Arie Altena

Three blogs about contemporary art

review of:

Arie Altena

Even people who blog in a journalistically, which is to say with a view to producing information and reportage for a group of readers, do so first and foremost for themselves. The American political philosopher Jodi Dean recently characterized blogging as 'a practice for managing the self under the conditions of communicative capitalism.'[1]

Blogging has more to do with the design and presentation (performance) of the blogger's (public) self, than with journalism, or with producing a publication in the classic sense. You can see it as a form of personal online information processing and reflection -- even though that reflection may consist only in the choice of a couple of photos. That it provokes reactions, that an audience may (sometimes) form around a blog, is of secondary importance. Of course, there are blogs in which the emphasis is on debate, where heated and/or substantive discussions take place, where ideas are raised and commented on, but generally speaking these are a minority. And it's true that a loose sense of community takes shape in the links between the various blogs, and in the fact that they react to one another. Yet such communities seldom take to the streets or manage to turn their concern into a public issue, although that possibility should never be entirely ruled out. It happens more often in non-Western countries, where blogs and other DIY online publications are the only form of alternative journalism. The fact is that most bloggers write for themselves; they don't have a public, they have readers.

Take Peter Luining, Net artist and an 'internetter' from day one. On his weblog he documents the things that have struck him on his walks around Amsterdam. The walks began as a way of shedding the excess weight accumulated during more than ten years of internet use (it would be hard to imagine a nicer example of the proposition that blogging helps to keep you healthy in the presence of all that media excess). He also reports on exhibitions he has visited, in photographs and impressions. Recurrent elements provide the appeal ('stickyness') of Luining's art log, [of had dat 'blog' moeten zijn] such as art spotted on eBay or on the street among the garbage ('Art is lying on the street'). Although it is possible to infer a view of art from Luining's choices, he refrains from explicit criticism on his blog. This is a deliberate policy. Criticism means proffering considered arguments, making a substantiated 'distinction between', and that takes time. As long as you don't offer any criticism, you can safely follow your own inclinations; you can get away with ignoring important matters and paying attention to trivia. Hence the 'lightness' of many blogs. This is also a positive quality. Those who indulge in unsupported, decontextualized criticism in public, very soon descend into indiscriminate ranting, ridiculing or blowing their own trumpet. Which is why Luining and other bloggers who prefer not to be seen as loudmouths or self-promoters, are clever enough to let the chosen material speak for itself. It is up to us to draw the conclusions.

'We Make Money not Art' has developed into a source of news and commentary from the new media scene, thanks to the approach adopted by Regine Debatty (journalist rather than artist). Debatty writes long pieces, publishes interviews, and visits the latest media festivals and exhibitions. She pursues her own interests but uses her journalistic experience to produce a readable and interesting publication. To safeguard her position and professionalism, she takes a balanced approach, resulting in a much more explicit view of media art than a blunt expression of her opinion would have produced. Debatty establishes links between art and current technological, social and scientific developments, builds bridges to design, to consumer electronics, games, internet culture. From the perspective of art criticism, it is significant that Debatty doesn't start from the history of the avant-garde, or the tradition of European media criticism. On the contrary, she has a positive view of art: art is the creation of experiences, is about making discoveries, it opens the way for discovery and yes, it also asks questions.

It is claimed, especially since 2001, that blogs are an invitation to engage in conversation. Blog software makers promotes blogging as a way to 'publish your ideas, get feedback!'. That does not apply to the art blogs mentioned here: Luining does not invite reader reactions and although Debatty does, it seldom leads to discussion. In terms of graphic design, format and technology, the Dutch art blog Trendbeheer (Jeroen Bosch, Marc Bijl, Niels Post, Hans van der Riet and Jaap Verhoeven), belongs to the genre of blogs that have emerged since 2003: with comments, automatic insertion of 'delicious links', tags, and an overview of the latest reactions. The turnover is high, with several contributions every day. Or, as the American blog ideology of the top 100 Bloggers stipulates: publish a lot and often in order to create a readership and keep them happy. Compared with Luining and Debatty, the texts are more sarcastic, funnier, more provocative. There is occasional harassment, leading to a spate of reactions where it is always the same people who make nuanced remarks, and the same others who are a pain in the ass. Trendbeheer's I-don't-really-give-a-damn-about-anything and sometimes satirical tone works really well for deflating hypes and misplaced pomposity. In that sense Trendbeheer appears to be more critical than Luinig and even Debatty. But ultimately it doesn't go beyond mockery; it never becomes polemic, let alone criticism.

Actually, Trendbeheer has no ambition to engage in art criticism or conduct an art-theoretical debate. This is not to denigrate the quality of the information and links on offer. It's just the tone. Those who don't care for it or can't stand it, look elsewhere. After all, given the wealth of information on the internet and the possibility of doing it better yourself, why would you spend a lot of time criticizing the blinkered vision of one particular blog?

Anyone who concludes from this that blogs excel at registering and commenting on things, and fall short when it comes to reviewing and criticism, in other words fall short in creating a public sphere, is too hung up on a classic notion of the function of the press. Such a conclusion misses the implicit view of art that develops on a blog over time; the connections that are made; the presence of a lot of different perspectives, the networks readers can scour. A blog is permanently 'under construction', the writings are provisional -- and all that provisionality is archived. There is a sense of a vision that is continually being formed, that is examined and interrogated, but which is seldom explicitly defined. In order to be able 'understand' that, a reader needs to follow a blog for a while (or read three months' worth of reports in one go). Over time, a blog's lightness may start to acquire more gravitas.

1. See Jodi Dean, 'I cite, "Liquid Modernity"', 30 May 2007,

Published in OPEN 13, The Rise of Informal Media, How Search Engines, Weblogs and YouTube change Public Opinion, SKOR, NAi, Rotterdam, 2007
ISBN 978-90-5662-604-4
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Arie Altena & OPEN