The Art History Newspaper asks why so few art historians blog. It's something I've wondered about myself a bit, and these are the best ideas I've had:
- There are considerably fewer art historians than there are English professors, sociologists, lawyers, etc. The fraction of art historians blogging is still lower than the (admittedly low, but influential) number of those in other fields doing so, but one would expect a lower absolute number in any event.
- Art history as a field has always seemed to me more status-conscious, tradition-bound, and cautious in its attitude toward the public realm than other fields. To put it a different way, social scientists' attitudes toward how one engages in public speech may range from scrupulous neutrality (or, in the eyes of detractors, pseudo-scientific posturing) to outright advocacy, but there's a presumption that their work has some relevance to discussions of public policy. Philosophers, historians, literary types, and even lawyers can find within their field some significant (if at times disrespected) models of the public intellectual upon which to rely when engaging in public speech. Art history has little of the same tradition, at least in this country. Even further, the field's ties are closer to the world of diplomacy and even espionage (seriously) than to any sort of public voice.
- For those art historians not in the academy but in museums, the above weighs even heavier. It's a milieu in which discretion can be a necessity (openness can be, too, but that's a separate question from what I'm talking about here.) Negotiating the difference between speaking for one's self and for the institution works differently in this context. Art historians in museums also may actually be blogging--but as part of a museum blog, one run through the institution with varying levels of intermediaries. Or they may not; in many institutions, the website and related phenomena are the province of marketing and publicity types, or a web team of some sort, and speaking out on one's own becomes more difficult in that context.
- A lot of art historical work doesn't lend itself to blogging. What are you going to do with that new insight into the meaning of an Latin inscription on a Rubens copy of a Holbein, blog about it or try and work it into an article or research note? What'll do you more good, or cause you less trouble with your colleagues or advisor? The answer looks pretty clear to me. That doesn't mean that art history blogging shouldn't happen, or couldn't be done productively or in an interesting way. But to some degree the nature of the work combined with the incentive structure of the field (to an even greater degree than others) work against it.
- It's less true every day, but certainly within the older generations of art historians, technophobia and the disdain for computers runs much stronger than in other fields, at least in my experience. Sure, younger art historians and grad students don't share these attitudes, but as yet, they're not the ones setting the norms. If I were still a grad student, I'd as soon want my department to know that I blogged as I would to want them to think that I was a nudist. A lot of people in academia don't trust or understand blogs (yes it's an old article, but nothing has changed that much, especially in fields where blogs are scarce.) Why make it hard on yourself?
- While the Art History Newsletter stands out in paying attention to scholarly questions as well as art news, a lot of blogging revolves around the latter. Art historians certainly follow art news (generally), but publicly commenting on it is a different matter (ok, I'm repeating myself a little.) Art reporters and critics do, of course--but a significant and growing number of them do blog.
All the above is anecdotal, and simply my view, but it's the best I've been able to come up with. I hope the situation changes, but in the meantime, I'm happy with the lack of competition.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that Meyer Schapiro could serve as a counterexample to my claim that American art historians lack a model of a public intellectual in the field. And he fits, but I'd say that one counterexample does not a powerful model make (no disrepect to Schapiro intended), especially in light of the other tendencies I mentioned. Add to that the fact that not all art historians see Schapiro as a model of practice (by which I mean some disagree with him and his orientation to the field, not that he wasn't great) and that anyone who has reached the state of freedom to write as widely in the field as he did hardly needs a blog, and his use as an exemplar grows attenuated.