Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Not my actual navel. Or body. Not. Even. Close.

The post below is the 500th post at Art Blog By Bob. I estimate that to be around 250,000 words, give or take a few thousand. That’s a lot of typing. And a lot of reading for those of you who’ve been looking in from the start. Thanks so much for following along and joining me in my artful explorations.

At the risk of being guilty of navel gazing, or as the ancient Greeks would say, Omphaloskepsis, I thought that I would indulge myself in a little public self-evaluation using the set of questions posed to a group of more prominent art bloggers in an issue of Art in America a while back. I never really posted any kind of mission statement, except for my brief introduction. If you like getting meta, please keep reading.

What's the purpose of your blog?

To write and think about the art of the past and how it continues to influence today and tomorrow’s art and culture. I use the occasion of an artist’s birthday (or date of death, in those cases in which the exact birthday’s unknown) to commemorate that artist’s achievement and see if I can place just one more piece into the larger puzzle of how everything fits together. In the same vein, I review books on art and exhibition catalogues and use those ideas as another jumping off point for further exploration. Personally, I’ve found it highly enlightening to put all these ideas into writing and allow them to bounce all around my skull, leading to interesting intersections of creativity. I hope that my readers also find new associations building up in their minds as they discover new artists or reacquaint themselves with artists they thought they knew before.

What are the boundaries of your blog?

One of my all-time least favorite corporate pseudo-terms is boundarilessness. When I worked in the for-profit sector, it was code for “torturing you until we lay you off.” However, I’d like to think that I’m pretty boundary-free here. Art is such an all-consuming thing—touching on literature, music, history, politics, psychology, you name it—that it seems false to set up distinct parameters. I’d like to think that I’m pretty boundary-free myself, with enough interests in literature (my MA is in English Literature), music (from Coltrane to Mahler and beyond), and politics (don’t get me started), among other things, that I’d be closing off a part of my own personality by walling off some of the world from this blog. I am large. I contain multitudes. Or at least that’s what my bathroom scale seems to be saying.

Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes has cited Joy Garnett's NewsGrist blog as doing a great job of "placing art within a sociocultural and political context." What I see on NewsGrist is a magazinelike interspersing of short profiles, exhibition reviews, op-ed pieces on how other people are covering things, and Village Voice–like political takes. But what does Tyler's comment mean to you, and why are blogs in general better positioned than print to do what he describes?

I’m not sure what Tyler Green thinks, but I believe that blogs can get more in-depth than print media and provide a greater context thanks to their limitless space, versus the ever-diminishing column space dedicated to the arts and to editorial comment in general in print media. The general conservative tone of American mainstream media also disdains putting things into “a sociocultural and political context” because it would be potentially too revealing of the problems of our society and, sadly, because of the historical unawareness of the average American. The decline of education in America helped create that unawareness, but the mainstream media sustains it through adulthood and even encourages a state of ignorance in which Britney Spears’ breakdowns garner greater coverage than political debates. Another advantage of blogs over print is the absence of editorial restraint. “Professional” journalists would counter that the editorial process is what makes them the pros, but I believe that the editorial process only serves to dilute the truth and discourage bold, necessary statements. If the statement of fact that “X is lying” is edited into “accounts vary,” then editors serve the interests of the powerful rather than the truth. I’ve always believed that I’m my own best editor and that any potentially inflammatory statements I make are worthwhile not necessarily for their accuracy (although I’m always right) but definitely for their sincerity.

Why can't blogs go further, to the point where there's hardly any discernible difference between artist and critic/commentator, blog and work of art?

We haven’t even begun to scratch the potential of blogs. It’s a new medium and like all new mediums will grow as the talents and passions of individuals feed into it. I began Art Blog By Bob because I wanted to read a blog about art history, expecting some art history professor out there to be musing online and letting others listen in. When I couldn’t find that blog, I decided I was crazy, if not qualified, enough to try.

What scope and degree of editorial control do you exercise over your blog?

I write and edit all posts on Art Blog By Bob. As I said above, I believe I’m my own best editor. I like the idea of a single voice trying to come to terms with a body of information and think other people enjoy that, too. I try to bring aspects of my own personal history and my family—Annie and Alex—into the discussion where relevant because I want to stress how art is a living presence in my life and in yours, too. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I try to maintain a balance of the personal and the public views.

What about posting comments from readers, and what about anonymity?

I have never rejected a comment from a reader. Blogger, however, likes to eat a comment here and there, so if you’ve commented and not seen it appear online, blame them and not me. I’m perfectly fine with comments posted anonymously. I’ve purposely kept personal details out of the blog to maintain my own anonymity to a degree. People who recognize photos of Alex already know who I am. My face is unrecognizable in the photo of me with Alex on purpose. Press people at the museums that I’ve dealt with know my name and my face. One of the highlights of doing this so far was learning that I was the subject of a meeting at the Brandywine River Museum after posting on their Flights Into Fantasy exhibition and one of the curators proudly announced that she had actually met me in person at the William Ranney press preview. For one brief moment in a conference room in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania I was famous. And that’s plenty for me.

What's "trolling," and why don't some of you allow it?

Trolling is the online equivalent of heckling. I haven’t had a troll comment yet, which I sometimes find surprising considering how openly liberal some of my posts can be. Of course, it may be that most of the people who take the time to read my work are of a like mind politically. I’ve always wondered why trolls would take the time to read things they don’t agree with and spend the energy necessary to heckle mindlessly and, usually, pointlessly. I’m always open to discussion, but trolls just want to pick a fight. It’s like a heckler at a comedy club spouting off all night. If you’re not having a good time, just finish your drink and move on. The rest of us may want to listen.

What about liability coverage?

I don’t think I need to worry about libel. First of all, I don’t have enough readers to damage anyone’s reputation. Secondly, most of the people I write about are dead. If Thomas Anshutz wants to come back from the dead and deny that he stabbed Thomas Eakins in the back, he’s more than welcome. As they say, "Bring it on."

What's the economic model of your blog?

I make no profit from this blog financially. I gain a sense of accomplishment and experience the joy of learning and writing. It keeps my mind alive and kicking when the world conspires to deaden all critical thinking. The only material gain I receive is through the review copies of the books sent to me by publishers and museums. I still get that Christmas morning thrill when I come home and see a package with my name on it. Copying something I’ve seen other bloggers do, I’ve posted an Amazon wish list, in case someone feels inclined to thank me for any joy I’ve brought to their life, but otherwise this venture is purely “free ice cream” as they say in the blogosphere.

How do you see your blog's relation to the established print art media?

I’d like to think that blogging goes beyond what the print media can do. The ability to link in a blog post creates an infinitely greater learning opportunity than a dead tree in your hands. I create a link for every artist’s name in my posts, in case you want to learn more about that individual. Most of the established print media, even when they mirror their content online, don’t do that. I’ve already mentioned what I think is my editorial advantage over establishment print media. All that being said, I’m currently marketing a long profile piece to a major print art magazine. If and when that publishes, my anonymity will be over, but I hope it will at least generate more publicity for the blog in addition to the financial rewards. This is not my day job and, obviously, not the source of health benefits, etc., but it would be a dream come true if writing could somehow become my primary source of income.

How do you attract readers/posters other than by word of mouth?

People generally find me through search engines. Often they’re students looking for a particular work or artist. Once they’ve stumbled across my writing they either take what they needed and flee or, if they’re so inclined, wander around a bit. At that point, I only hope that I can keep their interest to add another fan. Many other bloggers and artists who blog have added me to their blogrolls, for which I’m very grateful. Those links also lead inquiring minds this way.

In general, is blog art criticism more open and liberal, and print criticism more closed and conservative?

Yes, for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned above.

Where will your blog be in three to five years?

Right here, hopefully. I’m pretty good at churning out lots of (hopefully coherent) text, so I think I can keep up the current pace, barring any major life changes. Most blogs end because the blogger runs out of things to write about or opinions. Fortunately, I’ve picked an endlessly diverse field to write about and have never found myself at a loss for opinions. My dream scenario would be to keep the same personal feel while somehow creating an income stream from my writing that wouldn’t tie me down to some inhibiting editorial framework. If I have to choose between independence and money, I’ll take independence.

Thanks for reading, if you’ve lasted this long. I hope to see you here in, say, three to five years…

Bonus Belly Button From Alex


Annie and Bob said...

Congratulations on your 500th post! I am constantly impressed with the depth and breadth of knowledge that is in your brain. You should be on Jeopardy! *wink*

Annie :)

Steve Durbin said...


Rather than slowing down like many bloggers, you seem to be picking up the pace! I'm having a hard time catching up after slacking off for a while. Thanks for helping with my education.