This is another in a series of case studies from people I interviewed in 2005 about their blogging efforts. Now as we move to 2013, I find it interesting to look back at the early days of business blogging. I will only include cases from people who are still blogging now. These cases have not appeared on this blog before.
Karen Ay, an artist working in London. I have written about her on numerous occasions. See for example, TangentProjects is going to Venice with Invasive Alien Species, and Great Upcoming London Sculpture Show. She combines a sense of humor with art that makes you think but does not dictate the process.
In 2005 she started a blog to talk about her art and other stuff. It is called Fluid Thinking: “thoughts and observations on making art with the odd rant occasionally thrown in.” Karen has a web site that she has maintained for some time. It now called simply, Karen Ay. It is does an excellent job of displaying her art. Among other things, she builds ephemeral three dimensional objects and then photographs them with very inviting results. Her 2004 statement said that “identity is a mutable construct, often occupying more than one space simultaneously, residing somewhere in between rather than being absolute.”
Karen wrote in her first post, beginning blog…, “I've decided to start a blog in order to compile an ongoing diary of thoughts and observations in relation to my art practice, with the odd rant or random thought thrown in. I've kept written diaries and sketchbooks on and off for years, mainly as a means of exploring ideas and possibilities when making work. For me the interesting bit has always been the slow realisation that certain ideas continue to reoccur over time, though sometimes in different formats, and I've found this to be a useful compass. So it seemed logical for the next step to be a blog - a place where ideas can unfold and at the same time, have information chronological and easily accessible for future reference.”
Karen began the blog on 14th Feb 2005 for a few reasons. In general terms, she needed to provide a more formal structure for documenting the process of making work. It’s such a myth that art is ‘made in a moment of inspiration!’ Usually it is hard work, like anything else, and requires a lot of thought, planning and experimentation, all of which takes time. So in order to minimize some of that time, a blog is a great device. Karen felt another prevalent myth is that artists are ‘airy-fairy-in-the-clouds’ people who lack organizational skills. This is laughable, really, because most artists, though perhaps lacking in admin skills, are actually pretty obsessive-compulsive people. She said “give artists a structure or set of criteria to be obsessive about and they can do it to the nth degree in terms of making our work.”
Personally, Karen found it entirely too easy to be un-self disciplined in terms of writing about or documenting her work and ideas and when that happens, ideas tend to slip away and not get explored. She said, “suddenly one day you wake up and see your idea or something very similar to it in a gallery somewhere and the realization quickly arrives that it’s your own lack of planning and organization that prevents you from carrying the idea out.”
Karen had kept sketchbooks for years and they’ve always been a great tool for
navigating the work, but she felt a need to make a stronger commitment. With a
sketchbook or written journal, there’s the feeling that it’s private, not for
public consumption. That’s great in terms of feeling free to explore even the
wildest ideas, but it also prevents ideas from becoming reality because there
is the safety of not being accountable. So she thought it was time to be
accountable for her ideas. Not to say that she doesn’t use other strategies as
well, just that she needed to take them a step further.
Karen also wanted to be able to consolidate her ideas and evolving projects with useful information that she could easily access later. This is where sketchbooks can be a pain because you end up having so many and they eventually begin to collect dust in a box somewhere instead of being live documents. So in practical terms, she wanted a central place to put all the relevant information that becomes important to a project in terms of research, vendors, materials, techniques and so on, as well as showing in real terms how the ideas evolve, how connections are made from one thought process to another, and how a piece of work unfolds. She describes it as a sort of ‘verbal’ flowchart or diagram.
Another reason was, very simply, hope for more exposure. Karen said that even in the best of times it’s hard getting your stuff out there and seen, especially in a city like London. There is a lot of competition, as well as a lot of talented people out there, so she felt she needed to explore lots of different avenues with regard to getting her work out there. While her website can be a great means of exposure, the drawback is that it lays dormant for long periods. Karen is finding now, especially, as the work begins to move in some very different directions, that it’s difficult to keep the website as current as she would like. So a blog seemed like the logical next step – a presence on the web that can be updated easily as well as at any time, by her instead of by her wizards at Quest Design. Amazing though they are, it’s just impractical to call up every time she has a show and say ‘hey, can you update my list please?’ With a blog Karen can get the information out there easily and quickly.
Lastly, she likes to write.
The blog definitely met her original objectives. She is seeing connections more immediately and there’s a real comfort in knowing that all that information is in one place. When we spoke in 2005, the exposure was yet to be seen, as she had only just started so it was difficult to know just yet. But she was hoping it would be a means of connection and communication and far reaching at that. I can now say that it did met her objectives.
After Karen started her blog, it became much more useful than she realized. In the beginning it was like dipping a toe in the water – very typical artist – ‘Look at me! No! – Don’t look at me!’ Karen said that we all want to be seen and acknowledged yet in actuality most of us are fairly shy - otherwise we’d be rock stars instead of artists. So in the beginning it was nervewracking for her thinking someone might actually read it, other than friends, of course. Putting stuff out on the web for anyone to see is a bit scary, but it’s also forced her to really consider and clarify her ideas, as well as attempt to articulate them coherently. That has huge benefits, personally as well as professionally.
Additionally, Karen has seen the power of ‘the link’ and that has opened up so many possibilities for her regarding accessing information, as well as seeing a sort of ‘map’ of how her mind is working in regards to the connections she makes as she put together a post.
The biggest challenge Karen faced is “anything involving << >> !! I am so un-tekkie. I’ve used a Mac ever since they came out and have had one since the days of the Mac Plus so I’m very comfortable with computers but not in terms of HTML.” The technical aspects of blogging are not something that interests her in the slightest and therefore she had to force herself to learn how to use the tool more effectively. She felt pretty good that she had managed fairly quickly to figure out how to do links and pictures but she also knew there’s a lot she needed to learn in order to get the most out of the blog as a tool.
Aside from that, the biggest challenge at that time was figuring out how to ‘get seen’ and which blogs to get connected to (that’s after she figures out the ‘get connected to’ part, of course.)
The other big challenge was to find a balance between creating a document for her own reference purposes and something that is interesting to read. Also to be succinct – no one wants to read pages and pages of someone bla, bla, bla-ing, no matter how interesting it seems to the writer at the time of writing, and she struggled with her own verbosity. And lastly, there was the challenge of tearing herself away – it’s the typical thing: new toy, wanna play with it all the time.
As far as overcoming the tekkie stuff goes, she did as much reading and research as she could stand, but she did not do it all at once. Karen knows herself well enough to know that she has a very low threshold for ‘technise’ so she tried to learn this in manageable chunks. But Karen found the immediacy of the reward once she figured stuff out was a great incentive – for instance, when she figured out how to do the links it was just amazing to comprehend that she really could have all this information in one place, for her (or anyone else) to easily access in the future. That’s powerful.
Karen’s major source of content is self-generated, the evolution of her ideas. She used Google a lot as well, because it gets her information quickly and easily and their image sourcing is great. She had just started accessing other artist blogs, and that has been interesting, though at the time it surprised her how little this tool seems to be used in the art world, especially in the UK. Karen was sure that will change over time and it did. For instance, she has seen exhibitions before where an artist has done a collaboration using an ongoing email conversation with another artist – which frankly gets really boring, and quickly. She finds blogs much more interesting to read and the best bit is that they are interactive. That opens up so many possibilities in terms of collaboration as well as communication.
Karen found other blogs a great source of information as well as living lessons in what to do and what not to do when writing one. Karen had the following advice to have for others thinking about starting a blog:
- Read the instructions carefully when you start your blog.
- Once you start posting, ALWAYS check your links to make sure they work!
- Always do a spellcheck and if you can, have someone proof it before you post.
- Be succinct – easier said than done, I know.
- Have interesting content.
This is still relevant.