Blogging As Art Intervention

Posted by Liesel Fenner, Apr 13, 2011 6 comments

Katherine Sweetman

On November 7, 2010, artist Katherine Sweetman made an inflammatory and controversial blog post on the San Diego Union Tribune's new Sketchbook blog. The post lasted only 13 hours on the newspaper’s website, but by that time it had already gone viral.

The blog post, its repercussions, and its interpretations have been written about by the Los Angeles Times' Culture Monster blog; ARTINFO.com's Modern Art Notes section; VoiceofSanDiego.org (and response by Union-Tribune Editor Jeff Light); San Diego City Beat; San Diego Reader, the Bay Area Observer blog; the Fishbowl LA blog; San Diego Visual Arts Network blog; the OB RAG blog; EditorsWeblog.org; fnewsmagazine.com; and others.

Ms. Sweetman will discuss her San Diego Union Tribune blog post at the Media Infrastructure session of the Americans for the Arts Public Art Preconference.

Below, please find her initial blog post reprinted in its entirety:  

An Introduction/Resignation (A Small Gesture)

In an effort to step up the appearance of supporting the visual arts, The Union Tribune has graciously offered a handful of artists, scholars, and arts professionals the opportunity to write for them -- requiring only one blog post per week (52 per year). And the pay? Oh...no pay.

Arts are very important to the Union Tribune but... so is money.

I accepted one of these positions. It was exciting. There were no rules, no journalistic constraints, no editors, no... tech support. We knew right away we were special.

We were a small army of of advanced-degree carrying practicing artists, college professors, and arts writers ready to take up the challenge of solving the lack of arts coverage in San Diego and fixing the mess the Union Tribune created when it laid off its only Art Critic, Robert Pincus, last June.

We were assured that we were not taking Pincus' place. He had, in fact, been replaced by James Chute, formerly the Music Critic and Special Sections Editor. Chute had never written anything on art before, but he did have a Music degree so... he was clearly qualified to handle visual arts too. But we decided to help him anyway.

And then it hit us.

We hate the Union Tribune.

We hate the way they abruptly ended the tenure of the most important arts critic in San Diego's history. We hate James Chute's pathetic coverage of artists -- which just makes us look bad (seriously, read his stuff).

We hate editor Jeff Light and the private equity corporation pulling his strings.

AND we also hate their conservative politics of the Union Tribune (endorsements of John McCain for president 2008, Whitman 2010, Fiorina 2010, etc.)

It seems, to me, visual artists should be boycotting the Union Tribune not writing for them -- for free!

When I say "we" in the text above, I may only mean me, but you may want to include yourself in the statement "We hate the Union Tribune" if you value paid and knowledgeable arts writers, like having an arts critic, think the people of San Diego are smart enough to want art criticism, or even if you hate their political values.

Yes, it's true it's hard to find a writing gig that pays well. It's hard to find a writing gig that pays at all. But I personally will be taking my all free writing elsewhere.

~ Katherine Sweetman

6 responses for Blogging As Art Intervention

Comments

Dion Wright says
April 20, 2011 at 11:42 am

People do Art, it seems to me, because they have to. The social circumstances surrounding the compulsion to do it have never been really congenial, even in the caves. It's an individual mountain each artist has to try to climb; a unique combination to be deduced by each discreet artist, allowing for both productivity and survival. Never before in History has there been such a fragmentation of style, approach and philosophy as there is at present. It seems that the edifice of Art has become a more-or-less complete confederacy, with but little agreement about much of anything except lack of funds. Certainly there is no principle, nor set of principles that obtain in any way such as, say, in the Italian Renaissance.

Knocking the newspaper is probably a satisfying exercise, but futile. San Diego is a politically conservative place which may or may not be morphing leftward, but the communications organ one has is, perforce, the one which must be used, despite limitations. EVERYTHING has limitations! As an artist, contending with institutions is less prudent for productivity than simply ignoring them. Using them is OK, if the act of doing so doesn't defray production.

Best regards,

Dion Wright

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Kevin Freitas says
April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm

San Diego is a bit of an artistic anonamly, a microcosm within a larger microcosm known as the art world. And while there are plenty of excellent artists, galleries, a few museums and a growing vitality in the ranks of its participants, I do think we should be attentive to the fact - whether you agree with Sweetman or not - that the arts community has yet to establish a firm foundation to support or even cater to diverging opinions, methods, or criticism.

A dose of relevant and professional arts writing on par with what is occuring in other major cities across the US and establishing a critical platform for its distribution, could open more doors to a vibrant arts community here instead of being continuously distracted by bells-and-whistles.

Aside of course, from any moral or ethical conpunctions, civic duty, blogging, or alleged art practices one might feel compelled to perform.

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Richard Gleaves says
April 14, 2011 at 2:46 pm

:-)

And San Diego, just a bit.

And -- at times -- humanity.

But I try to keep my mind in a better place, because it's tribalism in all its manifestations that is the biggest threat to civil society.

I regret the city's loss of the voices of Robert Pincus, and of David Elliott too, and am glad to see both of them have jobs again. I can only wish the same for the rest of the **one-half of the entire U-T staff** that have been laid off since 2006 in response to plummeting ad revenues.

This is something to think about every time you Google something or use Craigslist - these great services came into being at the expense of the news media we're talking about, and not just in San Diego.

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April 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

And I respectfully disagree, Richard, that you should "work" (for no pay!) to help line the pockets of a company whose politics you disagree with-- even if they are the politics of the city you live in (who cares!).

That said, I like your public art blog project on the UT site a lot. You know I wish you would host it elsewhere, but that's just my opinion. And you also know that, for me, the main issue has always been the lay-off of Bob Pincus not politics or lack of pay. I couldn't take a position that was left empty by someone I admired. Especially when that someone was let go in such a harsh, disrespectful way. I think you agree with that. The only reason you can write for the UT (as unpaid arts blogger) is because you see what you are doing as strikingly different from the work Pincus did-- because, in your case, that is true.

I was pretty upset when I wrote this blog post, and yes, I could have been more eloquent. But FYI: I do HATE the Union Tribune. (...and I suspect you kind of do too.)

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Richard Gleaves says
April 14, 2011 at 7:20 am

I'm one of the bloggers who continued writing for the U-T after Katherine's elegant monkey-wrenching of their system. I respect her position, and consider her a friend, but I worry about anybody who uses the word "hate" so much to express their opinions. I'm a lifelong Democrat who chose to blog about public art in the U-T precisely because the U-T reaches an audience outside the usual art circles. I find it odd to beef about a conservative newspaper in a city that's elected only one Democratic mayor in the past 40 years ("I hate San Diego", Katherine?) I don't write in the U-T for money - I do it because I love writing, and love art, and love San Diego, and have a sense of civic duty to try and inform my fellow citizens -- no matter their politics -- about what art can do at its best.

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July 01, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Seems to me if they had really valued Art and art criticism they would have paid you. As an emerging artist, I paint large abstracts, I'm constantly approached by people who love my work and wonder if I would be interested in donating a piece for their favorite charity. No problem, I believe in giving back to the community and all, but at my current prices ($100-$500) does it even occur to them to toss a bit of business my way.

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