, include press releases and images of their work. Flash animation isn't helpful, but access to good information is extremely important.”
• Vartanian: “Museums could create a blog instead of sending email press releases.”
• Hollingworth: “Museum shows are not that interesting to review. I’m more interested in the corrolary things they do: workshops, seminars.”
• Mattera: "Have you considered an event that involves bloggers, perhaps as curators? By the way, museums need to abolish the no-photography ban."
• Rosof: “You have to figure out what we’ll cover and send info about those shows. We’re unlikely to go out of our way.”
• Franklin Einspruch, from the audience: “Have you ever sent a press packet to a blogger? Nothing has yet replaced that physical package.”
With that last Q&A exchange, the formal program ended. Individual audience members and panelists stayed on to chat. Then, speaking for myself, I went on to lunch and to spend the rest of the afternoon perusing Art Miami.