Who's Afraid of Tyler Green?
A blog is a "web log," an online diary. One person's or a group of people's published thoughts about things that interest them. Some have advertising, but few (if any) actually charge the public to read them, so essentially, they're free. They're also fast. Blogs rush to print like no other medium, because they don't have traditional publishing editing processes to slow them down (this is not necessarily always a good thing) and because, well, technologically they can.
An "art blog" is the online diary of someone whose general topic of discussion is art. These run the gamut from those publishing thoughtful, lengthy essays to those publishing basically only images.
People visit art blogs, first and foremost, because they're interested in learning things they won't find in other resources, especially things that are time sensitive. Moreover, people visit art blogs to "take the pulse" of the art-blog-reading community on issues and developing stories. For the insta-commentary, so to speak.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, blogs are a virtual community, a place where people from around the world can "meet up" and share ideas, learn of news or gossip, or debate the issues. This inexpensive, easily accessible bridging of location for like-minded folks is the true gift of blogs. It's democratic like nothing else out there.
Part II: What is an art blog not?
Art blogs are not a replacement for other existing art-related media. This is a common misconception among people (even among those who read or write blogs). Rather, IMHO, blogs are a supplement to the other media, often serving as a 24/7 online ombudsman, if you will.
Art blogs are not the first place I go to for in-depth criticism. I tend to seek out traditional media, where I know the editing process is still in use, for that. That's not to say that sometimes the most brilliant critique of something doesn't appear on a blog (it can, and does), but that because the raison d'etre for the traditional media that focus on art criticism is to provide a consistently high-quality level of critique, and because they usually provide a wide range of opinions from a wide range of writers, reading them provides a good idea of where the overall critique is at a given time, as opposed to the opinions of one individual.
Part III: Who's Afraid of Tyler Green?
I drag you through this exercise in the painfully obvious in response to a post on Tyler Green's blog responding to a swipe that Peter Plagens took at him in an article about the current state of art criticism:
Tyler can (and does) easily take care of himself in response to this cheapshot, but I can't help but feel Plagens' condescending comments about art blogs stem from misunderstanding what they are (hence the explanation above) and a bit of jealousy at the attention they're currently getting (i.e., art blogs are hot at the moment, but like any new toy, they'll find themselves left behind for the cool newer thing at some point down the road [in fact, there are signs that the major political blogs are already losing their audiences]).
[Tyler writes:] I think one of the most masturbatory discussions in the art world is about whether art criticism is dead. (Translation: Is anyone reading me?)
In this month's Art in America, former Newsweek critic Peter Plagens broadens that discussion by looking at what's up in the newspaper and magazine worlds. Most of his analysis seemed pretty in-touch, but I respectfully disagree with him on this paragraph:"Exceptions [to reader disinterest in art critics] exist -- as with the lead critics for a few of the major dailies -- but they don't abound. More and more people in the audience for contemporary art would rather read Tyler Green snark somebody in his blog, Modern Art Notes, than ponder the considered judgment of Michael Kimmelman on a MoMA retrospective. Many art writers have either added unpaid blogging to their activities or been squeezed into it from want of other, traditional outlets -- for which many bloggers don't have enough writerly inclination or discipline, anyway. Each of those art bloggers has a following of fans and other bloggers, and each of those bloggers has... and so on. A growing form of art criticism consists of posting links to other people's criticism, which consists of posting links... and so on."
I read both Tyler (who's simply the best art blogger out there, bar none) and Kimmelman. I don't see that as big a challenge as Plagens seems to suggest it is either. Really, who are these hordes of short-attention-spanned art criticism readers Plagens speaks of? In fact, he actually contradicts himself by suggesting it's a sign of intellectual laziness that bloggers post links to others' criticism. Psst...Peter...that means they actually read said criticism before they blogged about it. More than that, if the initial critic isn't flattered that someone thought enough about their critique to open up a forum to discuss it, then why are they writing in the first place?
Critics more interested in traditional media than blogs should not feel threatened by blogs' current popularity. Art readers will follow what's excellent (the number of bloggers who stepped away from their computers to read Jonathan Lethem's extraordinary, but lengthy, essay in Harper's this month is proof).
Finally, and I say this with respect, if there's a downturn in readership of traditional media-based criticism, perhaps it's not evidence of the laziness of the readers as much as it the laziness of the critics who aren't doing the work it takes to spark the imagination of their readers (again, see note on Lethem). Art readers (including blog readers) only want good writing. No, scratch that.... Art readers long for good writing. If you publish it, they will read.