The Art of Blogging About Art

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Most mainstream news organizations now blog in some form, including, obviously, the NewsHour here on Art Beat. We talked to some other arts and culture bloggers about the ways the medium has affected their messages.

Culture Monster, at LATimes.com, uncovering art in Hollywoodland

The Los Angeles Times has made a serious push toward blogging over the past year. Last September, Culture Monster joined the mix, covering the thriving — but oft overlooked —art scene in Southern California.

“We’re in the capital of Hollywood and the film industry, and the arts is largely overshadowed by that, and that’s unfortunate,” said Lisa Fung, the Times’ arts editor and a contributor to Culture Monster.

“We’re so limited by space in print and there’s so much happening in the art world that we wanted to reach out a little more beyond our print subscribers.”

As hard as she pushed for an art and culture blog, even Fung has been surprised by the blog’s reach and the reader response. “Our numbers often are ahead of the Lakers blog, or the Dodgers blog,” she said.

“There’s something more personal, for some reason, with the blogs. Maybe it’s the voice we use, that let’s people get to know our critics better than they would in print,” Fung said.

“I think what blogs in general have done is taken the arts off this pedestal, and made it more accessible. The arts aren’t some hoity-toity thing that only the rich and white go to.”

Don Share; photo courtesy of the Poetry FoundationHarriet, the Poetry Foundation’s non-institutional voice

“I think people thought poetry was this quiet thing in the corner, and what our blog shows is that it’s not. People get as excited about poetry as they do about politics or other subjects,” says Don Share, who contributes to the Poetry Foundation’s lively group blog. [Disclosure: The Poetry Foundation funds the NewsHour’s Poetry Series.

“There really wasn’t something like this for the poetry community,” said Share. “What we discovered was there were crazy conversations taking place and there was no other place to have these discussions.”

Harriet launched two years ago, aiming in part to make sure the century-old Poetry Magazine (where Share is an editor) understood where its readership and subject matter were headed and, at times, to push both along.

What he and other contributors found was a passionate, active community of readers and writers: “What’s surprising when anyone looks at Harriet, really, is how passionate people get about poetry. That’s something we always dreamed about on our end, our sort of ideal reader. But we never really had any way to hear from them.

“It’s really a good thing. If people think a poem is no good…they get worked up about it.”

Share admits he’s been surprised by reader reactions to posts. It’s not unusual for a post to draw dozens of comments. “Most of the commenters, you’ll notice, have a sense of ownership of our blog. They become like characters in the drama,” he said.

“We want people to act out who they are a little bit and act out their creative influences, even if they’re a little odd sometimes.”

That’s yielded good feedback on the magazine, Share said, and helped prompt a more serious look at visual poetry.

“The old model was you worked in an editorial vacuum. [Readers] hold your feet to the fire on the blog,” he said, “I think it keeps you honest. You take into account the fact that people are going to care about the way you do it. But it’s good to have to defend your editorial positions.”

CultureGrrl, aka Lee RosenbaumCultureGrrl, aka Lee Rosenbaum

Lee Rosenbaum has been a freelance culture critic for years, most recently as a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Three years ago, she started blogging for two weeks before she told anyone. Now, her blog alter-ego, CultureGrrl, competes for attention with her real-life byline.

“If I tell people I’m Lee Rosenbaum, nobody cares,” she said in a phone interview. “But if I tell them I’m CultureGrrl, they go, ‘Oh, I read you all the time.’”

Bouncing between paper and blog means a constant swapping of voice: “Everything has to be short, punchy and to the point” on the blog, she said. “In some ways it’s not been for the good. I used to do a lot of long, thoughtful pieces and that has somewhat gone by the wayside.

“In the blog I tend to be very feisty, very pointed, maybe a little irritating sometimes —provocative, I should say — and in the Journal it might be more straightforward, fact-driven criticism.”

CultureGrrl is very much a personal blog, and while it raises Rosenbaum’s profile, “it won’t support any kind of lifestyle.” That’s not really why she’s blogging, though.

“I think I started it more than anything because I felt I had a lot to say and no place to put it,” she said. “I can only write so many articles for the Journal but I have ideas everyday that I feel like sharing.”

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That lines up with something that “Say Everything” author Scott Rosenberg, whose book inspired this series of posts, wrote on his own blog earlier this month. Most people, he said, blog out of “a desire to express themselves, to think out loud, to exult in the possibilities of writing in public…”

For these writers, and for those of us who write on Art Beat, blogging has opened up opportunities for community-building and the production of arts coverage that go beyond the capacity of the printed magazine, the newspaper broadsheet or the hour-long news program.

Editor’s note: Click here for our story about Scott Rosenberg and his book, “Say Everything.” And you can read about last year’s launch of Art Beat here.

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