Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Art History Bloggers as "Les Indépendents"

I've been thinking about art history blogging lately, partially because I got to read so many art history posts for this month's issue of the Art History Carnival. Really, though, I've been thinking about blogging ever since reading Alexandra Korey's interview on Three Pipe Problem. Alex discusses how blogging can be seen as a waste of time and a "not serious" endeavor in the eyes of other academics. I can see how one could have this perspective, especially for those who are in tenure-track positions who feel the pressure to "publish [in print] or perish." (Although one begs the question: isn't print perishing?)

As I've been mulling over these thoughts, I've begun to see some parallels between art history bloggers and the French avant-garde artists of the 19th century. Art history bloggers have decided to showcase their work in a forum different from the traditional publishing method in academia (i.e. print journals or academic textbooks). Really, one could argue that we have set up our own "Salon des Indépendents" online, similar to what 19th century artists did to break away from the artistic salon established by the Academy.

We could even make further parallels between blogging and 19th century art (particularly Impressionism). Since (most) blog posts are very short and succinct in nature, they differ from the fleshed-out topics that are examined in academic print. The physical size of blogging posts can be compared with the canvases that some Impressionists used. For example, Monet was interested in non-standard canvas shapes (such as the square), which were rarely used outside of avant-garde circles.1

The informal writing style of blogs can parallel the choppy, short brushstrokes of Impressionist painters like Monet (see Impression: Sunrise, 1872 above). Maybe that's why our work seems less appealing to those in academia: blogs seem unfinished and unrefined (perhaps just a mere impression of scholarship?). I also think that an informal writing style could compare with the color schemes found in some Impressionist paintings: lighter, pastel colors could be interpreted as less formal (or weighty) than rich, saturated colors.

We can even draw parallels between plein air painting and blogging in a virtual world. In both instances, the artist/writer needs to be immersed in a specific type of environment.

So, what am I saying? Am I predicting that blogging is going to rise up as an avant-garde movement to overthrow the academic publishing convention? Hardly. I don't feel like I can be that prophetic. But it is interesting to think about how art history often values the "underdog" movements in retrospect. Even though the Indépendents/Impressionists were mocked at the time, they ended up being an extremely influential and important art movement over the course of history. And I think it's safe to say that we, as bloggers, are also involved in a really great thing.

1 Anthea Callen, The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique & The Making of Modernity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 21. Available online here.