A rant, and a suggestion



Paddy Johnson says, "I am only human!" [via John W Beaman's photos on Facebook of #class Rant Night]

Given my lack of time for blogging, and knowing more people would see it and discuss it there, I shared my notes from my rant on the last night of #class with Art Fag City. Don't miss the comments.

Part of the point of #class was to propose solutions, not just whine, so here are my thoughts. As the number of culture critics and writers decline in the printed media, the online world is replacing them, but getting paid enough to write is a big problem, even for relatively well-known writers such as Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City. As the co-founder of Culture Pundits and Idiom, it's something I worry about quite often, and both were founded to find some support for good writing.

My proposal: arts organizations such as The Art Dealers Association of America and the New Art Dealers Alliance should use a portion of their membership dues to fund arts writing. I'm sure similar groups exist for theater and dance as well, but the area I know best is the visual arts. In the long run, they need people to write about art, including their artists and exhibitions, and if people are too broke or busy freelancing to do so, no one wins. For a fraction of the cost of attending even a single art fair, the pooled resources could make a big difference in the quality and quantity of art criticism. Heck, perhaps some of this money could even fund some good editors to work with bloggers and other writers who would like that assistance!

Implementation details, such as an advisory committee for handing out the money, can be discussed. I would strongly recommend against a big proposal process, as I think that takes away from the time writers could use for better purposes. Writers who are interested in being considered could fill out a simple web form with a link to some samples of their writing for a committee to consider. In the interest of smoothing cash flow for all parties involved, the awards could even be monthly payments rather than lump sums. PayPal works very nicely for that.

Related: Two Coats of Paint on art bloggers, legitimacy, and awards.


This is perhaps one of the worst proposals anyone could come up with, and I think, foregrounds one of the main "critical" flaws in thinking among the current batch of art bloggers.

Why would any business (remember, galleries are businesses not cultural social programs) or marketing organization spend money to fund writing that might rip the products they are seeking to sell? Berry, you and James were some of the first to see the potential conflicts of interest posed by the "Skin Fruit" show at the NuMu. This would pose an even greater potential for twisting honest criticism into "advertising" and "product promotion" under the guise of funding "online criticism".

If you're serious about income sources, I think there has to be ways of funding that would maintain a critical distance and avoid the influence from the commercial interests under discussion.

James, the point of this is that a larger group would fund a number of bloggers or writers, not have one-on-one relationships with them. With Culture Pundits, for example, one can only buy sponsorship on all 27 sites at once.

Having ADAA provide a pool which goes to a large group of bloggers is a very different thing than having individual galleries place ads on individual blogs.

I get approached all of the time by people that only want to be on ArtCat, but I don't allow it in order to share the wealth, and to keep some distance. Not that I have to worry about a lot of art gallery ads anyway. They simply don't spend much money in the online space even though they like to have us cover their shows. They would rather blow a few grand on a quarter-page ad in the back of ArtForum apparently.

We do get some museum sponsors. Just not commercial galleries.

The current "model" for Idiom and ArtCat is that I do a lot of freelance work and massively subsidize them.

James/Loren, do you think that the gallery & museum ads influence the coverage of the art at the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, and other publications? And if so, how much do you think it does?

Barry (sorry for the misspell above, after all I ain't got no editor), I'll just say from long experience, that unless there are explicit guidelines separating the funders from the writers there will be questions regarding the voracity and honesty of the content. I too am approached on a regular basis by artists, galleries and curators who want to provide some kind of motivation to cover them and render a favorable report, and it's not always in the form of a financial offer. On the other hand, the level of professionalism that we're all hopping to see develop in online art criticism will cost money.

Hrag, yes I think there are forms of influence (including advertising sales) that effect the mainstream media coverage and I think it's sizable. It's not strictly a tit for tat deal, but there are many bennies a gallery or institution can divvy out to curry favor (who gets invited to what at what level of exclusivity). If you'd like a personal case in point (one that of course that must be held in confidence) I could fill you in. Conversely, if you're an artist having a show you hope to God that your dealers or agents are working every angle as hard as they can to get you covered and reviewed.

I see the problem as one of continued degradation of the value of content producers, in favor of trapping all value in the hands of content platforms. This is the basic Web 2.0 business model, and it is been catastrophic to artists, writers, illustrators, and photographers.

The literal business model of Google is based on leveraging the cultural production of the entire world to create sponsorship opportunities while paying absolutely nothing for this cultural production. They have pushed this line across medium by medium -- writing, images, and now video. Finally with video they have hit an adversary with enough capitalization to call them out on their implicit policies of infringement (Viacom), and I hope they lose.

A precedent needs to be set -- the rights of cultural producers are essential to democracy. Venture capital can't simply start a new company built on piracy to take over a market, then clean up their act and get away without consequence.

Until venture capital is told they can't steal culture, then they will never see the need to fund cultural institutions. And cultural producers will continue to scrap by, while their efforts generate profit for the mega-platforms of the internet.

James, Thanks for that example of completely outmdoded thinking. And as someone who has done so much to BUILD the arts community at large with your work, I am really surprised.

The reason that galleries should fund criticism, directly or indirectly, is that whether its a negative critique or a positive one, it is STILL A CRITIQUE. There is no such thing as bad publicity in this sense, and a bad review that gets a ton of reactions on the web and offline is worth more to a business.

Art bloggers are VERY important community members and they need to be supported. There may be a time when they figure out how to do it for themselves but in the meantime, the galleries should be supporting them.
The manner in which Barry has proposed has MORE than enough distance between funder and fundee.


It is a great idea for arts organizations to fund arts writing, for the same reason that it is a great idea for artists to collect each others work. You can't be an artist by yourself.

And another note about the decline of criticism -- as we discarded publications for blogs, we turned publishers into robots and threw away editors. There are as many writers as ever, but without any structure to add value to their work.

I think this is a fine idea and certainly provides much more distance from individual galleries and the publications than one finds in the art magazines. But, if the magazines can establish a separation between their editorial/writing staff and their marketing (as I am sure they would declare and/or strive for), why couldn't online publications?

I am interested as to why galleries are not advertising on blogs as much and wonder if it is because they feel their clients do not use/visit these online sources? Is that true? I would imagine younger collectors especially are all over the internet. It may be useful to find a way to determine the usage of the web among collectors and relay that info to galleries.

It seems pretty straightforward for gallery associations to advertise through Culture Pundits either spread across multiple blogs or concentrated on one if they so choose. That's not much different from the association buying an art forum ad.

I think it's a great idea for these organizations to fund arts writing. Arts writing is not just criticism. It can be expository, essay or interview, and it can offer an immediate dialog with the audience in a way that print journalism cannot.

Sometimes a funding gallery will get covered; sometimes it won't. That issue has been going on in print journalism forever. But getting known as a "vanity" publication is the kiss of death for all involved, and no one wants that.

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