“Bloggers have to ‘earn’ the right to be read”

October 20th, 2006

Posted by Karl Zipser

Journalist and critic Nancy Geyer made this comment on The Thinking Eye:

. . . it seems to me that too many blogs, even the best of them, are falling into the trap of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” — they become mutually self-promotional, as if the bloggers don’t have to “earn” the right to be read. When I read a blog I’m looking for a thoughtful, informative, critical discourse without the distraction of all the networking that is going on.

Here is a professional giving free advice. Is Nancy Geyer on the mark?

. . .

27 Responses to ““Bloggers have to ‘earn’ the right to be read””

  1. Karl Zipser Says:

    I see Nancy’s comment as an excellent challenge for every blogger. If a blogger does not write something worthwhile, readers won’t read in depth.

    On the other hand, Nancy is underestimating the social component of blogging — “all the networking that is going on.” Even if this were all that blogs amounted to, they would still be worthwhile. Nancy seems to expect blogs to be like newspapers — with minimal reader participation, and the social “noise” that can create. Of course, her comment on The Thinking Eye shows that she does participate. I hope we hear more of her views.

  2. David Says:

    There are any number of publications where I can find “thoughtful, informative critical discourse” when I want it. There’s more out there than I could ever hope to read, and I know where to find it.

    What I enjoy about blogs is the conversations that take place in the comments. I don’t really think of it as networking, since I’m not trying to get any professional benefit out of it. For me it’s more social than anything else. But like in any other conversation there are sometimes real issues being discussed and things to be learned from one another.

  3. Jon Conkey Says:

    Nancy may have forgotten the ole’ addage: “a picture is worth a 1000 words”. If the picture doesn’t get you, the words probably won’t either. Most artists have “blog rolls” for the convenience of being able to “drop in” on other artist’s progress: not to become the “top blogger” by association. But, she did start off by saying, “it seems”, so maybe she was just randomly glancing at some art blogs and said the first thing that popped into her head.

    Besides, the leading art blogs,ie: (most hits), are not generally the best “artists” anyhow. In fact, the most successful “blog artists” out there, have all had help from newspaper write-ups, ie: USA Today, New York Times, etc. Success in art is about reaching and being accepted by large audiences; tell me if I’m wrong here.

  4. David Says:

    Success in art is about reaching and being accepted by large audiences; tell me if I’m wrong here.

    Depends what you mean by success. Some might argue that it’s about being accepted by a particular audience, not necessarily a large on.

  5. David Says:

    um, large “one”

  6. Karl Zipser Says:

    Jon, it’s been too long since there was a picture posted on Art and Perception, don’t you think? I imagine showing an artwork here would be a good way to get feedback.

  7. auspicious Says:

    This runs straight into the question of why people blog. The social component is strong for a lot of bloggers. The postings are just excuses for a chat.

    Other bloggers are trying to build a brand and, therefore, have to provide interesting content to build readership numbers. There are some blogs that I go to that are not far short of turning into normal businesses.

    Other blogs are about an interchange of ideas. Ten thousand readers may go by before one picks up your idea and does something useful with it.

    I think that demanding that bloggers act in a specific sort of way is seeing blogging through the filter of a traditional media model. Whereas the three styles I outlined above could be characterised as being (a) the coffee shop / club model, (b) the traditional media model, and (c) the academic journal model. These labels aren’t quite right, but I think that you’ll understand what I mean.

    Unless they are firmly wedded to type (b) activities, bloggers have to earn nothing, and readers who are expecting that they do are looking in the wrong place.

    Blogging will undoubtedly develop, and maybe the name will change with time. This is a very young phenomenon.

  8. Jon Conkey Says:

    Good point David! I used “success” in the broad sense of the word; I especially meant, success of one’s own choosing. I have noticed in some cases, the more one specializes, the smaller the audience becomes, as it becomes more focused.

    Karl, Posting a piece of art would be a great idea! Who’s? If you need a volunteer, I’m game. Also, thank you for inviting me to participate with “Art and Perception”, I have been giving some thought to a topic to share. Unfortunately, something has happened to my blog,(opens to a blank page), yet, I can get to my control panel through Blogger, I hope I can figure out how to fix it.

  9. David Says:

    Unless they are firmly wedded to type (b) activities, bloggers have to earn nothing…

    I agree. It’s like saying you need to earn the right to have friends over for a visit, or the right to initiate a conversation.

    Auspicious, I look at blogs in all three of the categories you defined, but I find I keep coming back most to the coffee shop variety. There was one blog I used to visit a lot for the free-ranging conversations. At one point the blog-host, who is a friend of mine, turned off the comments feature because she felt they got too contentious. Which is too bad, because even though I still check in once in awhile, it’s just not as much fun as it was before.

    I think the thing I like most about the coffeshop blogs is that it’s possible to have conversations without the limitations of geography and time. Karl might post something in the evening in the Netherlands, and I see it and respond earlier that same morning (time warp) from L.A. I can take a break at work and check in to see what’s going on, add my two cents, and then focus on my job again. That’s for me the beauty of blogs. I can get information and critical discourse from magazines.

  10. arthur Says:

    I don’t think Nancy is going to show up here unless I prod her. Should I?

    This looks like a great conversation; I’ll add my own two cents when I have the time.

  11. Rex Crockett Says:

    On the one hand, I think Nancy’s totally right. On the other, not at all.

    Reading through her full post on Arthur’s blog, her basic thoughts on conflicts of interest are totally right on. One should be up front about one’s bias. Any personal relationships should be made clear. Calling a “pitch” a “review” is unprofessional. Sure, some newspapers, particularly small ones, do it all the time; you see articles that promote and popularize the business of advertisers all the time, but that doesn’t make it OK. I like Nancy’s integrity about resolving conflicts of interests.

    Respectfully however, a blog is not a newspaper article. A blog is a blog, and in blogs, we network. That is part of the fun. User expectations that are derived from another form need not necessarily apply. Criticizing a movie because it is not a book or a play is an obvious kind of the same error. That reviewers make that mistake all the time, doesn’t make it OK either.

    We all remember the days of the early web when corporate websites looked like Powerpoint presentations or magazine spreads. Some still do. Misuse of Flash is an example. The nature of the web is its interactivity. It is not a one to many medium. It is a many to many medium. Sharing links is part of that.

  12. Karl Zipser Says:

    Arthur, it would be great if Nancy joined the discussion. I have no doubt that she could challenge the consensus view developing here.

    Rex, on the topic of sharing links, this is something I would like to discuss regarding Art and Perception. As a contributor, do you have recommendations about how to handle things like the link list/blogroll? Is longer or shorter better? Nancy, I guess you could call this “distracting networking.” But I don’t see it that way at all. I found several interesting blogs when I learned how to find who links to material here. Photostream is a good example of a thought-provoking blog that I learned about in this way.

    Jon, I knocked you blog off-line for the express purpose of encouraging you to post some of your work here. But don’t forget that at least one harsh critic comments here often . . .

    David, talking about the limits of space and time, I get confused about what day it is for whom sometimes, especially when I wake up too early in the morning like today.

    Auspicious I’m not going to apologize for trying to “provide interesting content to build up readership numbers.” Thanks for helping here, by the way!

  13. Rex Crockett Says:


    Re links. This is just “one guy’s opinion.” The number one link style I am likely to click on is an inline link. For example, you put Photostream inline, and I checked that out, and lo! There was one of my posts. How cool is that? So I bookmarked that page. I’ll check in there, probably comment. Since an inline link appears in context, it has a likelihood of relevance.

    The next best link are the ones with people’s names in comments. I always check those out too. So for example, I lookes at Jon’s and David’s pages just recently (and though I haven’t commented, let me just say, great work guys.) In newsgroups, links at the bottom in the author’s sig work the same way. Last in priority are the links in a “link” section. Too many, IMO, is a sort of data glut. HOWEVER, if these are placed in context, as in <Joe’s site> — [little explanatory pitch], I am much more likely to look, but just a list of links, well, I see so much of that. I guess I like to see the links evaluated, data wise, as to relevance to my interests. I am not the sort of person who randomly surf’s much, but I know a lot of people do. I like a little information about a site or the context of a person’s comments, or relevance to a statement as a hook.

    Hope that helps.

  14. Karl Zipser Says:

    When I first started blogging, Arthur Whitman left several of his hyper-intelligent comments on a post about internet as frame. I clicked on Arthur’s name and got to his blog, and saw my blog was there in his link list. That made a big impression on me, because this was one of my first links. I didn’t much care what other blogs where in his blogroll.

    I’ve started adding information about the links in the Art & Perception link list. If you point but don’t click, a little blurb comes up. But more text would say more, of course, and make the blog roll more useful.

    That said, I use the Art & Perception link list to get around myself. But I don’t often go to every single blog listed.

    Within the blog itself, the local Search box is the best way to get around, although only for items that are a few days old at least, and have already gotten into Google.

  15. arthur Says:


    I worry about your last comment slightly. Certainly, its nice to get intelligent comments, and seeing your site near the top of someone’s blogroll (if only for alphabetical reasons) is nice. I wonder if this isn’t enough in many cases (if not in yours) for a reciprocal link, which may have been what Nancy had in mind with her comment. I’m curious about what attracted you to my blog itself, especially given that we tend to write about very different kinds of art

  16. Jon Conkey Says:

    Karl, I figured you were behind my “blog blackout”, now I know why they say: “back-up your template”!

    Oh yeah! I know I’ll be “in for it” when I post a pic. Once I finish putting my blog back together, I’ll post one, then, promptly hide under my desk.

  17. auspicious Says:

    I’m not going to apologize for trying to “provide interesting content to build up readership numbers.”

    Now there’s something nobody should apologise for!

    I suspect that, in practice, the most successful blogs are ones which contain elements of all three of the styles that I wrote about.

  18. Karl Zipser Says:


    Sorry to worry you. I’m not sure what is the basis of your worry though. I’ve always been fond of your blog and I refer or borrow material from there, as this post shows. I also link to Edward Winkleman’s blog, although he doesn’t link to me on a blogroll. Same with Lisa Hunter and others. If you dropped me from you link list, I would still link to you. The reason is that I use my links to go where I want to go. I confess that I once removed a link to a site because I felt annoyed that they did not link to me (I never asked them to, however). This has been an annoyance to me ever since, because it disrupts my navigation. I’ve got to put that link back.

    I used to be focused on links because this is what beginners are taught to see as the key to web success. What I have found since then is that links and Google are always diminishing proportionally as the source of visitors to A&P. You can see this in the web stats. I don’t know how people find this site, to tell you the truth. But they do.

  19. Karl Zipser Says:


    Glad to hear about your blog. I’m looking forward to seeing your post.

  20. arthur Says:

    The kinds of people I want to be social with tend to be people who make (or talk or write about) good art, and people who are interesting intellectually. Thus I see no basic conflict between socializing (including “social networking”) and thoughtful discourse.

  21. Nancy Geyer Says:

    I’d like to clarify a couple of comments I made on Arthur Whitman’s blog — comments that have been reproduced here.

    I do not underestimate the social component of blogging. If anything, I was drawing attention to just that component.

    And I agree with Arthur that there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting the writing and art work of one’s friends.

    But we were talking about art criticism, and when a blog with a strong social component also contains art reviews (as we commonly understand reviews to mean), things get murky. That’s not to say it shouldn’t or can’t be done — just that we have to be aware of perception and conflicts.

    Reviewing is a powerful thing (again, I’m talking about actual reviewing, not simply “critical discourse.”) We all know how subjective and fallible it is, but the people on the receiving end often take it to heart. I am not an artist, but I can easily imagine that if my work had been reviewed negatively (whether in a newspaper or on a blog) and I visited the blog of the reviewer and saw a lot of promotion going back and forth between friends, I might despair of ever getting a fair shake.

    (This potential perception of favoritism is hardly exclusive to blogs, of course.)

    I do not expect blogs to be like newspapers; I do, of course, know the difference between the two. The fact is, however, that bloggers who also write reviews for the print media often reproduce those reviews in part or in full on their blogs, or at the very least provide links to them. So there is not always as clear a divide as some people are suggesting. In such cases, the blogger is wearing two hats, so to speak, and doing so simultaneously.

    Critics do “promote” artists and always have. This is part of the value of their work. But promotion isn’t always astute and critical — sometimes it’s merely a “pitch,” as Rex put it. Sometimes it is public relations.

    Maybe criticism is too often a stuffy enterprise. The norm in many venues is to avoid the “I.” Reviews can sound very authoritative, as if they are handed down by a supreme being. It may be that blogs are the best thing to happen to criticism — that they are the best place for transparent, human (as opposed to God-like) reviews. And when you factor in the feedback from nonreviewers and other reviewers, you’ve got a real discussion going on that can only help round out the original reviewer’s arguments.

    Still, there are those caveats.

  22. arthur Says:

    A big issue here is that we have this special, reified category of writing called “art criticism”. (Unlike Nancy, I would try to distinguish between this and “reviews”, which to my mind don’t need to be evaluative.) Art criticism comes with its own history and ethics.

    Bloggers, in many cases, are not so interested in strict obediance to traditional genres of artwriting. This can lead to behavior that is clearly unethical, as well as behavior that may or may not be unethical. Everything seems to be up in the air at this time.

  23. arthur Says:

    What exactly is art criticism and why does it seem to be so much more morally problematic than anything else in the artblog community?

  24. arthur Says:

    Is art criticism just the activity of annointing certain artists or artworks as “good” or “bad”? Why does this matter so much and (why) are the people who perform this ritual considered (so) powerful. Why do we have to regulate their activity so closely?

  25. Candy Minx Says:

    Oh, I am so sorry to have missed this wonderful discussion.

    Many mainstream publications media miss or pick and choose topics just as personally motivated as a blog.

    Blogs are fantastic because of the democratic opportunity to hear various opinions. This threatens corporate art magazines, tepid gallery agendas, nad the motives of the rich and influential to protect their own sense of investment and entitlement.

    I won’t take long to surf the internet and find out what many many people think of the art mafia.

    Public opinion has never played a large role in art policy and collecting realms.

    I should think the laughter of the public might just very well be intimidating and even shocking to the priveedged world of the art elite.

    By the way, I have just posted an interview with David Moos a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario. If this sounds too regional a dialogue consider that Glenn D Lowry was a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario before moving to MOMA.

    I love ya Karl!!!

    Great discussion WOW!!!

  26. Candy Minx Says:

    Here’s the link to my interview with curator…

    It’s called…

    “Does Art LIve In Syriana?”


  27. jafabrit Says:

    cor blimey I am flippin exhausted reading all the comments (which were excellent by the way).

    Has my blog earned the right to be read. I have no idea. I wasn’t thinking about what the public would think when I started a blog. I created it as a visual version of what I have always done (keeping a sketchbook/journal/dairy) as an artist. Also it is a means for my family overseas, friends and local pals to keep track of what is happening in my little part of the world and hopefully enjoy.

    If others decide it is worthy I bow down humbly and say: “thanks, glad you enjoy it”.