Superscript is touted as being the first conference of its kind, but that doesn’t mean the role of arts journalism in the digital age hasn’t already been explored.
Recent lectures and panels, as well as calls for proposals from the College Art Association and the European Society for Aesthetics, demonstrate an anxiety—or excitement—about the contemporary art critic. While there doesn’t appear to have been a conference before this one devoted to arts writing in the digital age, there have been several discussions about the future of arts journalism and criticism. The following instances might provide some context for situating Superscript.
A year ago, British film critic Mark Kermode chaired a panel at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, entitled “Who Needs the Professionals Now That Everyone’s a Critic?” It took on the future of criticism, with a myriad of arts writers addressing music, film, visual art, theater, and literature. They focused primarily on the reviewer and the audience, though, and according to at least one critic, barely problematized the word “professional.” And that writer’s recap is pretty much the only record of the panel accessible online.
Just a week ago, the Sydney Writer’s Festival featured a panel entitled “Everyone’s a Critic, But Should They Be” again bringing together a range of arts writers to consider the question. “In a noisy digital age, making your opinions heard is a rare skill,” says the event page. “How do our best critics keep the cultural conversation classy, while competing against the world’s most clickable cat videos?” (I might add that the Walker developed the first ever Cat Video Festival.) But like the previous example, this panel lacked much in the way of a digital life, which raises some key questions: Who are these panels really for? And how can we harness digital media to extend the reach of these gatherings, so that we don’t silo conversations but open up space for collaborative inquiry?
Superscript is searching for an answer. Although the focus of Superscript isn’t entirely novel, its efforts to engage audiences beyond the physical and temporal space of the conference are not only forward-thinking, but self-referential. Unlike previous panels, where digital hasn’t been prioritized, Superscript is attempting to inhabit the digital, playing with some of the issues it seeks to explore, namely: sustainability, connectivity, and community. Hopefully Superscript’s digital life will better enable others to pick up where it leaves off.
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