Interviews

Same Show, Different Channel: An Interview with Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes

A placeholder for Tyler Green’s new blog that will appear on Artinfo.com (via Artinfo.com)

On Tuesday, Tyler Green announced that he will be ending his 8 1/2 year stint at ArtsJournal for the mainstream art media world of Louise Blouin Media’s Artinfo and Modern Painters. The news came as a surprise to many who view Green’s online voice as a cornerstone of the indy art blogosphere. Yet the veteran art blogger — though he dislikes the label — doesn’t expect to change what he already does. When I asked him if he thought the bigger soapbox was going to change the nature of what he writes, he answered, “It’s still me. I’m not going to try to be something I’m not. Let’s wait and see. I don’t know, writers write, right?”

Starting Monday, May 17, Green will begin blogging from his new URL, blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes. He explained that his online contributions will not be edited by anyone else and joked “my grammatical mistakes will be my own.” He said that he thinks the new blog will also feature a commenting feature — which his current blog lacks — but he didn’t know if he know if he had the kind of audience, which he described as a hipster/Gawker cheeky readership, to make them must-reads. He added that he hopes that the new blog on Artinfo will also host hour-long online chats once a week.

As part of the preparation of my interview with Green I asked my Twitter and Facebook friends to suggest questions I should ask. One person asked that I ask Green if his new gig will make him feel obliged to cover more art market or auction-related news, which is par for the course for Artinfo’s daily coverage. “I will continue to ignore the things that don’t interest me. The blog is going to be what it has always been but it will be in a different place. They want what I’ve been doing … and everyone seems happy with that,” he replied.

Tyler Green (via mediabistro.com)

“How does it feel to be a complete and utter sell-out as the granddaddy of art blogging?” another Internet friend wanted me to ask Green. “It’s not clear to me how I’m selling out,” he said.

If the blog isn’t going to change — he expects to debut on Monday with the same “Weekend Links” that his readers are greeted with every week — there is more curiosity about his column for Modern Painters, which Green says, will not appear until at least the October issue.

What was curious for me was that when I originally planned to interview Green at the beginning of this year, it was in relation to a white paper he wrote entitled, “Re-thinking cultural journalism.” It is a fascinating read filled with strong statements like “arts journalism is dying — and quickly,” all backed up with evidence to prove his point, including that in 2009 only two or three US newspapers had more than one full-time art journalist, and that only five out of the top 25 major US papers have dedicated art critics on staff. I have to admit that while I knew the scope of the crisis but the way Green laid them out scared the hell of out me.

Yet, Green’s new move seems like a departure from the doom and gloom he prophesied last year, when he argued that some type of nonprofit created by a consortium of art museums and/or college or university was the only way forward, and “without the emergence of a project such as one described in these pages, art will fall further and further outside the national dialogue.”

Green doesn’t see how his new job diverges with that diagnosis, “I’m not sure how I’m charting a different course, I’m just doing what I’ve been doing for years only at Artinfo instead of at ArtsJournal.”

I asked him if his view of arts journalism and its demise has shifted at all from last year, or if he saw signs that it is accelerating or slowing down. He replied:

There’s been a continuing decline in journalism that is art inclusive at traditional commercial multitopic — if you will — journalism outlets. Obviously the advertising slump and layoffs [that came out of the recession] resulted in that decline … places are pretty much cut to the bone and cut what they could cut. It isn’t like the New York Times is going to lay-off Roberta [Smith] or a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic or the LA Times is going to get rid of Christopher Knight. We’re pretty much down to the number of traditional outlets that include art and the arts in their coverage, it’s down to about how low it’s going to get. Papers like the Washington Post or the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have eliminated their weekend arts section all together … there still isn’t a full-time arts reporter at a traditional commercial publication in Illinois, in the whole state, and there’s only one in the state of Texas. I don’t see any sign of any of that coming back.

While I would argue that it is a big change for a mainstream arts publication to hire a blogger, Green disagrees:

The stuff I do is going to be exactly the stuff I did. It’s hosted somewhere else and I’ll have more resources available to me. I’m not really sure what traditional art blogging is anyway. I don’t buy that there is a particularly separate thing called “blogging” it’s just a medium, like there isn’t a separate thing called “magazining.” Digital media enforces, or enables, depending on your point of view, what would generally be considered or historically be considered rapid changes in the way content is published, and journalism and criticism is disseminated. Hopefully, I’m not doing the same blog I did in 2004, hopefully it’s different and the content is different, I think it’s broader, more engaged with the present …

He wouldn’t disclose the nature of his contract with Louise Blouin Media or the length of the agreement but he did discuss who he thought was the imagined audience for his writing:

Me. (laughs) I like the stuff that I would like to read, I guess. People who are digitally engaged and art interested. I think for years the audience has been more arts professionals and a kind of arts enthusiast. I think that’s fine. I think that is probably who is motivated to find newsy content that is arts inclusive on the web. Compared to other journals my demographics are skewed younger. My guess, and I have no way of knowing as I have no data to support this, my strong guess is that Artinfo picks up a whole lot more people who are engaged on the commercial side [of the art world] than I get now and maybe some of them will take a look at what I do and will find it interesting and maybe they won’t.

Some tweeters react to the news that Tyler Green will be joining Artinfo and Modern Painters (click to enlarge)

I asked him what he thought of being such a lightning rod figure in the art world, specifically in New York, where his name solicits very strong opinions that range from love and hate but never apathy. “I didn’t know I did,” he said before he laughed. Come on, I prodded him, reminding him of a recent comment by Artnet critic Charlie Finch who said Green was “simply stuck in the sinkhole of its own very minor self-regard,” or Jerry Saltz, who a number of times hurled critical words his way. “I don’t wake up every day thinking about Charlie Finch and Jerry Saltz or caring all that much about what latest broadside Charlie has come up with to provoke me,” he said seemingly uninterested in talking about his detractors. “Does it ever get under your skin when people like Saltz basically call you a boring one-note geek?” I asked him, which was another question submitted to me from the Internet. “No,” he assured me.

Some of the questions I received from the online world were less than serious, but I asked them anyway.

“Do you kiss on the first date, Tyler?”

“It depends on the date,” he said.

“So, you don’t have a hard, fast rule on that?”

“No (laughs). I probably wouldn’t kiss Charlie Finch on the first date, put it that way.”

“Wow. I’m sure he’s upset to hear that,” I said.

“I’m sure he’s glad. Well then again, maybe I should work on my ‘self-regard.’”

Green has a multitude of opinions about every aspect of arts journalism and he is genuinely concerned with finding ways to integrate art back into the national consciousness. Earlier this year, his tweets to the Indianapolis and New Orleans Museums during the run up to the Super Bowl lead to a real world wager of art on the big game. It was a scenario that only Green could pull off, marrying his love of visual arts and sports. The story went viral and everyone from the godfather of blogging Jason Kottke to BBC News picked up the story. I can’t remember the last time the mainstream media seemed to be so interested in a visual art story that wasn’t centered around an art work’s value at auction or some criminal action associated with an artist.

He mentioned that there’s an interesting dichotomy at the root of the problems facing visual art in America:

Certainly there are more Americans interested in contemporary art and the art of the present now than there ever has been before. To a substantial extent the embedding, if you will, or engagement of arts institutions, museums, and schools, in the visual culture of the now is higher across the country than it ever has been. But on the other hand, that has not been reflected in places where the nation carries on its broader discourse.

So, there are more people having a more intense conversation about contemporary art than ever before but that is mostly within the self-interested art world but doesn’t get beyond that. A good example is the events of the last 18 months in Iran, where it seemed like every time I turned on CNN or NPR there was a novelist, someone who is creatively engaged from a ficitional point of view in the now, talking about events in Iran and we would never see — or at least I never saw — a visual artist included in the conversations or discussions.

I think some of that is because we don’t insist upon it and the art world is very happy talking to the art world and not being challenged by anyone else and we’re in our own little bubble and leave us alone. Which I think is unfortunate. And I think there are some critics in New York who actively promote that mindset. So I try to write from the point of view that we should want to and I want us to be included in as many conversations as possible.

Being an arts writer based in Washington, DC, makes Green unique. He admits to shying away from openings and art parties, which he dislikes. “The point of going to an opening is not to see the art and think about it, but the point of going to the opening is to be seen.” he said. He suggests there are advantages to being based in the nation’s capital, which is a far cry from his origins in Northern California, where he was born:

One of the things I enjoy about Washington is the collections and the scholarships and the permanence in the art community. A place where conservators and curators and their ideas and work are more important to the fiber of community than in other places because we’re an institutionally dominated town. Where as in New York you have hundreds of commercial galleries and it’s a commercially driven town. I absolutely prefer that.

Even if Green disagrees with my assessment that his leap to Artinfo and Modern Painters is a seismic shift for art blogging, he must know that people will be watching Modern Art Notes to see if the new association with Louise Blouin Media, or LTB Media, as it is more commonly known, will cause him to pull any punches.

Supported by the Louise T. Blouin Foundation, LTB Media is widely known as a difficult workplace. When New York Magazine profiled LTB Foundation head, Louise MacBain, back in 2006, they wrote that “Five heads of finance have left this year, and there has been near-100 percent turnover in the past eighteen months.” The reputation of LTB has some people wondering behind closed doors how long Green will last. The scenarios people — often ex-employees — paint of the office culture at LTB sometimes make it sound like an art magazine version of The Apprentice.

If Green sounds optimistic that nothing will change when he begins blogging at his new home, one thing is certain, Green will continue to be a singular voice in arts writing and we’ll all find out soon enough if the arts blogosphere can change the mainstream or if it will be the other way around.

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