Wednesday, February 29, 2012

crisis on infinite earths

I started this blog out of desperation. At the very end of 2006, I saw blogging as possibly a way to get out of a perceived dead end in my writing practice—I was turning in quite a bit of copy for the Washington City Paper, but couldn’t seem to get a foot in the door anywhere else, and was struggling to figure out how to do more.

I wasn’t sure that blogging was the answer, and I was afraid of the powerful immediacy of the platform. At the City Paper, my very first editor Leonard Roberge and I had long, sometimes contentious discussions as we shaped and re-shaped reviews to make them ready for print. I've had many fantastic editors over the past few years, but I credit Leonard for re-teaching me how to write. (You can read what I think was the last review I wrote during Leonard’s tenure—about “Dada” at the NGA—here.)

For Hatchets and Skewers, I was flying without an editor, and could publish with a keystroke, whether or not my content was really fully cooked. Posts were pretty much instantly accessible to anyone who cared to subscribe or stumble by.

I began by putting up a weird mix of actual reporting, half-baked opinion or posturing, and over-sharing. I had no idea how to properly interact with people leaving comments. There was definite, established etiquette for writing online, but I only dimly understood it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Other than writing, I was teaching classes as an adjunct at the University of Maryland, and trying to figure out how to have a career as a painter—despite my ever-increasing suspicions that sitting in a little room with pots of pigment for hours on end did not suit my temperament. My interests are way too varied—and I, frankly, am way too distractible.

Reading now what I wrote in those early months, a little shudder of self-mortification passes through my body. Still, actually doing something is always preferable for me to doing nothing, and the blog became an opportunity to learn—and fail—in public.

Nine months into the experiment, my life took a weird left turn: I took a full time job as an art curator.

There were immediate perks, aside from, you know, actually getting a paycheck--I got to go to Germany, for one thing, which I documented here, here, here, and here. But suddenly the idea of writing interviews or arts journalistic pieces about DC artists became a conflict of interest. At the WCP, I restricted myself to only writing about big museum shows and historical surveys.

This seemed to confirm that I was at my best writing about dead people, anyway: I subsequently won a couple of Altweekly Awards, which was kind of a surprise. I don’t think of my art reviews as sexy or clever; I just try to be thorough and informative and aim for some kind of clarity, making definite arguments about successes and failures.

I eventually (last year) had the opportunity to write about museums for the Washington Post, and that was pretty satisfying, while it lasted...and then my editor moved, and the types of shows I could write about got really constrained, and I basically stopped taking assignments.

Once I was working at AAC, the blog became a place to catalog whatever I was working on at the moment as a curator or an artist. I had stopped painting, but I kept making art—or at least I played practical jokes that looked an awful lot like art.

Most of my blog entries from that point on consisted of install shots, or links to press releases or reviews of my projects as artist or curator (or both); or half-baked reflections on zombie movies, or rock music, or whatever.

Still, every now and then I’d put something up that I was proud of, or that I felt I wouldn’t have written anywhere else. Occasionally I created silly parodies that got more hits than they deserved--see here, here, and here.

Four years later I had yet another career shift. Now I’m full-time faculty at MICA, working in a fantastic brand-new grad program under George Ciscle and helming Exhibition Development Seminar, a two-semester class that has produced some really great shows over the last fifteen years.

Above: One of many walking tours of Central Baltimore/Station North Arts and Entertainment District with my Curatorial Practice grad students. Below: At a MICA Parents Council meeting with some of my Exhibition Development Seminar undergrads.

I only do things if I think there’s an opportunity to learn from them. Working with George has already taught me a lot—about how to include as many voices in a conversation as possible; how to better serve and engage your audience, and gauge your own successes (and failures) in that endeavor; how to navigate the pathways of large institutions and (hopefully) win people to your cause.

In case you haven’t noticed, the blog has been pretty quiet since then.

I haven’t been writing much, but I’ve kept on reading: One of the nice things about blogging is having a diverse peer group, people all with different ways of working and thinking. Looking at the blogroll over there in the right hand margin, I see journalists, friends, philosophers, and artists who occasionally have had really good things to say, and with whom I’ve felt like I’ve been having a conversation of sorts.

I’ve seen blogs that (to me) seemed like landmarks when I started this venture eventually fold: Looking Around ended, gracefully. J.T. Kirkland scaled his blogging way back and turned to documenting his studio practice. Kriston Capps unceremoniously stopped writing grammar.police, and seems perfectly happy on Twitter, or contributing to the WCP’s Arts Desk—which, in my completely biased but essentially correct opinion, is hands down the best local media outlet for that sort of thing.

Lenny Campello continues to be Lenny Campello, of course: an elemental force, unaffected by tides or trends or anything, god bless him.

There are people who’ve tried to make a living at it, and have doubled down—like Tyler Green, who moved to ArtInfo and has a podcast that I enjoy listening to on my commute to Baltimore; or Paddy Johnson, whose ArtFagCity continues to be indispensable even as she is published all over the place; or Hrag Vartanian, who started Hyperallergic, which is great, thoroughly linkable, and often very funny. Beyond being blogs, these are hubs of arts reflection and news that are actually useful to me, regardless of how or where the content is delivered.

Compared to these people, I know I’ve been little more than a sporadically active blog hobbyist over the years.

So: How can I go forward with Hatchets and Skewers? Does this platform still make sense? And does the title of this post shed light on either of those questions?

I just broke one of Leonard’s big rules for good writing: Never ask questions in print. It’s sort o
f like throwing your hands up and surrendering. “If you absolutely must write a sentence in the form of a question,” he used to tell me, “at least have the decency to answer it straight away.”

So I’ll start with the title of this post and work my way backward: “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a DC comics gimmick from back when I was in high school. DC had this daffy concept called the “multiverse,” which basically meant that writers could bend the rules of time, space, and common sense by setting their storylines on any number of parallel realities that operated in different ways.

“Crisis” was a miniseries that bled into the storylines of lots of then-running DC
titles. There’s way too much to explain, but suffice to say that all of creation was threatened, folks died, and all of the separate worlds merged into one. DC used the storyline to clean house, killing off a few inconvenient or ridiculous characters and streamlining their brand.

The Flash died! So did Supergirl. All in the name of continuity.

At this point in my life—gainfully employed in academia; raising two kids; about to turn 40; trying to envision what my next big projects will be—I feel like I need to start merging or eliminating my competing storylines, too.

And if that’s what I’m going to do…well, then this blog is starting to look a bit like Supergirl.

Honestly, I don’t see how this space can continue to be the right sandbox for me. If I’m just going to give you updates re: whatever I happen to be working on, that probably ought to be an extension of my personal website, right? Right. I’ll get to work on building that.

I’ve made some tentative use of Twitter—I started an account for my Triathlon of the Muses project with Kathryn Cornelius; since that ended, I’ve continued occasionally tweeting about this or that…but I don’t think I’ve found a way to use it consistently/effectively yet.

So, here we are: the final post for Hatchets and Skewers.

I will try to maintain this site as an archive because, of course, I’m sentimental like that. Hey, I might even clean up the sidebar or update a few things going forward. But I won’t be putting up any more new entries.

If you’ve come here over the years, thanks for reading, and for being a part of my life in the arts. It’s been a pleasure sharing it with you.

And now, a little song and dance: