Posted in Art, Downtown
09/7 2010

VoCA: Blog At Your Own Risk

Contributed by Christopher Jones

Andrea CarsonIt’s impossible to be a serious blogger if you’re not passionate about your subject: there’s usually little or no remuneration, it’s remarkably hard to keep posting day after day, week after week, month after month and should your blog be one of the few that actually catches on and establishes a solid readership, you constantly run the risk of inciting reader backlash.

Contemporary art blogger Andrea Carson, left, is nothing if not passionate about her subject. Carson’s blog, View on Canadian Art (VoCA for short), has become required reading for Toronto art world denizens, for better and sometimes for worse.

“I don’t claim to be up on all my critical reading or even to know what I’m talking about more than half the time,” says the self-deprecating Carson, “but I still believe in the power and the importance of art. I think one reason people read my blog is because I’m not afraid to say when I think something is crap. Someone has to stand up for great art and the trend these days is to just accept everything. I find in Toronto there’s a lot of everyone patting everyone else on the back, the critics saying everything is great, maybe giving a bit of perspective but I’m sorry, not everything is great.”

Andrea Carson blogs during a studio visit
Carson does a feature on VoCA called Loved & Loathed. She “loathes” things much less frequently than she loves them because she contends “it’s hard to find things to loathe in Toronto, so much stuff is middle of the road. I only want to blog about things that are great or things that are horrible. Why would I blog about things that don’t matter?”

Carson started a fire last year when she dissed a Power Plant show by young American artist Ryan Trecartin. The storm of comments, some supportive, some viciously negative, took Carson by surprise. In fact, the vehemence was strong enough to make her question whether VoCA was really worth the trouble.

“I tend to be quite a sensitive person and it took me awhile to get over it,” she remembers. “I wondered, who are these people and do they really hate me? I realized there’s a lot of angry people out there and a lot of angry artists, artists who feel bitter because they haven’t made it.”

“The other thing I realized is that there’s a lot of artists who are over-intellectualized. People belittled me because I didn’t understand where Trecartin was coming from. Well, you know what? Saw it, hated it, end of story.”

At Live With Culture I get my share of over-intellectualized, art-speak press releases so I especially appreciate Carson’s plain-spoken style. “I’ve always been anti-jargon,” she says, “all through my art history degree, all through my art criticism degree. I’m very simple, very clear. I’ve known from the beginning that that approach doesn’t make you less smart than the next guy it just makes you a better writer.”

A couple of weeks ago I tagged along with Carson for a visit to the studio of emerging artist Hugh Scott-Douglas, below right, who is fresh out of OCAD and working hard to build a name for himself.

Art blogger Andrea Carson interview Hugh Scott-Douglas
Carson’s reputation didn’t faze Scott-Douglas in the least. He and the blogger had what seemed to me to be a rather deep discussion about the seriousness or lack thereof in contemporary art, about “bad art” and “willful idiocy” and about the power of the internet to bolster an artist’s career.

By the time 2010 winds down Scott-Douglas will have been involved in 15 shows, some as far away as London, Los Angeles and Baltimore. “Ambition is on speed in the art world these days,” observes Carson. “Fifteen shows in a year and he’s 22. What’s he going to do when he’s 42? Okay, not all those shows are going to be top shows but one of them was at the best young gallery in Toronto (Clint Roenisch); he has serious collectors buying his work, Hugh is going places.”

Scott-Douglas notes that he “finds a way to get everything I do on the internet. I make sure there’s tags so people can find it, I circulate it, get people to blog it. This is how people find out about your work. I use Facebook as a tool; I’ve gotten work through Facebook, I’ve sold work through Facebook. It’s a valuable tool for me as an artist.”

No wonder blogs like Carson’s (see a list of her top five contemporary art links below) are popular with art world insiders. VoCA has helped extend the international reach of homegrown up-and-comers like Scott-Douglas and Roenisch and even helped Carson herself.

“I’m very interested in the concept of personal brand,” says the blogger, “and VoCA has made my personal brand. In the Toronto art world pretty much everyone knows VoCA; teachers at OCAD talk about it, they bring me in for student critiques, I know so many people now. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I keep blogging and don’t over-think it, the rest of the world will come around and something will happen to VoCA. At the end of the day I think blogging is important and I won’t give it up now.”

Recommended Reading

Canadian Art
Unedit My Heart
CBC Arts
Prairie Artsters

Photos by Christopher Jones

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