The art of blogging
To celebrate the launch of Artists talking, Jane Watt explores the development of Projects unedited, a-ns open space for artists blogs.
The art of blogging
In the middle of November 2007 Gillian Nicol, the Editor of a-n Magazine and www.a-n.co.uk, commissioned me to compile this a-n Collection about Projects unedited, a-ns online series of artists blogs. This form of commission for a published report or commentary is a traditional one that has dominated publishing circles for centuries. The writer (who is usually known to the publishers) researches the subject, perhaps interviews a number of people, writes a draft version, edits and reedits the essay and submits it (with strict word count) to the editor. Then it is checked by the editorial team, sent to be proof read and printed. It is a mediated form that encourages reflection and reconsideration of particular issues to produce a typo-free collection of words that will hopefully be enlightening, challenging and a good read.
Little, apart from certain tools of the trade, has changed in this process. The hierarchy of publisher, writer and reader, and the selectivity (some may say elitism) remain the same. It is perhaps little surprise that with this dominant formal written mode of critique and discussion, few publications employ artists to write for their pages. Artists generally receive more training, and believe that they have more expertise, to make and do rather than to write for publication. Therefore, the artists experience, and voice, is usually mediated. In the UK, a-n is the exception, encouraging and employing artists to write directly about their own, and other artists, practice and work. Traditionally, this has been through the printed page of a-n Magazine, but more recently, through a-ns online publications.
It is through the Unedited series of user-generated material that a seismic shift in the development and publication of the artists voice is occurring on a-ns online pages. Reviews unedited (now part of Interface1), an open space for critical writing and reviews was the first development of a less mediated platform for users to write and submit material that would be published online. This has encouraged artists to make public their discussions and critiques on art and practice, as well as allow scope for commentary and coverage of work that is well beyond the practical reach of a traditional journal format that has copy deadlines, word counts, limited staff resources and finite budgets for each issue.
Projects unedited (now part of Artists Talking2) which allows artists to post blogs with text and images about a particular aspect of their practice, or project, developed out of this ethos. It began when artist Anne Brodie approached a-n about hosting a weblog Big Antarctic Project about her British Antarctic Survey and Arts Council England fellowship in December 2006 February 2007.3 This immediate form of reporting provides a vividness and directness of experience to the reader. Brodies postings log everyday occurrences of this unusual residency as well as reflections on her practice [a]. [a] Being an artist here has often seemed beside the point. The Antarctic is the point, it should always win, it does everything you could possibly imagine from subtle mark makings to crashing exuberance... it fills you up inside your head and soul but simultaneously strips you bare leaving you standing reeling trying to work it all out. (Anne Brodie, Big Antarctic Project, Friday 2 Feb 2007)
Her writings are succinct, perhaps due to the fact that they are weekly, rather than daily. It means that the reader is not regaled with the minutiae of descriptive experience that can make the reader switch off. Just because the medium of a blog is accessible, unmediated, and immediate, doesnt mean that it is an easy thing to write.
Rachel Lois Clapham, an experienced blogger, who writes for Live Art UKs Writing From Live Art4 and Reviews unedited posted regular blogs Notes From New York from New Yorks performance Biennial Performa 07. She offers a number of pointers on good practice in blogging taken from her guidelines to novice bloggers at workshops that she ran during the Biennial.5 She notes later in her blog that overly long and descriptive text should be avoided. Much of this advice applies to basic writing skills.
The ease of typing and submitting a blog at any time, with no sense of rejection, nor checking by an editor means that the writer is in sole charge of exercising any editorial control. Jackie Berridge, an artist who has been writing her blog Setting up 18 studios, Long Eaton, Nottingham since May 2007 is conscious of this and notes that:
I sometimes think it is good to have a bit of space between thinking and writing a blog. Airing all your pent-up emotions in writing is different to blowing a fuse and apologising immediately afterwards. The written word has a much longer presence. However, the freshness of an uncontrived blog has an immediacy that a thoughtful, considered piece can never replace.6
Projects unedited is aimed at practicing and professional artists, both in terms of its contributors, and audience. Therefore, there is generally an awareness that this is a public platform and that other artists and potential professional associates may visit and read the postings. It is this consciousness that creates a self-editing tendency that limits a trait of which we are all capable: the rant.7
The personal tone of a blog echoes the register of a diary, to which we, the readers have privileged access. Roz Cran, who is writing the blog Breaking Ground with Judith Alder about their collaborative allotment project, remarks that:
I think [the blog] was a way of writing a kind of diary to myself. It helped me to clarify my experience, to articulate my thoughts, to see what I had done and where I was in relation to my art work and specifically to the work on the allotment and in relation to the collaboration. This was a new collaboration and the blog enabled Judith and I to read each others thoughts and comments.
Judith Alder adds that there was a consciousness towards their potential audience: I assumed I was writing primarily for other artists particularly other a-n bloggers I read their blogs and thought they were probably reading ours.
Jane Ponsfords blog Papertrails Residency was initiated to allow her to reflect on the process of a year-long residency in the woods and commons of Elmbridge, Surrey
[b] Ive just read Alex Pearls comment about us bloggers all being in our own little worlds, which made me smile in recognition. There is something about writing about your project as it develops which makes you examine things and mull over things, which wouldnt necessarily be given that kind of attention normally. Its all in that uneasy area between diary and publication. However I feel quite a strong interest in and connection to the other projects unfolding. So perhaps it isnt all quite as unconnected as it might seem. (Jane Ponsford, Papertrails Residency, Tuesday 30 Oct 2007)
Again this week has been full of, as Gabrielle put in her blog, (Exeter Studios) stuff rather than work. Today I decided that deadlines were just going to have to slip. I needed to make something and not post rationalise something or propose something or evaluate something. Just get on and do something.
(Jane Ponsford, Papertrials Residency Friday 23 Mar 2007).
She comments that:
When I was writing the Projects unedited blog I suppose I knew that there was an audience of potentially anyone who would look at the website or read a-n Magazine but it really felt as if I was writing an informal journal addressed to my fellow bloggers. It felt as if it was quite a small audience of people also involved in endeavours and projects, which could sometimes be overwhelming or worrying and sometimes unexpectedly wonderful. I like this feeling of community... My initially imagined audience of curators/galleries/people who would give me that big break, has turned into what I find much more interesting and ultimately more supportive, an audience of my peers.
Ann Shaw, a veteran blogger who runs her Projects unedited blog as a subsidiary to her main blog Children of Craig-y nos8 also believes that Projects unedited offers an invaluable potential platform for social networking. This virtual community appears to address issues of geographical and physical accessibility: it equally encourages artists based in rural and urban locations in any country, and enables artists of almost any physical ability to participate.9
This sense of community is one that appears to echo many of a-ns other initiatives such as Networking Artists Networks (NAN) and Artists Interaction and Representation (AIR) in which dialogue and support between individuals and artists groups are encouraged. Some artists such as Judith Alder and Roz Cran who have contributed to Projects unedited are also NAN bursary recipients. Others such as Alex Pearl and Emma Summers have been asked to contribute to AIR seminars and events. In addition, material from Projects unedited including Stuart Mayes Project Me and Andrew Bryants An artist in residence has been published in a-n Magazine. The fact that Projects unedited is part of a broader spectrum of artists writings, publication, networking and professional support is important. As Stuart Mayes remarks:
For me Projects unedited is one of the most interesting online art spaces because it has an integral relationship with the magazine. For me this tangible form gives my blog a real context I feel as though Im part of an extended family.
This sense of belonging is an important extension to the support that a-n offer to artists. However, just how much further Projects unedited can extend beyond the comfort zone of a growing community of artist bloggers is, as yet, fairly uncharted territory. Recent figures show that there are just under 19,000 users visiting Projects unedited per month. This large, faceless audience shows that it is more than just the 150 artists who have contributed blogs over the past year who are reading about residencies in Antarctica, Delhi, Beijing, Berlin, Inishlacken, and Surrey, setting up studio complexes in Exeter and Long Eaton, Nottingham, and undertaking projects at the Foundling Museum and Morning Lane Studios to name but a few. However just who is reading what is not so easily discernable [c].
[c] There is this worldwide unleashing of creativity. Where is it going? nobody knows... its like wild west frontier country only this is into virtual space.
(Ann Shaw, Children of Craig-y-nos formerly Making web movies and working with new media, Wednesday 29 Nov 2006)
Alex Pearl admitted that the blog awoke a competitive instinct in me as I imposed more pressure on myself to write regularly to keep the blog at the top of the list.10
The content of the blogs reflects the usual highs and lows that most artists have experienced at one time or another: artists struggling with low, or no budgets for projects; limited knowledge of, and access to, specialist equipment [d];
[d] it is because i am going to borrow 10 projectors and dvd player and put them in artists studios for a week and have a private view on 26th april, i decided i will insure the event and guess what, i will have to pay for public liability and event property cover and still have to sleep in the building! because the insurance company is not covering in case of theft in unattended space... of course i dont have money to pay 24 hour security and all the equipment i got for free from various friends i cannot live with the idea that something can get stolen while not insured and still i have to stay in the building over night for a week, just because there is no other way for the time being...
(Larisa Blazic, 205A Morning Lane, Wednesday 11 Apr, 2007) artists setting up group studio complexes [e]; [e] When I was setting up the studios, I never thought about the detail. There is so much stuff that is tedious but necessary. Like fire safety and bt and plumbing...etc etc. It doesnt make interesting reading, but this is what its really like.
(Jackie Berridge, Setting up 18 studios, Long Eaton, Nottingham, Thursday 19 July 2007) artists juggling the balance of development of practice, administrative work and holding down a proper job; artists responding to new work environments and cultures. These individual stories have been played out for years by generations of artists. However, what is unique with Projects unedited is the growing archive of first-person evidence of artists practices. Here, in black and white, is a collection of personal testimonies of a large and evergrowing number of artists who carry on developing their practice through sheer determination, resilience and creative thinking. Most artists know this happens. Most artists do this. But most artists do this in relative silence and isolation. The value of sharing, documenting this knowledge and gaining support amongst peers is important. However, the recognition amongst artists in each others shared experiences is only one part of the picture. Gabrielle Hoads day-to-day experience chronicled in Exeter Studios Project is research evidence on a plate for any regional or national agency looking at the importance and practicalities of studio provision for artists, as well as an artists actual experience of the fallout, and the less glamourous side, of regeneration in a UK city.
Jackie Berridge, another artist setting up a studio complex in Long Eaton, Nottingham found that the public platform of the blog did have some lobbying power for her project:
The blog definitely raised my profile and that of the studios if I mention public bodies [in the blog] it does seem to generate activity. For example, I mentioned that Long Eaton wasnt covered by Creative Launchpad [a creative industries support initiative] as it has a Nottingham postcode but is situated in Derbyshire. The individual who shared this information got back to me when I raised this in the blog to confirm that Derbyshire would help!
Both Hoad and Berridges blogs articulate the day-to-day activities of individual artists operating in a corporate world of health and safety, small organisational politics, and funding demands. They show what can be achieved warts and all. However, this is not as a report submitted to a funding body, it is a real-life personal story that twists and turns. Hoad points out that I want to be clear that this [blog] is my point of view and not a corporate or group statement of any kind. Our studio website does the formal bit [f].[f] Why, when I have so much else to do, have I found time to write this blog?... mostly its because the studio project has (temporarily) become my practice. Documenting it is a way of giving it substance and meaning. It becomes both a structured dialogue with myself and, I suppose, a kind of public showing.
(Gabrielle Hoad, Exeter Studios Project, Thursday 27 Sept 2007)
Stuart Mayes' 'Project Me' is a personal, and at times extremely moving account of his own creative journey as an artist. He describes his motivation for starting the blog:
I saw the blog as an opportunity to create a space where I could manufacture some very necessary critical distance from my practice. I wanted it to make me think about my practice on a regular basis, initially I said to myself that I would make an entry at least once a week. I came up with one other guideline I would find ways to be positive and to reward myself for whatever I did. This second guideline was intended to counter any tendency toward dwelling on disappointments and failings. I never wanted to regret reading previous entries.
My trick worked! Permitting myself only to write positively forced me to search out achievements I allowed myself to feel good that Id made it to the studio for a day or two rather than berating myself for not having been there all week. Within a few entries I found that I began to think differently about what I was doing and how I was doing it The very positive reaction to my blog has enabled me to develop a new found trust in my ideas and processes, this will inevitably have an impact on my practice as I feel more comfortable with being the artist that I am.
[g] [g] I took time off work last week and spent it in the studio Im not sure if Ive ever had three consecutive days there before, which is quite an admission. Although I think of myself an artist I realise that I spend the majority of my week away from my practice being at work (either of my part-time jobs) thinking about it isnt the same as being there doing it.
(Stuart Mayes, Project Me, Sunday 11 Mar 2007)Project Me not only presents the reflections on the creative process of an artist, and the professional practice dilemmas of self-promotion and development, but also the influence of personal events on the artist. Mayes sensitively articulates the importance of these events within an artists life and career. He writes publicly about very private circumstances without falling into sentimentality, or self-pity. This mode of expression is different to artistic expression of personal turmoil, or a type of self-awareness through making an artwork where life becomes art. Instead, it shows that life and artistic practice do develop together. And that life gets in the way sometimes. The drive to professionalise artistic practice should not come at the expense of acknowledging that artists have personal lives too:
I was apprehensive about mentioning my partner and his illness in the blog but am very glad that I did. I felt that I was breaking some unwritten but universally understood artists rule that we dont mention our private lives, that while the complexity of our lives is what often makes our practice unique we must never mention it, must never acknowledge that we are dealing with things that dont simply get left behind when we go to the studio, and we must certainly not admit that sometimes our personal lives take priority over our careers.
He goes on to say that I hope that perhaps one or two funders and administrators read my blog and that they are perhaps able to admit that artists are whole people, and no matter how committed we are we experience demands and responsibilities that sometimes disrupt our creativity and careers. Perhaps it is not just funders and administrators, who, after all, are generally employed by organisations that, by law, must uphold statutory sick, maternity/paternity and compassionate leave. Perhaps, this time it is fellow artists who need to acknowledge that artists are not super-human. They cannot work 14 hours a day everyday [h]. [h] I was a high achiever during my BA and MFA studies (as measured by grades), largely as a result of unrelenting and diligent hard work stretching into many long evenings and weekends, sustained consistently over a 6-year period.
Naturally I continued this kind of work ethic after graduation (and to be fair it is the kind of work ethic that nearly every artist I know subscribes too, and is not exceptional in that sense).
(Cathryn Jiggens, A 6-month residency in Berlin, Sunday 26 Aug 2007) They have personal lives that can get messy and dont go according to plan, and it is OK to let other people (such as their peers, as well as funders and administrators) know that this is happening to them.
Projects unedited is many things to many people: a growing collection of unedited writings by artists; a virtual space where artists can find support and peer-led advice and discussion; an accessible medium for expression; a discipline for reflection; a public platform for dissemination; a resource for real-life projects, artist process and practice. The blogs are a heady mix that may make you laugh, cry, despair, and find inspiration. Not many collections of writings can make these claims. So stop reading this article. Go and have a look.
Jane Watt is an artist and writer based in London. She has made temporary and permanent site-specific work in the public realm for over twelve years. Current projects include a large permanent work Wall of Letters in Cambridge for Land Securities and Christs College Cambridge, and a temporary building wrap work Justice shines by its own light for the new UK Supreme Court building in Parliament Square, London. She has written a number of articles and research papers for a-n including: Reflections on Networking and Impact of Networking which formed a two-part review of Networking Artists Networks (NAN) in 2006; Navigating Places (2003-2004) a six part series of articles that drew on material from her PhD research and examined artists experiences working to commission on public works. She is co-editor of Navigating the Unknown: the creative process in contemporary performing arts (London: MU Press, 2006). She is also a Research Associate at ResCen Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts at Middlesex University.
1 See www.a-n.co.uk/interface
3 Simon Faithfull took part in this fellowship scheme in 2004-05 and sent daily drawings Dispatches from a Palm-Pilot that were emailed to individuals around the world. More information about his experience of the project can be found in the profile on Simon Faithfull at www.a-n.co.uk. Layla Curtis undertook the Fellowship in 2005-06 and used a personal GPS tracking device to chart her journey online. See www.locusplus.org.uk
5 Clapham advises that 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 friendł Due to the blogs informal origins, blog readers wont necessarily be expecting large amounts of dense, specifically academic language or theoretical text in a blogł There is no point writing about a piece of work if you only have bad things to say about the work. (Rachel Lois Clapham, Notes from New York, Wednesday 31 Oct 2007)
6 All quotations from artists are from email interviews undertaken in December 2007 unless cited otherwise.
7 Up until recently, there has been no comment facility attached to the blogs. Many artists have commented on this technical limitation. Jane Ponsford remarks that The biggest limitation to the a-n blog [has been] that it isnt a blog in the sense of being open to comment, but I think this limitation is also an advantage. Reading responses to blogs on other blog sites, the nicest comments are often a kind of fan mail or just friends saying alright mate! and the worst are really unpleasant. Comment facilities, although helpful in creating a potential dialogue, do not necessarily demand such a self-conscious tone of response. The commentators, do not have so much at stake. They are usually commenting on something, rather than initiating the debate. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of Projects unedited develops. At the time of writing the facility had not been activated.
9 a-n is also currently researching the use of spoken word contributions to encourage artists who may have difficulties with the written word.
10 The main list of blogs is listed chronologically, so the most recently written blog appears at the top of the list.
Jane Watt's selection of blogs from Projects unedited
All these blogs can be read in full on www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking
A 6-month residency in Berlin
[Started: 23 Apr 2007 Final post: 16 Sep 2007]
Cathryn Jiggens uses this blog to describe the development of her work on her Berlin residency, the nature of residencies, and also develops a series of Postcards from Berlin with information about alternative spaces and galleries in Berlin.
alternative platform: Jon Adams
[Started: 7 July 2007]
Jon Adams documents the development of his project funded by Art Plus 07. He also talks of his involvement as a Dada-South Artist with the South-Easts Disability Arts Development Agency.
Big Antarctic Project
[Started: 26 Nov 2006 Final post: 9 Feb 2007]
Anne Brodies blog launched Projects unedited and is a weekly log of her adventures as an artist on the British Antarctic Survey and Arts Council England Fellowship to Antarctica from December 2006 to February 2007. She describes her trip by air and boat to the Antarctic, the work she makes there and her thoughts on the project.
[Started: 26 Feb 2007]
Judith Alder and Roz Cran use their blog to develop their collaborative relationship and chart their work on Breaking Ground, an artist project based at an allotment in Brighton. See also their second blog Blue Monkey Professional Development.
Clothes for Death
[Started: 5 Mar 2007 Final post: 7 June 2007]
Margareta Kern records her research project Clothes for Death which documents women in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina who prepare clothes in which they wish to be buried. She also discusses the sensitivity and ethics of the project in relation to photography and online postings.
Diary of a Foundling Artist
[Started: 13 April 2007 Final post: 20 Nov 2007]
Alex Pearl writes this blog throughout his involvement in the Commissions East Escalator Visual Arts project at the Foundling Museum, London. See also Alex Pearls subsequent blog Bedford Journal.
Exeter Studios Project
[Started: 20 Feb 2007]
Gabrielle Hoad charts the ups and downs of initiating the first main studio complex in Exeter. Her description and analysis of looking for a group studio building, finding artists to become involved in the project and getting the project off the ground makes fascinating reading.
Children of Craig-y-nos (formerly Making web movies and working with new media)
[Started: 29 Nov 2006]
Ann Shaw uses her blog to post information about her video work, reflections on blogging, new media and the development of her community project The Children of Craig-y-nos. She provides good links and references to other online projects and sites of interest.
205A Morning Lane
[Started: 6 March 2007 Final post: 16 May 2007]
Larisa Blazic describes the development of her self-initiated video work installed in an East London studio building, together with the compromises she has to make and the determination she has to make this self-funded project work.
[Started: 1 Feb 2007]
Jane Ponsford uses her blog to write about the processes involved in her year-long residency in the woods and commons of Elmbridge, Surrey. She reflects on the balance of administrative work as well as the research and development of her work.
[Started: 22 January 2007]
Stuart Mayes uses his blog as a tool to allow himself critical distance and reflection on his work and practice. This is one of the longest running blogs on Projects unedited.
Setting up 18 studios, Long Eaton, Nottingham
[Started: 17 May 2007]
Jackie Berridge gives a vivid account of the day-to-day challenges in setting up the Harrington Mills Studio complex from the moment she gets the keys to the building.
The Inishlacken Project
[Started: 9 June 2007]
Caroline Wright writes about her preparations for, and her time on, a week-long residency on Inishlacken, an uninhabited island off the west coast of Ireland. She continues the blog after the residency itself has ended, reflecting and reporting on the development of her ideas from her time on the island and the creation of new work.
Jane Watt is Advisers and tutors online editor and an artist. She was Knowledge bank commissions coordinator between 2008-09.
First published: a-n.co.uk February 2008
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