Monthly Archives: June 2018

A blog about (art) blogging

MICHAEL CLEGG (History of Art, PhD)

When I started to think about trying to write on art, blogging seemed an obvious way to begin. My early researches, however, taught me a few unpleasant truths: that there was absolutely no chance of getting paid, that shouty prose was the internet’s default house style, and that you probably wouldn’t have an audience anyway.

By a stroke of good luck, at about the same time I was asked if I’d start a blog for the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, where I’d volunteered on and off for a few years. The Gallery has a dedicated – even international – following, so that rather than yelling to no-one I knew I’d have the opportunity to talk in measured tones to an informed audience. With just a copy of ‘WordPress for Dummies’ to fall back on, I agreed.

Clegg 1

At the Fry Art Gallery we like to think of ourselves as quirky but professional; the cottage garden entrance opening out on some serious art. The Gallery building itself was once home to the private collection of a local banking family, from whom it takes its name (they were distant relatives of Roger Fry, and apparently owned one of his oils). Now, however, it houses a collection of work by artists with a national reputation who lived or worked in North West Essex, many around the village of Great Bardfield. Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden are the names which draw in visitors, but there are also pieces by Marianne Straub, Keith Vaughan, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree, John Bellany and many others. A plate by Grayson Perry gets a lot of comment, but the strength of the collection is very much in the mid-twentieth century.

At the Fry Art Gallery we like to think of ourselves as quirky but professional; the cottage garden entrance opening out on some serious art. The Gallery building itself was once home to the private collection of a local banking family, from whom it takes its name (they were distant relatives of Roger Fry, and apparently owned one of his oils). Now, however, it houses a collection of work by artists with a national reputation who lived or worked in North West Essex, many around the village of Great Bardfield. Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden are the names which draw in visitors, but there are also pieces by Marianne Straub, Keith Vaughan, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree, John Bellany and many others. A plate by Grayson Perry gets a lot of comment, but the strength of the collection is very much in the mid-twentieth century.

Two Women in a Garden, Eric Ravilious,

Two Women in a Garden, Eric Ravilious, 1934; Fry Art Gallery

The blog averages about 150 visitors per month, which isn’t massive, but compares well with the audience you would reach through an academic conference. When I launched the site in March 2017 it took a while for numbers to build, but things began to take-off when a feed from the blog was put onto the Gallery’s main website. We now have a pretty slick social media operation too, with new blog posts being advertised by my (volunteer) colleagues who handle the Gallery’s presence on twitter and facebook.

The technical knowledge needed to run a WordPress site is minimal, but whether I get the writing right – its tone and frequency – is another matter. I try to get a new post up at least every six weeks (which is probably not as frequent as would be ideal, but this is in my spare time). I don’t think of the blog primarily as a way of reaching new audiences so much as enhancing the Gallery’s offers to existing visitors and those potential visitors with a definite interest in the art. My imagined reader is someone who already knows that they like the art on show, but will get more out of it with further context, historical information or behind-the-scenes insights from a curator. It’s important to me personally that, whist the tone isn’t academic, the content and any research behind it would stand up to academic scrutiny.

Good images are at the core of any art blog. The Fry has a good library of digitised pictures, but doesn’t have the image rights for all the works it owns, which can make things more complicated than I’d like. Even where the Gallery owns image rights, I tend to use cropped and low resolution photographs on the site, as these are entering the public domain and control is lost.

Despite some initial scepticism, and a lot of effort for only its own reward, I’ve found blogging through a museum site rewarding, and a nice complement to academic writing. It’s helped me make some connections and establish myself at the Gallery: I’ve recently been asked to edit a revised version of the Gallery’s guide Ravilious at the Fry, which will be a whole new set of learning.

The Fry Art Gallery blog can be found here. You can follow it on twitter @FryArtGallery and me @michaeljclegg1

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