As I review the almost four year span in which Artwrit published original, independent, and free online art criticism, now significantly more removed from the immediacy of the publication, I am struck by the clarity, rigor, and thoughtfulness of many of the texts. Of course, I am deeply biased (I was a contributing editor and helped the fledgling nonprofit in certain administrative and marketing tasks). But two notable developments can be connected to the magazine’s run under Editor-in-Chief Daniel Kopel. After all, three plus years (2009-2012) was indeed a relatively long run for a cultural journal.
Artwrit took a bold stance in the face of the visual over-stimulus of our digital experience. It was a simple-but-radical gesture against any appearance of images whatsoever throughout the entire publication. It was unpopular and was almost certainly a material barrier to the site’s mass-popularity and growth. This influenced not only what was written about but how it was approached verbally. It only made the writing stronger and the writer more adept. Contributors continuously remarked how this fact forced them to approach Artwrit with a different mindset and tool-kit. While different for each writer, they imbued the finished products with a singular voice.
The writing could never properly be about a one-to-one assessment of the work’s success. Judgment and opinion, of course, took a back seat, as it has in criticism for some time now. Instead the essays provided a commentary that was historical, direct, and at times a necessary companion to the act of viewing the work for itself. Surprisingly, the anti-image stance did not make Artwrit anti-aesthetic. Writers were quick to engage in skilled employment of ekphrasis. Rather, it in fact bolstered the true, more traditional work of the aesthetic subject, which was to start a discourse that was fulfilled by the personal experience of the singular work, exhibition, or happening.
In part a response to reductivist design principles, and in part a philosophical statement about our cultural discourse, Artwrit’s homepage was a generation's nostalgia for a time when serious discourse seem wrapped up with its sober print medium. It was an attempt to take the democratizing power of the web while filtering out the behaviors that it detected were damaging to the delicate craft of art criticism. It was prescient.
For Artwrit slow journalism was slow criticism. A central component of this was not hosting any ads, and thus disavowing the concept of page-view journalism. Again this clearly hampered sustainability of the operation. Artwrit squarely opted out of the deleterious currency of online journalistic discourse. It did not formally assign pieces, and in general preferred to stay out of the politics of public relations or the shallow games played with prestige and artist careerism. If a writer felt there was something thought provoking to say about a work or an exhibition, Artwrit was never concerned if the show would have already closed by the time the piece would run. Artwrit did not cover artists and institutions and their art as much as it was a textual partner, accompanying a transformative time in the discourse around art, both contemporary and historical.
Was it utopian? Perhaps, yes. But it was a sound formula that will stand as a model for the coming developments in digital media, writing, and criticism.