Opinion

How Can Art Writing Exist Online?

Andy Warhol, “One Hundred One Dollar Bills” (1965) (detail) (image via moma.org)

Even after the website’s sale to AOL for $315 million, Huffington Post still declines to pay its volunteer bloggers. In reaction, Post contributors from California-focused art sites ArtScene and Visual Art Source have announced a “strike” against writing for the website. The action begs the question, how can art writing remain viable online?

The LA Times‘ Culture Monster blog reports on the strikers’ demands:

In their announcement, the writers listed two primary demands: that a pay schedule be proposed and initiated for all contributing writers and bloggers, and that paid promotional material no longer be posted alongside editorial content… They also objected to the HuffPo’s publishing of catalogue essays — non-journalistic pieces that usually serve a commercial function for art galleries — without separating them from other editorial content.

The fact that Huffington Post doesn’t pay the majority of its writers, or compensates them instead through exposure and publicity, is well-established. What seems to have caused a stir this time is the failure of the website to use its newfound cash to start some kind of compensation system. Yet ArtScene and Visual Art Source knew full well that the Huffington Post isn’t exactly a bastion of editorial credibility, and wasn’t going to pay.

What ArtScene and Visual Art Source publisher and editor Bill Lasarow gave away content for was a massive gain in traffic and visibility, which is a fair reward in a competitive online world. The fact that he now wants to withdraw is fine, but to base this strike crying foul or saying that he didn’t get what he expected isn’t really valid.

How can credible art writing exist online? Well, the short answer is that it’s up to each one of us to stick to high standards. We can’t change our writing or editorial practices because of advertisers or simply chase the highest hit stats. I think the art world in particular respects voices that remain independent and strong. We have to value the independence of our writing and fight for it to always remain free-thinking.

LA Times commenter Stew Mosberg makes the point,

Anytime an artist, which includes writers, gives their work away for free they deserve what they get for their work. If we don’t value it, why should anyone else, including Huffington; no matter what she’s worth.

The only way to avoid problems like these is to stick to your integrity guns in the first place. Don’t write for free if you’re not sure the publication is 100% legitimate, respectful of editorial and commercial boundaries. Say what you think and use your own power to say it as loud as you can. Hopefully the art media will take care of the rest, without any need to give away work for free to an organization that stands to profit from it unduly.

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