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Blog Q & A
Online editor of Artists talking Andrew Bryant answers your questions about blogging and the online environment for artists and people working in the visual arts.
Q Must I be a subscriber to a-n to keep an Artists talking blog?
A The short answer to that is no. Keeping a blog on Artists talking only requires that you register with us. The blog platform is completely open and unedited and the great thing about having a blog with Artists talking is that you are part of a community of other artists who blog. Click here to find out more.
Q What distinguishes blogs from other writing?
A Blogs provide a uniquely flexible space for reflexivity, experimentation and communication. Their openness and self-edited nature allows for a level of self-determined decision-making that is not available to other writing formats. Because they are already structured chronologically, you can be as creative as you like and never lose sight of the frame. The form of the address is unique too, since blogs are usually autobiographical, or at least they assume a particular, individuated voice - a subjective voice. and finally, to blog is to be part of a community, a place where each individual unfolds themselves with and through contact and interaction with others.
Q What are the benefits of keeping a blog on Artists talking?
A In my opinion, blogging is as much about communication and community as it is about creating a platform for yourself. Of course, we are artists, and so we want a platform, we want to be seen and we want to be heard – we want recognition. Has it not ever been so? At least since the enlightenment, with its twin realisations of art as a viewing spectacle, and a modern public with the eyes - and the ‘I’s - to view it. But the assignment of aesthetic value, of who is in and who is out, which formed the social function of the salon, and still informs our experience of the gallery today, is only a part of the picture. Artists, now more than ever before it seems, are keen to be a part of something that goes beyond the narcissistic exercise of self-definition and representation, and the blog, especially one that is hosted somewhere like Artists talking, provides the space in which to achieve this. You just have to click onto any one of the Artists talking blogs and see the kind of conversations that are taking place in the comments.
Q How can I make my blog 'sticky'?
A Search engines 'cache' headings and first sentences so try and start each post either with a well thought out title or opening line. For example, if your entry is about how your blog led to an opportunity you might start it with a sentence like this: 'An exhibition opportunity has arisen as a direct result of my artists' blog.' if somebody does a search using the phrase 'exhibition opportunity', and especially if they add the word 'artist' and/or 'blog', then you are quids in. Never start your blog entry with a rambling apology for not having writen in 17 years or, that dreaded phrase, 'I have been thinking about...'. (I know, we all do it!)
Q How do I get people to read my blog?
A If you want people to read your blog you have to be out there participating and contributing to your own blog regularly. This means getting into a routine of blogging and reading other people's blogs, making comments and starting conversations. And try not to restrict your scope to just the Artists talking blogs, search around, google artists' blogs, create your own network. In short, the more you put in the more you get out.
Q How do I clamber up the google ladder?
A A bit of a techie one this one. Believe it or not there are real persons behind google and other search engines and those people reward frequent activity. The more times you update your blog the more they like it and the more likely it is to appear at the top of the list.
Q Should my blog have a specific focus?
A The best blogs have a clear focus because that way readers know what they are getting and what to expect; people will come back to your blog in the knowledge that it is the place to go to find out about a certain topic, for example, or to be entertained. Emily Speed's blog Getting paid is plainly titled and never fails to deliver what it promises. It has become the place to go to read about and join in a discussion on the subject of making a living as an artist. Alex Pearl's many blogs consistently make me laugh and I know I can rely on him for entertaining, self-depreciating humour mixed in with witty reflections on the art world and on the process of making art. So, be clear in your blog title about what is on offer, then make sure you deliver the goods concisely and consistently.
Q Should I always talk about my own practice?
A Actually it can be a very good idea to discus other artists' work in your blog. Firstly it can shed light on your own concerns, both for yourself and your readers and secondly it could get you picked up in blog searches.
Q Why blog any way? Isn't it enough just to have a website?
A 25% of google links are generated by blogs, not by websites, and search engines don't recognise images, they recognise words. So if you have a website showcasing your work people will never find you through a search engine. However if you blog regularly, once a week for example, and have online portfolio well signposted form your blog you are more likely to be found.
Q How can I attract more visitors to my blog?
A Tell people you know: friends and colleagues are a ready-made audience. Make sure you let them know via emails when you start a new blog or make significant changes.
Make cards: it's cheap to get cards printed or to do them yourself. I always keep a stash in my bag and hand them out to people I meet at shows and events.
Link to artists or bloggers you like: linking is foundational to successful blogging. Find artists' websites, review, other blogs - anything that grabs your interest - and talk about them in your blog. Some of the best blogs are as much about the blogger's journey through the blogosphere as they are about their own practice.
Q How can I give readers a reason to return?
A We read blogs regularly when they consistently deliver what we want and when they leave us expecting more. For example, Emily Speed's blog Getting paid accumulates research so that the topic deepens and broadens as the blog develops whilst in Swim Circle Richard Light and Paul Clark keep us engaged with a sense of breathless excitement and adventure.
Q Why is it vital to be direct?
A People who read blogs read other blogs and keep their own blog too. They don’t have time for hyperbole. Phrases such as ‘in my opinion’ and ‘it seems to me’ produce a rhetoric of pompousness and fence-sitting.
Q How do I do a collective blog and what are the advantages?
A It's easy to do a collective or collaborative or group blog. You just set up a dedicated username and password that you all know and then each time you post an entry add your name to the post. Alternatively you can simply write the posts together. The advantages of blogging as a group or collective are that you can create a dynamic discussion within one blog, plus you generate more interest in the blog from your multiple contacts and other online activities and locations. They also enable aritsts living in different locations, sometimes even different countries, to create a current, ongoing profile or reflective account of a specific project. Collective blogs on Projects unedited include Swim Circle in which Richard Light and Paul Clark take us on a "...collaborative, conceptual and experientia..." journey, Atoi Arts whose blog "...contains a frequent response to daily experiences..." and Holly Rumble's other/other/other in which she and co-collaborator Dot Howard discuss their development of "...site-responsive or durational work...". There are many more group blogs to gain ideas and inspiration from.
Q Should I compose my posts or be spontaneous?
A This is another one of those 'there's no right or wrong' questions. Having said this I do think it is possible to overthink your entries until they become stodgy or overcooked. Best to keep it relatively spontaneous so that your readers discover with you what you have discovered in the act of writing.
Q How can I be prepare to get 'Stumbled Upon?"
A Getting Stumbled Upon, or Dugg, can be unexpected. To make sure you are prepared for this have links to your website and other online presences clearly visible, have a clear and concise biog or 'About' section, write a strap-line that encourages people to subscribe and explains how to do this and possibly even prepare a pdf 'booklet' which you can mail out straight away.
Q How often should I update my blog?
A It is up to you how often you update your blog and it depends what you want to get from it. Regular updating automatically raises the profile of your blog as it will rise to the top of the pile each time you post, and search engines like google ‘reward’ activity. Beware posting for the sake of it though. If you do get into a routine of regular updates it can send a message to yourself that you are taking the blog, and yourself as a writer, seriously. You may find that during the week, or the day, you get little ideas coming into your head that you could blog about which you can then jot down in a notepad or Word doc, so that when you come to write your blog you have lots of ideas and starting points to draw from and develop. Devote a portion of your blogging time to reading others’ blogs, posting comments and contributing to discussions. This will generate interest in your blog and make you feel part of a community of bloggers.
Q How can I overcome the fear of exposure?
A If you haven’t kept a blog before the idea of your words being published for all to see can be daunting, especially if you’ve not done much writing - at all - or at least since university. But think of it this way: anxiety is just another form of excitement and seeing your own words instantly online for the first time can be exciting. Like the actual world the virtual world is full of uncertainties. It can seem overwhelming, confusing, persecutory even. In fact the truth is that the virtual world, much like the actual world, is relatively indifferent, so you may as well jump in and start swimming.
Q What about twitter and other social networking sites?
A All online activity leads to the same place: you. Twitter, unlike other social networking sites, has an average user age of about 40. There are lots of interesting people and organisations tweeting and it is easy to build networks quickly because you don't have all the usual nonsense such as 'poking' or sending virtual hugs. It is very simple and direct, and can be inspiring. Here at a-n we get a lot of traffic from twitter. As I said, all online activity broadens your network. It can be overwhelming but isn't that just like life? (Remember, the antithesis of virtuality is actuality, not reality; the virtual world has a reality all of its own.)
Andrew Bryant is an artist and freelance editor living in London
First published: a-n.co.uk July 2009
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