Why artists need a blog
Drawing on Artists blogs on a-ns Artists talking site, Andrew Bryant examines the many positive benefits of keeping an artist’s blog.
With, at the latest count, over 3,000 social network sites on the internet, and with any organisation or individual with a desire to be seen, heard and acknowledged poking, prodding, blogging and tweeting their little hearts out all over the (non-)place, it is more vital then ever that you have an online presence, and blogging is a flexible, gainful and deeply useful way to get it. Blogging for artists is not just about making sure you are heard and seen by the people who you want to be heard and seen by, it is also an integral part of your practice and, as Jane Ponsford put it, a “virtual coffee point”, a community, a place to network.
Everyone knows it’s not enough to just make work if you want to be taken seriously. For myself, thinking about my visual output is a crucial part of my practice. You can’t make work in a vacuum and it’s useful to know who your work is in conversation with and what it is saying, otherwise you run the risk of, at best, over-ambiguity (saying everything and nothing) and at worst, totally misrepresenting yourself.
But thinking, talking and writing about what is essentially a visual process, is one of the most difficult things for an artist to do. It can make you feel awkward, pretentious, ignorant, and vulnerable. These feelings are especially intense today because the current discourse around contemporary art is so complex, taking in philosophy, cultural theory and psychoanalysis, and with trained academics doing much of the talking.
Writing, just like making, takes practice and if the studio is the place where you practice your making, I say the blog is the place where you can practice your writing. When you blog you can think speculatively, ‘thinking with pen in hand’, as Adorno put it, allowing yourself to unfold freely in the presence of yourself. You can then step back and open up a space for a critical and analytical dialogue between yourself and your work. As Jeni McConnell says, blogging
“…sharpens everything, it makes you consider and reconsider what you are doing, it vocalises the inner voice, questions without interrogation or confrontation and teases out ideas and thoughts”
I crave dialogue. Dialogue is what art is all about, it’s what life is about. The work is the conduit, the way in to a conversation. And Artists talking (as the name suggests) is about artists having a conversation. But not, as many people assume is the way with blogs, talking into the ether, or to a fantasy audience – no, if you take a moment to delve into the Artists talking blogs and look at some of the conversations springing up all the time in the blog comments, you’ll find plenty of lively and spontaneous debate.
There are discourses on themes as diverse as the difficulties of putting your work into words, the pros and cons of doing an MA, and the redundancy or otherwise of the art object. A discourse around parenthood resulted not only in an ongoing conversation and a coming together of otherwise isolated and diverse practitioners, but also the beginnings of a new network of artist-parents.
Peer–led debate is not the only community benefit for the bloggers, there is a growing culture of mutual support and encouragement, a sharing of ideas, knowledge and experience. Artists talking is nothing like the many online forums where people hide behind their virtual selves and vent their aggression without fear of consequences. Whether they are offering words of consolation on gallery rejection, suggesting possible reference points, or encouraging one another to keep the momentum going in the grueling build up to the degree shows, the bloggers on Artists talking are generous, sensitive and supportive.
Keeping a blog is like having a constant profile, one that changes develops as your work does. You don’t have to wait until a project or residency is complete in order to highlight it or draw attention to it and in this way prospective commissioners and curators can follow your development and get to know you. And the great thing is you are in control of how you represent yourself and your work. As Kirstie Beaven (Exhibitions Editor at Tate Online) says, “Artists Talking is like a continuous open-studios visit…” and open studios are all about getting the right people in and doing your twirl.
Laying a well signposted e-trail is vital nowadays and a blog can be a key landmark along the way to your door. Alex Pearl was approached by Bath University to do a solo show there. They found him via a review he had written on Interface (a-n's platform for critical writing), which led them to his blog, and from there to his website. Amongst the long list of benefits, Alex says his blog has led to writing for online and printed publications, “…increased traffic to my website [and] reviewers and curators have used it for information…”
A blog doesn’t necessarily have to relate directly to your work but it can still draw attention to you in a very positive way. Emily Speed’s blog about artists’ pay, which ran from January 2009 - November 2011, was topical and critical and has drawn in well over 14,000 visits. Emily says of her blog, “What a fantastic tool [my blog] has been in sharpening everything. ...I have suddenly become much better at valuing my work and time more highly..."
A blog can be an integral part of your practice, a space to reflect, to step back from your output and locate yourself in the wider world of art production. As a community and a networking tool a blog can broaden your contacts, provide you with support and encouragement and introduce you to many inspiring discussions. A blog is not the answer to all your problems, it wont suddenly result in curators and commissioners beating a path to your website, but if done well and signposted well, it can be an extremely useful part of your profile.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2009
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