Monday, May 25, 2009

what is to be done and not done, version the whatevereth

I have written repeatedly about this odd transitional moment, in which, in Atlanta at least, all the art reviewing is being done by unsalaried volunteers (and has become the uncompensated feature-story base in which assorted ex-AJC writers and photographers address Southern mores and matters other than the artworld—if as one friend says, "a job is something you wouldn't do if you weren't getting paid for it," writing research-based prose is clearly not a job, just as the non-writers always suspected).

I haven't been fully understood when I write about the ways in which nobody has yet figured out how to take full advantage of the technology available to us, and I'm not sure if this attempt will be any less subject to misprision, misinterpretation, and misreading, pick your term and pick your theorist.

I have written some downright wrongheaded pieces on the Counterforces blog, in the expectation that, a la Wikipedia, the self-correcting function of the Internet would quickly come into play. Perhaps because Blogspot makes it a pain to record comments (LiveJournal is better in that regard, and debates happen on my joculum blog regularly), my blog posts are being treated as though they had the status of full-blown reviews. (And indeed, some of my two thousand word essays are meant to be regarded as such.)

But the nature of the digital medium allows for immediate corrections. Just as it was once possible to alter copy (or at least headlines) in time for the afternoon edition, today the digital equivalent of the afternoon edition can happen any time somebody points out an egregious misperception.

In parallel fashion, the half-formed opinion on a blog can be reformulated in a finished piece for an art-reviewing website in a matter of hours, if the writer is accustomed to meeting tight deadlines from the days of print and hard copy. There is no need for reviewing sites to compete for turf with blogs, which are playing different games and which, as I have said, are too diverse and too dispersed to make for a very efficient means of communication with an art audience that, unlike us art types, does not spend most of its day thinking about what is out there to be contemplated or purchased art-wise. Reviewing sites, supplemented by print for the bereft readers of newspapers, are the wave of the future. Individual reviewers, however, are currently living in their own separate bloggy worlds, and need to be approached to write something more formal and complete when it appears they have said something that needs to be seen by someone other than their own loyal readership.

So why do we persist as though our digitalia possessed the unalterable status of cold print? In part, I presume, it's for reasons of recollecting Orwell; having been assured by a novelist's number one fan that I had offended the novelist's sensibilities, I deleted an observation and informed said novelist that I had done so, remarking that except for those addicted to downloads or screen captures, there was now no evidence that the remark had existed, save on Google's servers: "Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia."

But surely it ought to be possible for the digitalized artworld to take on some of the positive aspects of Wikipedia, through an agreement to refrain from snark in the comments section and make one's remarks focus on areas where one feels or can demonstrate that the reviewer has gotten it wrong. Said reviewer can then revise, rethink, retort in kind, or delete as he or she sees fit.

And eventually an agreed-upon format will emerge that will be the twenty-first-century replacement for the kind of newspaper review that, in the Atlanta metro print market, appears to be effectively extinct.

I now wish to illustrate the truth of my original observations regarding the capacity for quick updates, by adding a centrally important piece of news:

Former AJC arts reviewers Cathy Fox and Pierre Ruhe have instituted a blog devoted specifically to supplementing AJC arts coverage with the sorts of reviews for which both of them became highly respected prior to their departure from the publication (for which both continue to write on a freelance basis):

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