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After years as an art critic in print publications, Charlotte Higgins has announced that she is becoming a full-time blogger.
So after four years as this paper’s arts correspondent, a reporter who tried to fit blogging in around the edges of my life, I’m about to move online. From this week, blogging will take its place at the heart of what I do. Why, apart from all of the above? Well, as a form, the blog is fantastically elastic – a quality that cannot fail to be seductive to a writer. Everything is up for grabs. A blog can be everyday, whimsical, deeply serious or all three; it can be published instantly (clearly a boon to journalists); it can be experimental.
Alex Ross, the classical music critic of the New Yorker who blogs at therestisnoise.com, has described his own gradual discovery, some years back, of blogs that weren’t just repositories for trivia about Star Wars (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but which contained serious writing about music. There was Jeremy Denk, for example, a professional pianist who, aside from posting hilariously eccentric pieces about yoghurt or waiting in airport queues, also offered in-depth musicological analyses of work he was approaching as a performer, alongside musical quotations and sound files. Ross has said he found the tide of these blogs by performers particularly intriguing, as potentially distant figures were gradually demystified through their presence online…
This new journey is not one that will be undertaken in isolation, but in the company of you, the readers. I don’t expect this to be a comfortable ride. For a long time, journalists have been largely insulated from the direct reactions of readers, and to find your loose arguments or baggy thinking being painfully held to account can be a shock to the system. On the whole, I’ve found this part of the experience a rewarding one. Who wouldn’t want a stream of ideas and arguments to come their way? The benefits of conversation and community outweigh any demerits; I’d rather be in the thick of things than loftily dispensing words into an apparent vacuum.
My blog is, of course, a small and extremely insignificant part of a revolution in the arts, and in the way newspapers now cover them. One consequence has been the ongoing debate about the status of “amateur” bloggers compared with the work of “professional” critics: will bloggers make critics redundant? Will critics increasingly fetch up as bloggers? In the US, this debate has been accompanied by the sacking of an enormous number of arts reviewers from newspapers. But I don’t think the two are polar opposites. For a start, many bloggers are professional critics, not least Ross and his colleague at the New Yorker, pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones; and not all professional critics offer uniformly excellent criticism.
When I wrote about the RSC shows, one of the cast said: “It’s like being reviewed as we go through.” I was shocked: I felt I was offering a response, as valid as anyone else’s – but, bluntly, not as a reviewer. Everyone can offer a response to an artwork; real criticism requires knowledge, experience, time, literary skill and insight. I see no signs that criticism is under threat in the UK, and if ever it were I would be the first to the battle line. For now, though, I am very happy to be breaking down boundaries, stepping on toes, genre-bending and throwing everything up in the air – all in a blog.