What Is To Be Done, Take Twenty-Three: Another Essay About Blogs And Their Discontents, with the regional art world as a major subtopic of conversation
I’ve written before about the less than satisfactory nature of the weblog as an interim solution to the crisis in print publishing. Even when the blogs give us insights into larger topics associated with the regularly print-published writers who maintain them (Luc Sante’s “Pinakothek” being only one of many examples), the topics disappear into the archives too quickly, and keyword searches don’t solve the problem of finding only what one has already been searching for. (Most of us find new blogs through websearches for a topic.)
I am going back to book reviewing on a serious basis, and would like to have the reviews conveniently accessible in a go-to site akin to the review sections that newspapers and magazines used to maintain, and now by and large do so no longer.
The freedom of the weblog permits two-thousand-word essays taking off from the topic of the book; thanks to the size of online servers, each of us can become our own George Steiner at the New Yorker.
Maximizing ready accessibility of our efforts is another matter.
Websites like Erik Davis’ www.techgnosis.com are probably a better interim solution, and I am working towards that minimum solution, at least; I have bookmarked Davis’ essays page and check regularly to see what new gracefully written thing has occurred to his remarkable mind. (Davis somehow has gotten permission, or at least tolerance, from his publishers to post his newly magazine-published as well as otherwise unpublished essays and reviews, a feat that few webloggers have accomplished.)
But one-person websites don’t do much for the larger task of producing online journals that genuinely take advantage of the speed of online publishing combined with the necessity for outside editing.
I read my own share of online journals, and as far as the regional artworld goes I have always wondered why the idea an Atlanta gallery owner had years ago never quite took off: a single site for meditative essays on a variety of topics not reflected in the publishing programs of any of the existing art magazines, with links to the online sites of regional art scenes and individual cities’ sites for reviews and discussion.
One reason it never took off was that nobody wanted to buy advertising to support it. With no advertising, there was no money to pay the existing print reviewers, who were quickly told by their print editors that they couldn’t review shows for an online journal even though at the time their print publications were doing nothing at all in that vein.
In 2009, the scene is almost unimaginably different, but the existing websites don’t take full advantage of the situation for much the same reasons that sank the original venture: nobody wants to put up the money in the first place, and nobody has quite figured out the right design, in the second place.
I was excited by what Byron King had done for the city of Jacksonville, Florida (or more accurately for Jacksonville’s Contemporary Art League) but that site seems to have slipped off into the idiosyncracies that make weblogs less than satisfactory vehicles, including the whimsies of the prime creator thereof. (In this department, I indict myself along with everyone else.)
I had called once for a blog of blogs that would cull the most immediately relevant entries and repost them to allow readers to access the pieces most of interest to a general art readership (the non-art topics I cover on my other blog would be a separate issue). There is, already, a general blog of blogs for metro Atlanta, but the nature of the regional artworlds is such that they ought to be kept in touch with one another, not merely with themselves.
Such Atlanta-based websites as burnaway.org and artrelish.com are clearly evolving towards such a goal, but the problem is how to make something intrinsically local and idiosyncratic readily comprehensible by non-local audiences as well as of use to the local ones. (And how to organize the various possible topics for the sake of the readership.)
The existing vehicles have the right idea but the wrong format: nobody ever accesses some of the side columns, which are seldom updated in any case, and it is difficult to know how the side columns of other cities and scenes could be made to function as a vehicle for bringing the world’s non-local scenes up to speed on the doings of a localized in-group while entertaining and informing those who already know what the deal is.
Those who already know what the deal is, even within a city such as Atlanta, are limited to the social world within which they know what the deal is, whether that world be the galleries of Peachtree Hills or the alternative scene down along Ponce. As the German slogan promoting tolerance for immigrants had it a couple of decades back, “Alle Menschen sind Ausländer, fast überall.” And indeed, given the limited nature of our social worlds, all of us are outsiders, very nearly everywhere. We lack the context, or we lack the look and the moves, or we lack the language.
Ironically, the vestigial art coverage of the world’s surviving newspapers seems to be belatedly addressing the problem of giving a general audience what art scene habitués already know about personalities and problems (but only if the problems are already comprehensible to a general audience or can be made so in five or six hundred words.)
Someday there will be an online global journal of regional art scenes, and nobody will ever read all of it because it will come to resemble Borges’ library that contains all possible books: and the art lunatics of Chisinau will not care or understand what is going on with the launch of the anthology of Iraqi poets at Atlanta’s Callanwolde, nor should they, necessarily. (But the artists and poets of Baghdad may care that folks like Dan Veach are assembling the world’s poetic resources in a Southern city less recognized for its global interests than it deserves to be. I was invited to be one of the readers at the launch of Atlanta Review’s German issue in a couple of weeks, but at that time I am scheduled to be, at my own expense as usual, in Germany.)