There is an interesting discussion on art blogs in the November issue of Art in America. "Report from the Blogosphere" is a roundtable discussion of five bloggers across the country who blog about art. (Sorry, no online link). While these are blogs of professional art dealers and critics, I found several parallels in the discussion of art blogs to the vociferous and ongoing debate about book blogs and traditional print review and criticism. Like in the world of book blogs, there is, apparently, some concern and controversy over the role, potential influence and quality of artblogs.
One interesting quote from art critics Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof: "As populists, we see our blog as art activism. Writing the blog is a political act -- an end run around the print powers that be".
This can apply to blogs on any subject, but especially when reviewing or critiquing something of cultural value or significance, whether it is visual art, movies, music or books. I think this quote is spot-on: it is the populist nature of blogs that sometimes causes concern and fosters dismissive attitudes among some in the established media. There is a lot of junk on the Internet but the fact that not all of it is poor quality is what can concern the traditional media. It isn't that there are many bloggers out there spouting off about their own concerns, it that there are some bloggers -- some well-written and frequently read -- that may be putting forth ideas contrary to the mainstream or contrary to the economic interests of a publisher. Perhaps the headline should be Upstart Bloggers Cause Kneejerk Reactions, but the root cause of that reaction is a discomfort with a new populist means for disseminating information, for spreading ideas and commentary, for making recommendations and ultimately shaping opinion -- even if only in a very minor way to a limited audience.
By its nature, blogging is more casual. It can also be more immediate. Since in most cases it is just the blogger and her comments, there isn't someone to review or copy edit a piece and to prevent you from publishing something incredibly stupid. There aren't standards to specify length, or reading level or to enforce restrictions on certain subjects. So, in some respects, it is about the medium: a short blog post should not be compared either to a diary or to a newspaper or magazine article as it is neither. But, it isn't all about the medium. Sometimes it is the content that is the chief importance. To dismiss all book blogs because some do not provide critical reviews, is like saying that you won't read any magazines because you don't like the celebrity-focused, gossipy nature of People or the look of the glossy paper it is printed on. To think that because there is a multitude of readers willing to write about books means that they will cause the obsolescence of print reviewers is just as short-sighted.
What a discerning reader should easily differentiate is what the writer/blogger's goals are. Is it meant to be a review? a recommendation? a chatty conversation with friends? a finished piece of criticism? Blogs can be any of those. Only when it is framed by what it is intended to be, can you judge its quality and value.
I am interested in book bloggers responses to questions similar to those in the Art in America roundtable. If you are interested in participating in a similar discussion regarding blogging in general, and blogging about books in particular, please leave a comment. I'll compile a list of questions to email to those willing to respond, and then post the 'roundtable' discussion here in a few weeks.