Sunday, 4 May 2008

Blogging : An Ideal Recipe

I originally wrote ‘Blogging: An Ideal Recipe’ as a guide for writers on the Performa Biennial ‘Writing Live’ critical writing programme in October 2007 ( It has since been used as source material by journalists Jane Watt and Lara Farrar in articles relating to arts criticism and new media/web technologies such as blogging. I edit and re-post the text here as the debate about new media and criticism (happily) shows no signs of abating and I want to inform this debate from the perspective of someone who blogs part of their professional practice.

Web based technologies are changing the face of arts criticism and the role of the writer in relation to art. Website, laptops and wireless technology means the art writer is more mobile and can carry the tools of their trade with them wherever they go. This increase in writer, writing and publishing mobility, combined with an increased awareness of the value of critical writing, is leading to writers being invited and paid to blog about art as and when it happens, wherever it happens. This complicity of the writer -whether physical, institutional or critical – with the art world has real implications for the agency and position of critical writing and its writers.

Sites such as myspace, blogspot, AN Interface, AN Artists talking and New Work Network are all web based points of interest to read un-spun, fast, critical reactions to contemporary art written by the people who are passionate about a broad range of art work in some of the farthest reaches of the globe. That said, this accessibility doesn’t mean that any and everyone’s opinions should be read as equal; there is no doubt there is a lot of uninformed, bad writing on blogs. Moreover, the so called democratising effect of the web is itself something to be questioned (i.e who controls what we see on the web and who has access?). So it seems that whether you are online or not there is no escaping hierarchy. However, there are many things that you can do as a critical writer to help your blog achieve the writing standards that might one day help blogs outweigh the opinions of the established broadsheet critics in print.

Blogging : An Ideal Recipe

Why blog?
Much of todays' critical writing has devolved away from a removed position of judgement to a more embodied critique. This is (very basically) critical writing in which the author (and reader) are necessarily situated in the personal; their body, their opinions/subjectivity and this position is considered theoretically relevant and critical. In addition, people nowadays often put as much stock in what their neighbours think of a piece of art as they do in what a professional thinks. Both these factors explain why and how blogging is such a vital, popular and growing phenomenon; its form, design and purpose are all often without spin and are personal i.e. a blogger, whatever they blog about, is telling you what they think.

Your blogging voice

Bloggers need to stay true to the blogger ethos of ‘say it like it is’ and giving their opinion freely whilst maintaining levels of professionalism and being mindful of any important relationships such as funder, artist or friend. The personal touch doesn’t mean a blog is not of professional standards or interest to academics, artists or commissioning organisations. Many individuals and organisations have a vested interest in blogging and many blogs are professional, both in financial terms and content. A growing number of professionals and organisations take blogging very seriously as a genre and pay bloggers to report on much more than just the facts.

Addressing the reader

Due to the blog’s informal origins, blog readers won’t necessarily be expecting large amounts of dense, specifically academic or theoretical language or text in a blog. This kind of content certainly does appear on specialist blogs, and will certainly be beneficial to many, but be mindful that a blog has a potentially wide and varied readership. You will need to be mindful that art historical terms or art content may well be unfamiliar, unusual or difficult to many. Therefore, specific themes, histories, context, content or language in the work will need to be carefully introduced, clearly referenced and explained for the benefit of the reader.

A Well Behaved Blog

There is no point writing if you only have bad things to say about the work. You also need to bear in mind the weight of your words in relation to the artist and art work or subject under discussion; often your words will carry gravitas that is beyond the reach of the artist, or art work. Your blog posts will also play a part in an archive that will inform artists, future historians. Be mindful of this act of archiving and generous (to the artist, to the work, to your reader) also constructive and balanced in your opinion. If you are compelled to be negative about an aspect of the work, remember to show your thinking on the page to contextualise your opinion. A good tip to gage whether or not you think you are being balanced regarding your negative opinion is to ask yourself ‘Would I feel happy as author of this writing if I met the artist or curator for dinner?’ If the answer is no, it’s perhaps time to put more into the text to explain yourself. Thanks to artist Joshua Sofaer for that tip, which has saved me numerous upset stomachs...

You will distinguish your blog from the majority of vicious, bad or ‘nasty’ blogs (i.e. blogs that are full of typos, unstructured, ill-thought-out or overly negative and viscous) by being generous to your reader, the art work and your own writing. Doing thorough copy editing, ensuring the facts (proper images with image credits and copyright details, names, dates and times) are all included and cross referenced will also help your writing to be read as serious and professional. Also, remember your writing is inextricably linked to your subject, and people may well want to read more about the artists’ work after reading your text, so remember to include any relevant links in your blog post.

Happy Blogging!

Rachel Lois Clapham

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