To Blog or Not to Blog

By Richard Chang, Paul Hodgins and Timothy Mangan
Discuss! To comment on this entry, click here.

Richard Chang, visual arts critic/blogger

In some ways, blogging and visual art are a perfect match.

Blogs are a great place to view art, comment on it, and interact with others who share an interest.

But blogs cannot replace the experience of personally encountering art. Computer screens don't have the same dimensions and interactive properties as three-dimensional works of art. They don't replicate the spaces where art is shown. Sound doesn't always translate. And images don't always reproduce well on laptop and PC screens.

But sometimes there's nothing more immediate than attending an art show and posting pictures and thoughts online, and inviting others to do so. Even when there's disagreement. I think they used to call that "community." I think they still do.

I've been blogging online about art for about year. Before that, I had a visual art column in The Orange County Register.

To my initial chagrin and the disappointment of my fellow critics, the blog replaced the column. Because of print cutbacks, there were fewer column inches in the Sunday newspaper. But the space online is apparently unlimited, as long as you've still got the attention of your reader. (That's when visuals and intriguing pictures especially help.)

I've had fun with the Arts Blog, especially since our editors aren't as concerned with what we write there as they are for our print product and official Web site. But it is another mouth that needs feeding, and I'm forced to be constantly thinking of new content for the blog, new coal to shovel into the furnace. That's on top of my other responsibilities.

Considering the number of blogs out there, sometimes I wonder if anyone really cares if I post or not. That's when I let a day or two slip. But I can't let the multitude of voices and opinions on the blogosphere discourage me. I just don't know where all of this is going sometimes.

Those are my thoughts for now... I'll have more as they come to me.

#  #  #

Paul Hodgins, theater critic/blogger

Writing for an blog was not an assignment that the Register's arts writers initially greeted with optimism. It was an added duty at a time when our responsibilities had already been increasing as cutbacks reduced the size of our newsroom. And some of us didn't relish the hurly burly of the blogosphere, with its scorched-earth missives and rude polemics.

I was pleasantly surprised. The Register's Arts Blog has attracted a small but devoted, knowledgeable and thoughtful readership. While not always as interactive as I would like, I've found they read the blog regularly, and their feedback is often helpful: correcting inaccuracies, giving me additional information about a subject, suggesting with their interest new possibilities for stories and subjects (we can track an online story's popularity in minute detail through Omniture and other reader metric programs). The blog has given me closer and more meaningful connections with my community's theater professionals and participants and allowed me to fine-tune my beat to their interests.

Will bloggers eventually replace professional critics? Not on my beat, at least not in the near term. It takes not only devotion but time and money to see 100 to 150 shows per year in a wide-ranging geographical area such as Southern California. While a few independent bloggers (Cris Gross at Theater Times, for example) show considerable initiative and equal many critics in terms of knowledge, critical skills and writing ability, it's highly unlikely they could provide the comprehensive coverage a professional can, unless they're highly motivated, otherwise unemployed and independently wealthy.

#  #  #

Timothy Mangan, classical music critic/blogger

Blogging on classical music for a newspaper is both rewarding and exasperating. I started my blog, Classical Life, in March, 2006, with a limited rubric: Cover the Pacific Symphony's first European tour from the trenches. When I got back, I found that the blog had been so successful, and the writing of it so enjoyable (if exhausting), I decided to continue it, with my paper's blessing. I think I valued the freedom of it most: I could write about whatever I felt like writing about (within the certain limits of my subject, of course), at whatever length, or non-length. One didn't worry about pitching ideas to an editor, or whether or not a gazillion readers would find an item of interest or even if it would ever appear in print. I was my own boss. It developed, as most blogs do, into a kind of miscellany, a place to share my favorite videos and links, to air my gripes, to break news, to have fun. My expose of Fanfare magazine's pay-to-play editorial practices started on the blog with my publication of a musician's e-mail, and snowballed into a bona fide controversy. I even wrote some well received poems and short fiction. It turned out to be a good place for think pieces as well, some of which caused minor stirs around the blogosphere.

All of a sudden I found myself to be part of a worldwide community of classical music bloggers, a friendly and supportive bunch, some of whom have become long distance friends. I do not consider the stereotypical amateur blogger in pajamas as competition to the professional critic, but rather stimulators of a much needed conversation about the art form, as well as valuable sources. To call them amateurs, at any rate, is an insult. Most, at least the ones I read, are extremely well versed and trained in classical music. And few, if any, offer competition to my main line of work at the paper, which is writing reviews of local concerts and features on the artists involved.

And, so, what's exasperating about it? As newspapers, including mine, have begun to take a nosedive, the powers that be have decided that blogs must pay. The numbers (hits) are watched incessantly, and increasing them has become the criterion for survival, not just of the blog itself, but of the writer behind it. In a real sense, the blog has become an albatross, or a target painted on my chest. If I didn't have one, no one would be looking at those blog numbers - they'd be looking at other numbers, true, but there'd be no pressure on the blog. There's the rub: a blog with pressure becomes work, and blogs shouldn't be work. Oh well, I get more hits when I'm unbuttoned anyway, so I plan to keep on letting it rip, or die trying.

#  #  #
To hear more from these three writers, read "The Arts Blog".  
To learn more about NPAC sessions such as "The Online Salon", visit the website.

May 25, 2008 9:09 AM | | Comments (1)


Your sharing of blogging from professional writing standpoints affirms all the more my recent positive experiences in that world. I too have found feedback in my realm of the visual arts to be very insightful. I have one blog yet I know some friends who have several that are used for their profession then also a personal blog to please themselves. I intend to share a link to this article in my blog.Thank you.

I wish you each a wonderful day.

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Be sure to check in all week for continuous blogging from NPAC.  Attendees from across art forms and job functions report on their conference experiences. Comments from the convention and beyond are welcome!

Reporting from NPAC:

Amanda Ameer
- web manager, NPAC
Sarah Baird - media and public relations executive, Boosey & Hawkes
Joseph Clifford - outreach and education manager, Dartmouth College Hopkins Center for the Arts
Lawrence Edelson - producing artistic director, American Lyric Theater
James Egelhofer - artist manager, IMG Artists
Ruth Eglsaer - program consultant, Free Night of Theater NYC
Jaime Green - literary associate, MCC Theatre
James Holt - membership and marketing associate, League of American Orchestras
Michelle Mierz - executive director, LA Contemporary Dance Company
Mark Pemberton - director, Association of British Orchestras
Mister MOJO - star, MOJO & The Bayou Gypsies
Sydney Skybetter - artistic director, Skybetter and Associates
Mark Valdez - national coordinator, The Network of Ensemble Theaters
Amy Vashaw - audience & program development director, Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State
Scott Walters - professor, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Zack Winokur - student, The Juilliard School
Megan Young - artistic services manager, OPERA America

Please note: the entries posted by the attendees above represent their personal impressions, not the viewpoints of the organizations they work for.

About this blog From April 1 through June 9, 2008, weekly entries will be posted here by some of the performing arts community's top bloggers. This 10-week intensive blog will serve as a unique forum for digital debate and brainstorming, and both the entries and comments will be archived for use at the live NPAC sessions in June.  New entries will be posted every Monday morning. Please note: the views expressed in this blog represent those of the independent contributors and participants, not the National Performing Arts Convention.

NPAC - the National Performing Arts Convention - will take place in Denver, Colorado on June 10-14, 2008. "Taking Action Together," NPAC will lay the foundation for future cross-disciplinary collaborations, cooperative programs and effective advocacy. Formed by 30 distinct performing arts service organizations demonstrating a new maturity and uniting as one a sector, NPAC is dedicated to enriching national life and strengthening performing arts communities across the country. Click here to register, and we'll see you in Denver!

The Authors Jaime Green, Nico Muhly, Kristin Sloan, Jason Grote, Jeffrey Kahane, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Greg Sandow, Hilary Hahn, Tim Mangan, Paul Hodgins, Richard Chang and Andrew Taylor!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by NPAC published on May 25, 2008 9:09 AM.

New Avenues in Collaboration was the previous entry in this blog.

Is the performing arts industry designed to learn? is the next entry in this blog.

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