Later this week, critics and artists, journalists, editors, and all manner of people interested in the future of cultural media online will convene at the Walker Art Center for Superscript, an international conference (the first-of-its-kind, as far as we can tell) on “the future of arts criticism and journalism in a digital age.” Our featured speakers hail from an array of outlets, large and small: from Rhizome, e-flux and frieze to VICE, Pitchfork, and BuzzFeed Books; from Temporary Art Review and The New Inquiry to Creative Time Reports and the Los Angeles Times.
We’re more interested in articulating nuanced questions for consideration than offering definitive answers:
What’s the role of the “professional” critic?
Is virality killing or cultivating new audiences for the arts?
What are the promising models for funding and sustaining substantive arts reporting and criticism?
How is the web changing the way artists tell their stories or expand their practices—or how we think about art?
We have been reading up, mulling essays and think-pieces, polemics and manifestos on the present and future issues in the field by a motley assortment of inspired artists, critics, and media folk from a range of disciplines and platforms. Below you’ll find a shortlist of the thought-provoking pieces we bookmarked and shared as we made our preparations. Please do weigh in where you see gaps in our list, and leave your own recommended reading suggestions in the comments.
- A cheeky, incisive piece on “The Perfect Dance Critic” by Miguel Guitierrez (Movement Research Journal)
- Critic Andrew Berardini’s candid personal essay: “How to Write About Contemporary Art.” (Momus)
- “On the Internet as a Platform for Art Criticism, and Dildos,” and the ways evolving digital publishing platforms are shaping the way we write about art (ArtSlant)
- Andy Horwitz on “Re-Framing the Critic for the 21st Century: Dramaturgy, Advocacy and Engagement” (Culturebot)
- Tom Scocca’s polemic against what Bob Garfield has called the “niceness brigade:” “On Smarm” (Gawker)
- Jeremy Lott’s round-up of the coverage surrounding BuzzFeed Books editor, Isaac Fitzgerald’s “Bambi Rule” for book reviews” “Bambi Meets Buzzfeed” (Bookforum)
- David Hajdu’s case for arts criticism to be free from the shackles of consumer culture: “Condition Critical” (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Jonathan Mandel revisits his buzzed-about 2010 essay, five years on, to reassess the evolving role (and expectations) of theater criticism in the cultural ecosystem: “Are Theatre Critics Critical? An Update” (Howlround)
- Steven Cottingham’s manifesto: “No One Cares About Art Criticism: Advocating for an Embodiment of the Avant Garde as an Alternative to Capitalism” (Temporary Art Review)
- “What’s the Role of the Digital-Age Arts Critic?” (Columbia Journalism Review)
- A birds-eye view on the evolving landscape of online journalism by ReadThisThing on Medium: “The State of Storytelling in the Internet Age”
- “The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising” (Nieman Lab)
- On public media’s strides with digital content and tentative forays into more overtly ad-driven funding models:“Podcasting and the selling of public radio” (The Awl)
- An alternative “anti-profit” and artist-led online publishing model supported through a system of barter and exchange rather than ad sales: “To Make a Public: An Anti-Profit Publication” (Temporary Art Review)
- Tim Kreider makes the case against writing for free, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” (New York Times)
- Derek Thompson hedges Kreider’s argument: “Writing for Free” (The Atlantic)
- Yasmin Nair puts a fine point on it: “Scabs: Academics and Others Who Write for Free”
- Astra Taylor on uncompensated creativity, digital sharecropping and “Serfing the Net” (The Baffler)
- On the ancient art of selling yourself as a storyteller: “The Writer as Merchant” (LitHub)
- John Herrman on the implications of emerging trends toward “native publishing” partnerships with Big Social Media: “Time Borrowed: Publishing’s Future is Facebook’s Past” (The Awl)
- Mandy Brown writes on the intimate ties that bind new media technologies with the social structures and values from which they spring, and the revolutionary narrative, ethical, and collaborative possibilities of writing and publishing online: “Hypertext as an Agent of Change.” (A Working Library)
- Robin Sloan offers a counterpoint of sorts, on writing for digital media that blends the virtues of transparency and surprise: “The Art of Working in Public” (Snarkmarket)
Topic: Connectivity and Community
- Frieze surveyed critics and editors of newspapers and periodicals around the world about the role of art criticism in the mainstream media today and how they see the impact of their writing on their readers, asking them, “Who Do You Write For?”
- Holland Cotter teases out the crucial experiential differences between analog and digital cultural experiences of the arts: “Tuning out Digital Buzz, for an Intimate Communion with Art.” (New York Times)
- Time digs beyond the usual metrics of clicks and likes, with analysis on some of the meatier data about reader behavior: “What You Think You Know About the Web is Wrong.”
- A pre-emptive and thorough apology for the Internet’s love of list-making, by way of a prefatory essay from the 1970s bestseller, The Book of Lists: “In Defense of Lists (c. 1977)” (The Awl)
- Orit Gat on “Art Criticism in the Age of Yelp.” (Rhizome)
- James Panero on the confluence of social media, virality and criticism, “My Jerry Saltz Problem” (The New Criterion)
- Chris Ip on crowdsourced annotation in music criticism: “Genius and the Splintering of Arts Journalism” (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Rob Walker on mass response to graphic design: “Scenes from the Crowdcrit Revolution” (Design Observer)
- Gilda Williams revels in the abundance of thoughtful online criticism in this, “the most expansive moment ever in the history of art writing:” “Write On” (Art Monthly, PDF)
- A smart assortment of essays on new lexicons of “content” and curation, canonization by algorithm, and new currencies of attention, Art Publishing and the Web (Red Hook Journal)
- Artist James Bridle on “The New Aesthetic and its Politics” (Booktwo.org)
- Alex Zafiris interviews critic Ben Davis on influence, labor, and power structures of the art empire: “How Small It Actually Is” (Guernica)
- Ben Davis argues for more medium-specific online art response and, specifically, “Post-Descriptive Criticism” (Walker At Center Media Lab)
- On the act of resistance in documenting one’s own politics, history, and culture: “It’s All We Got: Carving Out Space for Black Art Critics” (ARTS.BLACK)
- Claire Evans on an alternative art economy: “This isn’t a Kickstarter, It’s an Art Show” (VICE)
- From Occupy to Spotify, Astra Taylor talks digital media, culture, and activism: “Digital Democracy and Direct Action” (DIS magazine)
- Jamilah King on the “Overwhelming Whiteness of Black Art” (Colorlines)
- Brian Droitcour on “The Perils of Post-Internet Art” (Art in America)
- Joshua Decter on the market complicity, politics, and cultural privilege that have now (and perhaps always) tamed and stifled art and critical expression: “Art is a Problem.” (Guernica)
Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age is a three-day conference, copresented by Walker Art Center and Mn Artists (May 28–30, 2015). Here’s a list of all the ways you can participate in the conversations and events surrounding Superscript (whether you attend in person or not).
Presented as part of