I was, so far as I know, the first widely read print-media critic to launch a daily blog about the arts, and my single-handed assault on the blogosphere didn’t exactly trigger an avalanche of imitators (though the artsjournal.com blogroster now contains a number of other familiar faces, and Alex Ross of The New Yorker, much to my delight, recently started a blog of his own). Instead, something far more interesting and significant happened: the blogosphere invaded the print media. Several of the artbloggers listed in the “Sites to See” module of the right-hand column, many of whom started blogging before I did and most of whom were unknown before they started blogging, now write for newspapers and magazines. Yet they continue to blog as well. Why? Because blogging, which operates according to its own homegrown rules, has evolved into a brand-new style of journalism indigenous to the Web, one whose exciting blend of immediacy and informality has its own unique appeal to readers–and writers. I know I’m hooked.
A theologian I know once told me that technology is not merely neutral, but a positive good. I’m no Luddite, but I had trouble getting his point. Now, after a year of blogging, I understand it completely. Blogs are the 21st-century counterpart of the periodical essays of the eighteenth century, the Spectators and Ramblers and Idlers that supplied familiar essayists with what was then the ideal vehicle for their intensely personal reflections. Blogging stands in the sharpest possible contrast to the corporate journalism that exerted so powerful an effect on writing in the twentieth century. Instead of the homogenized semi-anonymity of a mass-circulation magazine, it offers writers the opportunity to practice the old-fashioned art of individual journalism, self-published, unmediated, and interactive. That’s a good example of what my theologian friend meant: the highest purpose of the Internet, a seemingly impersonal piece of postmodern technology, has turned out to be its unique ability to bring creatures of flesh and blood closer together.
I started “About Last Night” because I’d come to believe that the print media were losing interest in the fine arts. I suspected that serious arts journalism was destined to migrate to the Web, which is the perfect medium for cultural niche marketing, and it struck me that as an arts journalist, I might therefore do well to investigate its possibilities. At the same time, I never meant for this blog to be devoted to high art alone. Of the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve posted here to date, I think these might be the most important:
I don’t think The Long Goodbye is as good a book as The Great Gatsby, and I believe the difference between the two books is hugely important. But I also don’t think it’s absurd to compare them, and I probably re-read one as often as the other.
The point is that I accept the existence of hierarchies of quality without feeling oppressed by them. I have plenty of room in my life for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler, for Aaron Copland and Louis Armstrong, for George Balanchine and Fred Astaire, and I love them all without confusing their relative merits, much less jumping to the conclusion that all merits are relative.
In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s part of what this blog is all about–a big part.
It sure is, and it still is.
To all of you who read “About Last Night” regularly, I want to express my deepest gratitude for your support. You are why I write this blog.
As for Our Girl in Chicago, who became my co-blogger last fall, I can’t say enough good things about her. “About Last Night” is a better blog–and infinitely more fun to write–because of her “additional dialogue.”
And to the other bloggers out there in the ‘sphere who have befriended and advised me, thanks for being so patient with a terminally unhip boomer who decided to get crazy and plunge head first into your brave new world. You’re teaching me a lot, every day.
Much else has happened to me in the year just past. I published a book, wrote another one, and had a third come out in paperback. The Teachout Museum, which started out as a couple of prints on my wall, became a serious and passionate pursuit, so much so that I’ll be giving a lecture about it next March at my favorite museum, the Phillips Collection (watch this space for details). I visited a Maine island, rode a roller coaster for the first time, consumed an enormous amount of art, and was investigated by the FBI. But of all the things I did, I suspect that starting this blog will prove in the not-so-long run to have been the most consequential. I’ve been present at the creation (well, almost) of a totally new journalistic medium, the first one to come along since the invention of TV, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
So I’ll close by thanking Doug McLennan, the mastermind of artsjournal.com, who called me up out of the blue one afternoon and said, “How’d you like to write a blog for me?” Three weeks later–one year ago today–“About Last Night” was born. Since then, it’s racked up more than 430,000 page views and is now being read in thirteen time zones around the world. That’s a start.