Harbeer Sandhu, Art Writers grant recipient
For the past two years I have applied for the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant in the blog category, and I've failed to be picked both times. This year I am especially jealous of Harbeer Sandhu, who won a brog-writing grant for his proposed blog Critical Condition. Why am I jealous? Harbeer Sandhu is (as many of you no doubt know) a Houston-based writer. If that is not enough to turn me green, read the description of Critical Condition from the Art Writers site:
The city of Houston, while offering artists much needed support in the form of work space, free time, gallery space, and even financial backing, lacks the supportive yet critical engagement necessary to fully realize its potential to be a rich arts community. Aiming to provide a local forum for art criticism connected to world literature and international concerns, Harbeer Sandhu will develop a Houston-based art blog featuring weekly posts focusing on the visual art of Houston and Texas in a global context.I guess the nearly 1000 posts I've put up since September 2009 don't count as "supportive yet critical engagement." Grr. But this jealousy is unbecoming and unfair to Sandhu, who is a good writer and I'm certain will be a good blogger. You can read some of his writing here and here. I hope Critical Condition becomes an important voice for art locally.
This grant is extremely generous. Bloggers get $30,000. Sometimes the blog in question already exists, and sometimes it's just a proposal for a blog. That got me thinking. They've been giving away Art Writers grants since 2006, but have only been giving them for blogs since 2008. So how have Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation done? They have given away 20 grants so far--$600,000 for blogs! (Assuming that the $30,000 has been the amount given out ever year to every blog.) Have they gotten their money's worth? Have these blogs produced? And when I say "produced," I am referring to some mixture of quality and quantity. Quality is something we can all agree is desirable (even if we have disagreements on what it is). Quantity might not seem as obvious a virtue. But in my mind, a blog requires constant posting to be truly excellent.
The blogs I like best, regardless of genre, are continually updated. It has been said that newspapers are the first draft of history. Art blogs may be in some ways be considered the first draft of art history--except that art blogs are often highly personal. They may contain journalistic information--reviews of current shows (art blogs are virtually the only way for readers to get informed opinions about shows that are still up), reportage about various aspects of the art world, and editorial opinions. But at their best, this kind of information is filtered through a highly idiosyncratic voice; the word "I" is not avoided. For me, this mixture of the journalistic/critical and the personal is what is so appealing about my favorite blogs. Posts are often brief, even curt. The best blogs show the evolution in their author's thinking as well as the evolutions of the artists and institutions they cover. A single blog post may therefore be unmemorable by itself (unlike certain classic magazine articles and books). The blog, however, should be judged as a cumulative experience. But this can't happen if posts are too infrequent.
Therefore, in this post I will score each of the past winners of the Art Writers blog grant, looking at both quality (highly subjective) and quantity (completely objective). I'll grade them for content (A through F) and explain my thinking. Quantity, on the other hand, will be based on posts per month since the beginning of the blog or the date of the grant, whichever came first. I realize this disadvantages writers who write long but infrequent posts, and I'll note when that is the case for any particular blog. But in general, the higher the number, the better. What I hope you will get out of this (beyond a palpable sense of my envy) is an introduction to a bunch of art blogs, some of which I recommend highly.
Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City. Art Writers picked an obvious winner right out the gate with Art Fag City. One of my chief sources of news and opinion about the art world, Art Fag City is pithy and well-written. And they publish multiple posts a day. Of course, Paddy Johnson couldn't do this solo--she is helped by Will Brand, Whitney Kimball and Corinna Kirsch. GRADE: A, 78.02
Anjali Srinivasan and Yuka Otani, How Is This Glass?. One thing that is really good about Art Writers is that they give grants to highly focused blogs like How is the Glass?, which is about glass art. However, it's not a very good blog. Srinivasan and Otani seemed to use the blog primarily to help in their curatorial projects. The posts were fairly infrequent and tailed off to nothing by 2012. They were divided between posts about individual artists and posts called [theme] which were small essays on certain aspects of glass art. The posts on the individual artists sometimes consisted of nothing but pictures, and sometimes had brief texts. The [theme] posts were the best--there they gave themselves enough room to tackle their subjects. The many pictures on this blog were a plus. The last post went up May 23, 2011. Another way to look at it is to notice that Art Writers paid approximately $326 for every post they posted since December 2008. Nice work if you can get it! GRADE: D, 1.92
The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research by Greg Cook. It's hard for me to be objective about Greg Cook's blog; I've known Greg since the 90s and have long admired his work. (He actually got his start as a graphic novelist, with the charming Catch As Catch Can). Furthermore, The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research is similar to this blog in its focus on its region. Its slogan is "We proudly offer more New England art news and reviews than anyone else." Cook started the blog in 2006, and it currently is split between reviews, news, and upcoming show listings. Some of the most entertaining writing are his posts on "yokelism," which describes the philosophy of the blog--an intense concentration on locally-produced art--art from Boston in particular. Cook comes from a journalism background, and that tends to give his writing a "just the facts feel." (This impersonal style reaches its apotheosis when he's writing about himself in third person.) Also, I have to note that the blog is somewhat cluttered and navigation is difficult (the "quantity" score is an approximation). Grade: B, 12
Post-Internet by Gene McHugh. This is a perfectly irritating blog. It deals with the way the internet has changed art. In McHugh's final post (September 12, 2010), he writes
“Post Internet” is a term I heard Marisa Olson talk about somewhere between 2007 and 2009.
The Internet, of course, was not over. That’s wasn’t the point. Rather, let’s say this: what we mean when we say “Internet” changed and “post Internet” served as shorthand for this change.All well and good, and the blog discusses issues around this subject and describes individual works of art and the work of particular artists whose work is relevant. But he includes no links, no jpegs, no gifs--nothing that the internet makes so easy for blogger. It's ironic and perverse, given his subject. He might as well be writing for a print journal (except that a print journal would at least occasionally show photos of the work under discussion.) McHugh's ideas are interesting, but the blog itself is not. Grade C-, 3.3 (The quantity score is so low because this blog petered out in less than a year.)
A Year of Positive Thinking by Mira Schor. This is a case where a well-established art writer decided to take up blogging. Aside from the length of her posts, she's done a great job and obviously gets a lot out of it, since she has continued long past a year. Apparently it is a continuation of something she sent out to subscribers via email. This is not so much a newsy blog as it is a personal blog. But by personal, I don't mean that Schor is writing a journal of her everyday activities. Instead, she is responding to art she has seen, books she has read, events she has witnessed, etc., in a personal way. Her primary concerns are feminism, painting and sculpture, and her own art, but she will write about anything that draws her attention. She is not prolific--her last post comes from October 13, 2012. Grade B, 1.58
greg.org by Greg Allen. This is a blog that was already in existence when it won its Art Writers grant. In fact, its first post was in July, 2001, which surely makes it one of the oldest art blogs in existence. It also has the virtue of being broad, personal and pretty snappy. Some posts are quite brief, but occasionally Allen spreads his wings with a longer post. I like this variety. Allen is a prolific blogger. greg.org is very well illustrated and often includes embedded video. In short, a very good art blog. Grade A, 20.33
Our Literal Speed by Matthew Jesse Jackson, Andrew Perchuk, and Christopher P. Heuer. This can't be judged as a blog. It appears to be an art project of some sort. Maybe it was a blog at some point, but if it was, I can't find a trace of its old existence. Grade incomplete.
The Silo by Raphael Rubinstein. Rubinstein is a well-known art critic and a professor at the University of Houston. The Silo isn't really what I'd call a blog (but then again, if it's not a blog, I'm not sure what else to call it). Rubinstein's project is to write essays about overlooked artists who aren't discussed and are in danger of being written out of art history. (However, he occasionally writes about well-known artists like Cindy Sherman.) Most of them are living artists or artists active since at least the 60s. These short essays are excellent and quite illuminating. He doesn't post frequently, but I'm delighted when he does. I particularly liked his posts on George Sugarman and Daniel Spoerri. Grade A, 1.54
16 Miles of String by Andrew Russeth. Andrew Russeth started his blog in 2006 and his most recent post was October 20. His posting in 2012 has been very light, but this can be forgiven. His gig as editor of and contributor to GalleristNY likely keeps him pretty busy. I quite like GalleristNY chatty, newsy style. It's very different from 16 Miles of String which is simultaneously much more text heavy and includes many more photos. 16 Miles of String is also more personal, often recounting his own experiences attending openings and performances. It would be unfortunate but understandable if 16 Miles of String was now a defunct blog, but GalleristNY is a worthwhile if different endeavor. Grade B, 3.83 (the post-per-month score would be much greater except that once GalleristNY got underway, 16 Miles of String's posts got much less frequent. )
Art Vent by Carol Diehl. I wrote about Art Vent last year. The only thing I have to add is that I wish she was a little more prolific. Grade B, 3.5
Art in Common by Jason Farago. In terms of quantity, you can't say Art Writers got their money's worth from Jason Farrago (15 posts since December, 2011). However, Farago makes up for it in quality. Except for the first post, in which he outlines a bit of his philosophy for the blog, each post is dedicated to a single piece of public art in New York City. He researches each piece and has something to say about its particular history, its location, and its place in the artist's oeuvre. He is also a sensitive critic. But beyond all that, each essay is personal--these aren't mere encyclopedia entries. As a blog, it doesn't quite work because the posts are too long and too infrequent. But as a collection of writings--as a book (which seems like the probable end-point for these pieces)--Art in Common is exceptionally good. Grade: A, 1.25
The Performance Club by Claudia La Rocco. I find this blog unsatisfying for a variety of reasons. It's a little hard to navigate. It skimps on photographs (one thing that blogs have over magazines is an infinite amount of space to reproduce photos--it seems like a waste for an art blog not to use this). And I don't find the writing particularly compelling, although it's not bad. But if you have a strong interest in the intersection of dance and performance art, this might be the blog for you. Grade C, 9.25
Presence Documents by Sohrab Mohebbi. Right now, Mohebbi is writing about the Syrian civil war through a lens of theory, particularly in discussing the photos and videos of "citizen journalists." In fact, one might say the Syrian civil war is his main subject--it more-or-less coincides with the blog and he has been posting about it from nearly its very beginning. The multiplication of images, particularly via the internet, is his subject. Occasionally he talks about artists and art, but often as not he'll be talking about the media or about amateur visual content on YouTube and elsewhere. His writing is fairly impersonal, dry and matter-of-fact, and sometimes heavily footnoted. Mohebbi is quite prolific. He includes photos, but fewer than I'd like, and they are irritatingly small on the blog. (You can blow them up by clicking on them, though.) So, not exactly a blog that's fun to read, but a serious effort and one that looks at images--so ubiquitous in modern culture--as more important than art per se. This is a position I ind myself increasingly drawn to. Grade B, 5
beyondasiaphilia by Valerie Soe. Another blog I've written about, it continues to cover Asian film (and occasional other subjects). A worthy subject but not one I have an interest in following so deeply. That said, it seems like a fine blog if you are an aficionado of Asian film. Grade B, 2.08
Art and Shadows by Meredith Tromble. Tromble hasn't been terribly prolific since she was awarded the grant last year--15 posts total. However, her posts are long meditations on the subject at hand. She may be writing about a particular artist, but the posts ramble over related subjects in a pleasant way. I don't want to say that she is unfocused, but instead to suggest that the subject of a given post might not be the art she opens the post with. It may be an idea that this art suggests. Her most recent post was in September, so Art and Shadows may be an ex-blog at this point. Grade B, 1.25
Printeresting by Jason Urban, R.L. Tillman, and Amze Emmons. I also wrote about this blog last year, and I want to add that it has been one of the most consistently excellent blogs I have read over the course of the year. Grade A, 21.67
I won't write about the 2012 grantees yet, especially since two of the four grantees haven't started writing their blogs yet. But let me acknowledge them here. Caryn Coleman writes The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a blog about contemporary art and horror films--an intriguing combination!
Farrah Karapetian will be writing Housing Projects, which will track some specific house-based art projects in Detroit as well as generally covering art that uses the house as its basis. Seems pretty specific, but timely.
Black Visual Archive by Meg Onli documents and reviews contemporary black and post-black culture. Sounds like a mighty tall order for one little blog, but a project worth undertaking.
And as mentioned at the top of this post, Harbeer Sandhu will be writing Critical Condition.