Arts Writing and “The New Thing”

Last week’s much talkedabout Art Klatch, hosted by Scott Lawrimore at Cafe Presse, briefly touched on the question of whether online media prevents non-arts inclined members of the community from happening upon arts coverage and criticism (summarized on Translinguistic Other).  Based on my graduate work in the online realm, I knew I very much disagree with this concern but had not completely formulated why.  Fortunately, I discovered that diacritical already articulated many important aspects of the matter:

“The reason the critics were at newspapers was because that’s the place that supported them. As something else rises to take their place, the critics will go there.

I’ve recently come to feel that the new thing (whatever that is) won’t have a chance until the old order is disposed of. Newspapers are sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and the startups won’t have room to flourish until newspapers get out of the way.” (Douglas McLennan, “Creative Destruction and The Critics”, diacritical)

McLennan does not directly address the question of how the general public will interact with arts writing, but his advocating for “the new thing” is of utmost importance during the transition from print to online arts coverage.  Online arts writing is exactly that: a new thing.  It is a new medium that is still as public (or more so) as printed communication tools.  In turn, the public interacts with online writing differently than the media of the past.

The metrics of this blog provide some insight into how and why people are visiting Peripheral Vision (PV) as an arts-related blog. The most popular entry I have (this entry has around 1000 page views; the next most popular has about 400) according to WordPress* is “Dangerous Commodity.” This entry has never had an external link within the art blogging community and was published almost one year ago, during a time when PV had a smaller audience.  According WordPress’s statistics on search engines that lead Internet surfers to PV, “Dangerous Commodity” is viewed almost exclusively because of an image of a purse designed by Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton posted within the text (it comes up as one of the primary images on a Google Image search for the bag).   Ultimately, an image is leading unsuspecting shoppers to a blog full of quotations from aesthetic and postmodern theory.

“Arts writing” as defined by a Google Image search.  Image from Mrs. Allen’s 3rd Grade Classroom, Davenport School District.

This instance of writing on the arts intersecting with another aspect of popular culture suggests that happening upon an art blog en route to purchasing a handbag is as possible as happening upon an art review in a newspaper en route to the business section.  However, the methods for “happening” upon something in the online realm are entirely different from the methods for doing so in printed media.  While a physical structure enables a sort of spontaneity in newspapers, the Internet has its own set of structures in place for such interactions to occur.  In the case of the “Dangerous Commodity” blog entry, an image search is the mechanism that enables shoppers to use Peripheral Vision as a resource for their image needs.  Similar effects can happen as a result of tagging, another search mechanism that exists only on the web.

I have my suspicions that most seeking a Louis Vuitton handbag on the Internet do not actually read Peripheral Vision during their visit to the page.  However, the second most popular entry on PV is “The Raft of the Medusa and the Potential of Prospect.1”, primarily due to the tagging of The Raft of the Medusa.  This gives more hope that web search mechanisms and other unique aspects of the Internet will lead to the increased visibility of arts writing within broader communities, as well as among the general public.

The new capabilities and potential uses for online-specific tools reinforce the importance of seeing online arts writing as a “new thing” not yet brought to full fruition.  Although it is of value to acknowledge the aspects of printed media that initially seem “lost” in online formats, it is more important to explore the creative offerings of online arts writing.  Most critically, online writing is a medium in its own right that requires rethinking and re-imagining how we define communication, in order to expand beyond what know from the past.

*Wordpress is certainly not the most accurate metrics tool, but I am hoping it is mildly accurate in terms of relative statistics; for more on metrics and how they also must be redefined, read “Towards New Metrics of Success for On-line Museum Projects” by Sebastian Chan of the Powerhouse Museum