Art blog for an art critic

© Flickr, Martin Canchola

In late November 2010, Foundation Center for Contemporary Art hosted the international project “Kyiv Offline: Art criticism in the age of instant access” that focused on the need to develop among critics in Ukraine a common understanding of the role of the contemporary art critic in an age of instant access to information. One of the results of the project was the compilation of essays by project participants on the critical situation in Ukraine today.

KORYDOR is joining the discussion on the role of art criticism and will publish a selection of texts written after Kyiv Offline. The complete collection of texts will be available soon on the Foundation CCA website.

Blogs are a very paradoxical thing. Many people like to criticize them, claiming that there are too many scribblers nowadays who spoil our, so to say, highly cultured journalism; but at the same time, all those “many” do not disdain to create an account in LiveJournal or to speculate about lofty matters on Facebook. Otherwise, they won’t be in the loop and might miss an extravagant banquet or exhibition opening. Or in the worst case, both of them.

What does it mean? It means that if Bourdieu wrote more simply, and people were smarter, then everyone would have realized long ago that the infamous Web 2.0, which implies that society today is undergoing a curious change, is not an invention of the imperialists and not a gift from neighboring galaxies, but rather quite a natural phenomenon, which is, by the way, the logical consequence of the development of mankind. And the best thing we can do at the moment is to accept it.

No doubt, the abundance of texts produced as a result of the popularity of services such as LiveJournal or Blogspot is staggering, as is the level of entropy generated by them. The percentage of low-quality texts has grown, but if we ask ourselves where this percentage comes from, the only correct answer is: from the same place as the staggering amount of incompetent opinions that we hear in real life. We hear people talking passionately about politics in the subway, on their way home from work, discussing films while leaving the cinema, and so on. These people can do the same in blogs, without aiming for publication in the New York Times. They multiply interpretation and information, but remain the same members of society as they were before - office workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, etc.
If you have the right attitude toward blogs, sooner or later the fog will lift and between stupidity and snap judgments it is possible to catch the real treasures laid out in the public domain that are not affiliated with any particular publication.

Blogging sooner or later cultivates in its authors a particular view and means of self-expression: with time, blogs that were originally devoted exclusively to reflection on the incompatibility of our inner world with the harshness of reality become a place for the new writers to post fragments of their professional work. For example, over the five years of my own existence in LiveJournal, I have essentially transformed my blog from a “personal” to a “semiprofessional” regime. The same thing happened with many of my virtual friends whose development I follow on LiveJournal.

This can be explained by elementary progression, of course, but there is another important point: in the process of blogging, a person begins to perceive it as not just an outlet for releasing everything that is accumulated each day, but as a tool for media activity. In other words, the blogger begins to write so that her/his readers understand; s/he learns to find the optimal form of self-expression so that the message reaches the recipient and is noted by others in their friends list. Of course, this may take several months, or even years.

How can the ability to express ourselves online be used in journalism and art criticism? Unfortunately, the current situation in Ukraine is such that the sphere that should be devoted to art criticism is instead occupied by a myriad of frankly unreadable texts that have nothing to do with the concept of “criticism.” Art is criticized by people who are generally neither bad journalists nor inept writers. They are just people who do not care about whether their texts will be read or not. From the position of high art, this credo deserves respect, but our media environment, unfortunately, is not a inch closer to approaching what might be called “art criticism.”

Therefore, in this situation the only acceptable position for a critic, in my opinion, is the position of a mediator of ideas and meanings produced in art (not only Ukrainian, but also all over the world). In this case, alas, a critic in our country must be omnivorous, because if s/he doesn’t explain why movies starring Kamaliya are vulgar and tasteless, then no one else will.

In my humble opinion, blogging could become the panacea that will save Ukrainian journalism from the domination of the paradigm “text for the sake of text.” An experienced blogger knows that any text written and sent to the network ceases to belong to you, it firmly settles into the Google cache, from which it can be fished out at any time.
Ironically, it is Web 2.0 that gives more evidence of the power of the written word and that the author is responsible for her/his writing. This is the first point.

The second point is that maintaining an online resource devoted to art (and not only art) gives its creator a clear understanding of one simple thing: to survive in the network and amass as many sane readers as possible, it is necessary to meet two requirements (we can talk about them separately, but it is better to do it together): relevance and originality of presentation.

With relevance it is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. On the Internet, news spreads with incredible speed, and it depends only on you whether you will be among the first to report on and analyze it. If you take the risk to spit on relevance, you have to compensate for it with the originality of your take on the material. Having access to a good writer (even better, more than one) who can make even an event which happened a month ago interesting to read about, you pull ahead of other resources which offer information about the same event.

You may notice that all of the above-mentioned thoughts are hackneyed and obvious truths that everyone knows. Nevertheless, watching the critical processes in Ukraine, both on- and off-line, we can conclude that, after all, not everyone knows about them. Not everyone knows that reading only about the premieres in Lesia Ukrainka Theater is not interesting, and watching immature minds whose aesthetic education is far from perfect try to understand contemporary theater is very sad.

Taking into account all that I have written, I can only note that the current state of art criticism in Ukraine is in limbo; young authors do not want to break away from the leading publications, but they also don’t want to depend on their editorial policies. I have no doubts that the new generation of journalists and art critics will not come from journalism departments but from the blogosphere, where the system of natural selection works the same as everywhere else. Those who write well and enjoy it will turn into those who are able to do online projects and promote them on par with the modern Ukrainian press.

Only question remains: how much time, workshops, and analytical articles-manifestos, like the one you have just read, will this require? I hope not too much.