Why Blogging Matters

Nearly 6 months ago, I wrote about my beloved dog Jessie, about how she chose to be part of my family and how eventually we had to choose to let her leave this life. Last night, a man named Greg found that now long-ago post. “I’m scanning and commenting on posts made by fellow dog lovers because it must be therapeutic in some way,” he wrote.¬† He recently lost his 6-year old Irish Terrier and was “reaching out to others who understand.”

Greg’s comment got me thinking. Isn’t that what blogging is really all about — reaching out to others who understand? I went back and looked in my leather-bound journal. I never wrote about Jessie there. I guess when she passed, I needed to share my loss with something less solitary than a diary.

Why do we blog? Because sometimes we need to share something personal with something less solitary than a journal.

A year ago, a young man I knew died by suicide. As a way to both cope with her grief and to provide a support network for others touched by suicide, his mother launched a blog called “Forever Invictus.” One day, she posted a proposal to hold a suicide prevention/wellness¬† fair in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Readers from around the country rallied together to help her realize this vision. On September 17, 2010, the first “Get Your Wellness On!” event welcomed over 1,000 participants and saved a life. The event was organized and executed by a group of people who met for the first time the morning of the fair, but had already known each other only through Esmeralda’s blog.

Tim is an Olympic Silver Medalist in fencing. He has a blog too. So does Maria, a literature teacher in Italy. They don’t talk about death. Tim talks about fencing, about traveling around the world as he prepares for London 2012, about chilling with Apolo Anton Ohno. Tim’s blog has become an online venue where the American fencing community, a diverse and dispersed group of people who share a sport, can congregate and get caught up on the latest news or pick up some training tips. Maria’s blog “Fly High” is an online book & movie club for Jane Austen and Richard Armitage fans around the world. We hang out on Fly High and gush about our love for 19th century British literature and its 21st century screen adaptations.

When I started blogging, I was really only in it for myself. I wanted to write about me. I wanted people to read my writing. I wanted someone to love my writing enough to offer me a book deal. My alter-ego blog, “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband,” has been more successful in this endeavor. It’s where I write about the way we love and are expected to love now. Thousands of WordPress readers responded to my post “You Borrowed My Dylan CD and Stole My Heart, I’d Like them Back Now Please” — a little piece about reclaiming the intangibles when a relationship ends. It seems every past relationship leaves a trail of damaged songs in its wake.

Reading Greg’s comment put Esmeralda’s and Tim’s blogs and the outpouring of response to “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband” in perspective. Turns out, when I write about myself, I’m writing about you, and him, and her too. While blogs may be the vanguard of political analysis or the source for the latest entertainment news, at the end of the day, blogging is about community — at the end of the day, we want to read about things we can relate to. Bloggers and their posts remind us all that, no matter how unique each of our lives are, living is a common experience. In this digital community of words and comments, there’s always someone we can reach out to who understands.

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Okay, I admit it, I have a bit of a book problem

particularly when it comes to art books, and especially when it comes to museum catalogs. Between October 2009 and January 2010, I acquired 10 exhibition catalogs and a handful of critical/survey texts. They’re beautiful books with lush illustrations and scholarly writings — not your typical coffee-table art books you find at B&N.

1. American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915 (The Met)

2. Drawings & Prints: Masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

3. MoMA Highlights (MoMA)

4. Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity: 1919-1933 (MoMA)

5. Playing with Pictures: The Art of the Victorian Photocollage (The Arts Institute of Chicago)

6. Tim Burton (MoMA)

7. James Ensor (MoMA)

8. Kirchner and the Berlin Street (MoMA)

9. Claude Monet: Waterlilies (MoMA)

10. Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art

11. A Century of American Printmaking: 1880-1980 by James Watroux

12. Modern Art in Common Culture by Thomas Crow

13. Bauhaus by Magdalena Droste

This might explain why 1. I’m broke, and 2. I had to order another bookshelf.

Books I don’t have shelf space for but really really want for Christmas

1. Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Svengali, Daphne Du Maurier, Peter Pan, and intrigue — I couldn’t ask for more!

2. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
One of my favorite movies… I should have read the book

3. Lewis Carroll by Anne Higonnet

4. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

5. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

6. New Art City by Jed Perl

Better than the Da Vinci Code… cuz it’s true

002When I see books like “Rogue’s Gallery” (my current read) and “The Judgment of Paris” on a bestseller’s list, I get a little giddy (I have such an intellectual crush on Ross King). It’s refreshing to know that, 1. it’s possible to write art historical books that appeal to a non-academic audience and 2. that there is a hefty audience who finds the real-life intrigues of the art world as consuming as a Dan Brown novel.

Along with the ever popular art-heist thrillers (“The Lost Painting”) there have been some pretty interesting books of late that delve into the history of collecting, museums, and art market. I’ve always been fascinated with the public’s fervent love of art — from the riots surrounding the Paris Salons of the 19th century to the more recent protests surrounding a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in dung, it seems people have always had violent opinions about what should and shouldn’t be art. Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Kammen has written on this subject in Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture (a book that’s been on my shelf for a year, but has yet to be cracked).

Why is it that we’re as fascinated by the history of the Met as by the artwork housed within its walls? Museums are complex symbols of power. We associate them with both with high culture and the exceedingly wealthy, which means there must be some good dirt about their founders and their collections laying around. And it seems a number of researchers have dug up that dirt.

Michael Gross’ Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum reveals the Met’s more sordid and contentious beginnings. We owe Phillip de Montebello a lot for expanding the Met’s holdings to include some of the most stunning and influential pieces in Western art. But before the beloved de Montebello, the Met had some questionable directors who aquired some questionable artworks. In a similar vein, Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures by Cynthia Saltzman revives the Gilded Age characters who voraciously consumed El Grecos and Rembrandts. Saltzman focuses on a few select artworks and a handful of influential collectors who effectively shaped America’s most important art holdings. Her history is as readable as it is well-researched.

There’s also Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, and The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft — all published within the last 2 or 3 years. “Seven Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thorton attempts to unravel the complex relationships between contemporary buyers and contemporary artists. I read it over the summer as I was starting to get more directly involved in the art world outside of academia — so far I consider it an essential road map.

As someone who wants to make a career out of publishing readable histories of artworks and the periods that produced them, its a relief to know there will be more than 5 PhD candidates reading my books…

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