In preparation for tomorrow’s 2015 Superscript conference on media and art criticism, the Walker Center has published a virtual interview series probing industry influencers to speculate on the future of arts journalism in an environment where access to and consumption of art has gone through a dynamic shift in the last 10 years. The key questions:
“How will we be reading and writing about art in 10 years’ time, if we are at all? How will changes in technology shift the work of critics, curators, arts reporters, and artists?”
Most of the interviewees provided astute commentary on the dynamics we currently face. Arts journalism is on life support as journalists decide to either embrace or shun social media (embrace=engagement, shun=shilling your own work on Twitter). The effective ones leverage and engage their networks including those that are outside the community. At this point it should be no surprise that artists are turning to Instagram, Tumblr, Steller, Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat to engage their followers and future patrons directly. This has clearly leveled the playing filed and has made art and artists much more accessible to the public. That presents challenges to traditional media and journalists. What’s next and how do writers integrate themselves into a more visual, attention challenged network?
In my 5 years of writing about art from the deliberate point of view of an outsider, I’ve learned three things: 1. Art criticism and the digital dialog involving the art world is alienating, but it can also fall into some predictable traps. 2. People have a strong desire to connect 3. People connect through shared stories and experiences. I’ve found that those shared stories are bridges to understanding art. In an age of “museum selfies”, the art of celebrity and the lure of attention grabbing ledes, we are on the verge of a digital bubble.
Last week, while everyone was writing about Jay Z, receipts, Marina Abramovic, and Richard Prince, I was left wondering when someone was going to actually write about the Venice Biennale instead of Instagramming every moment of it. At some point there will be a reinvigorated demand for a deeper discourse from writers that acknowledge their growing audience.
It’s a lot like the resurgence of vinyl records. I’m married to a music producer and on any given Saturday your chances of spotting us in a museum (for me) or record store (for him) is 50%/50%. Ten years ago you would only find musicians or hardcore collectors in record stores. Now you’re likely to bump elbows with teenagers on a date with no sense of the history and musicianship found deep in the grooves of those records. There are crate diggers and casual collectors and between these enthusiasts; I see an opportunity to connect both groups using social media, video, writing, etc. I think there’s a need for this voice in the art world, but the pendulum currently swings between sensationally trendy and intellectually alienating.
The satisfaction of clicks and likes is fleeting. To look forward means that we have to dig deeper. What do we do with all of those data points? I think if we are going to speculate on the future of arts writing and changes in technology, the future lies in data. Writers who can connect dots by analyzing trends in data and correlate them in artistic criticism, they can become digital guides. This helps readers gain a deeper understanding of art and the broader context in which art is created. A writer’s ability to interpret data and guide readers will undoubtedly help artists leverage the promotion of their work using social media.
I will nurse a raging case of FOMO as these issues are debated in Minneapolis over the next couple of days, but I look forward to the Walker continuing this dialog beyond the Superscript conference.