Canvassing views: A survey of art blogs in the UK

By Mark Sheerin | 25 October 2011 | Updated: 28 October 2011
Screen grab of an art blog
© http://www.contemporarymonkey.com/
Quick art quiz question: who said in 2009: “I spend 90% of my energy on blogging”? It wasn’t Jonathan Jones, who posts daily on art for the Guardian. Nor was it a professional US art blogger from Hyperallergic, C-Monster, Art Fag City or ArtInfo.

It was in fact Ai Weiwei, just named Art Review’s most powerful figure in art. The Chinese artist blogged every day for four years till he was shut down by his government and arrested. Clearly, in the art world and the real world, blogs matter.

If you already knew this and are a regular blog reader, great. If not, I hope this survey of the UK blogosphere gives you some inspiration. Either way I would encourage feedback and suggestions on this list. It is only an attempt at being definitive.

There’s good reason to limit ourselves to the British Isles, mind you. Art blogs don’t travel as well as musings on Film, Music or Books. That lovingly crafted review of a show in Dundee, may not grab too many readers in New York and vice versa.

Some blogs get round this with plenty of photos. fundamental (PAINTING) is a pithy appreciation of other people’s talents, which suggests demonstrates that brushstrokes often work well as jpegs. The numerous comments here attest to a healthy interest in this 14 month-old blog.

Screen grab of an art blog
© http://akickupthearts.wordpress.com/
Another well-illustrated blog is A Kick up the Arts, which covers the London gallery scene, with the odd trip beyond. Its author is anonymous art consultant Akuta, who is quick to praise, but not slow to criticise when it's called for.

But the general encouragement these great sites offer, to get out and see art, is characteristic of many UK blogs. Compiling this feature, it seemed that most bloggers fell into one of two camps: cheerleaders and critics.

Other pom-pom wavers include Lynda from Echostains, who gets around geographical specificity with theme-by-theme musings on art history. The enthusiasm of this blog is infectious, and if that doesn’t get you, the poetry competitions might.

Chloe Nelkin is another woman who clearly enjoys her art. This PR pro blogs at Artista and covers a lot of London gallery floorspace in oft-mentioned high heels. She's a blogger content to let her words count as much as her less frequent photos.

Speaking of PR, Tate has long realised new media is a way to reach new audiences. The museum group has a blog dating back to 2005 and this offers a fascinating look behind or around the scenes for their many concurrent shows around the UK.

No less professional but somewhat less frequent are the weekly postings on Jotta. The self-described facilitators of collaboration in the arts run a contemporary art blog. It’s interesting but gets a bit lost on their nebulous site.

And a final burst of enthusiasm comes from Art Wednesday. Like Jotta, they offer a multi-faceted browsing experience and despite the name AW are not averse to entertaining lifestyle features. One small gripe would be the ubiquitous italics.

Screen grab of an art blog
© http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog
So those are the cheerleaders, here come the critics. Despite being chief art blogger at the Guardian, Jonathan Jones is not the world’s biggest fan of all contemporary art. But he always has something to say and passionate reasons for saying it. A top blog.

Another seasoned journalist cum blogger is JJ Charlesworth. He uses his blog to repost pieces from Art Review, Art Monthly and Art Agenda. And whether writing about Frieze or the Chapman brothers he has a habit of confronting the real issues.

You will find as much intelligence from another ruinous-sounding blog, After the End. Another London resident, Lizzie Homersham, scores highly for dropping in just enough theory and an early review of the French version of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel.

But you won’t find a lot of theory on Birmingham based David Green’s stylish and irreverent blog. Contemporary Monkey gets to a good number of UK regional art shows and weighs them up with a clear-thinking minimum of pretentious artspeak.

Phoenicia aka Dr Crystal Bennes would probably share his aversion. Her straight-talking and at times controversial blog takes its title from a poem by J.H. Prynne so you can expect a wide range of inspirations at The Rightness of Wayward Sentiment.

Screen grab of an art blog
© http://careersuicideblog.wordpress.com/
The final blog worth rounding up moves beyond criticism into out and out cynicism, and that would be Career Suicide by Alistair Gentry. The Suffolk based artist and writer has a loathing for press releases and a way with withering words. Essential.

Things get more extreme over at Cathedral of Shit. These scurrilous bloggers who, it is said, operate out of the backroom of a branch of subway, post gossip rather than reviews. But it's been quiet of late. Anyone heard anything?

But blogs work best when they find common ground with other blogs. In this respect the UK blogging scene suffers from its diversity and regional spread. Blogs in the US can often focus on the same shows and issues and get conversations going. Let’s hope that can happen more over here as well.

All that remains is for me to plug my own blogging efforts at criticismism and invite you to visit immediately and post your responses to this piece. Let me know what I've missed and what else should have been said. I've reposted this story and the comments board is, as usual, open.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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