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Enter the critic

Post #1380 • August 17, 2009, 11:41 AM • 45 Comments

Today sees the launch of Kung Fu Art Critic, with a new review and a couple of old ones from April just to get the ball rolling. Henceforth, I'm going to publish art criticism there. will continue as a studio journal.

The reasons for this decision are several. The most pressing one was a deadline for submissions to A Summit on Arts Journalism, which, as they put it, is "looking for sustainable new models that have the potential to support arts journalism." Much of the rationale for Kung Fu Art Critic has been explained at the site's NAJP submission page, but there's some background story as well.

Blogging has changed quite a lot since I started doing it back in 2001. Then, readers expected a melange of content, and it was no trouble to switch from criticism to studio journal to talking about the family cat. Now, there are millions of such melanges, hundreds of thousands with an art theme. The switches back and forth from studio journal to criticism, in particular, is cutting off from opportunities to support itself. The NAJP is specifically looking for art journalism and criticism projects, as was the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program (to which I submitted an entirely different project). This is to say nothing of potential advertisers, to whom it is difficult to explain who is reading and why. Blogging itself has become so ubiquitous as to merit no notice as a distinct medium. The benefit of being a blog, as opposed to some other kind of site, has faded accordingly.

Too, the time has come for me to develop a separate Web presence as an art writer. At this point there's no harm in my telling you that the next issue of the New Criterion will feature a review I wrote, which will be my first appearance in print in quite some time, and my first ever at a publication with such a large readership. I plan to leverage that piece as I seek more writing work, and use that in turn to draw attention to my digitally self-published writing. That calculus becomes simpler with an all-writing site to refer to, and a commensurately focused professional identity. That goes for my art as well -, so I'm told, is categorized by Alexa as an artist site. So be it; the art and studio concerns shall appear there as I pursue my art career.

The work I did on revamping the content management system back in April made it abundantly clear that the site was too heavily kludged to update. With nigh 1400 posts and associated comments in a screwball format, it would have taken months of dedicated effort and the result would have smashed every incoming deep link in its six-year history. The new site is 135 lines of Python, uses clean URLS, tracks posts in a legitimate database, and stores them as HTML. It's built to last. It does not, however, take comments. After much reflection, I've decided to go the way of other writers I admire, notably Terry Teachout and Andrew Sullivan, and take comments in the form of e-mail and republish them as interest warrants. I have become sufficiently busy to have to choose between the work that goes into maintaining a community and the work that goes into producing content. The latter, I believe, is likely to prove more fruitful at this point. Besides, I have set the all-time record for comments at an art blog, 488 of them on a single post. Time to find other peaks to climb.

That anyone reads what I have to say is an honor, so above all, thank you. I hope you enjoy the new project as much as I'm looking forward to pursuing it.




August 17, 2009, 11:25 AM

"I have set the all-time record for comments at an art blog, 488 of them on a single post."

Ah, the good old days. I remember them well, Horatio.

It would be a horrible task, but there is a damn good book in that archive of yours.

Kludged? Excellent word. What does it mean?

Congrats on New Criterion. I plugged you to them back when I wrote a piece for them. May we see your review? They tend not to share unless you pony up $48 a year subscription.


Bunny Smedley

August 17, 2009, 1:49 PM

All best wishes for success with the new site, Franklin - and congratulations on the New Criterion piece, too - I'm looking forward to both!



August 17, 2009, 4:20 PM


Opie, I intend to pick through it all and organize it one day. Things aren't so bad as far as my posts are concerned, but the comments are not of a piece, and the arrangement that held together the first two years of them is no longer in effect. My website needs an overhaul as well, and getting the two in shape will be a single job, probably for November-December.

Thanks to both of you for the good wishes.



August 17, 2009, 6:09 PM

So kludge is basically fixing something with "duck" tape. Good word.

Of course the comments are chaos, and the thing is huge - as I told you, I have put a half-million words on the blog myself. Still, it is a gold mine.

But who wants to work in a mine., right?

Be sure to put your review up so we can read it, if you are not violating some copyright.



August 17, 2009, 6:12 PM

I don't know if the new guy should go violating the paywall like that. I plan to put up images - NC doesn't have any, of course - but will probably leave it at that. (Although, honestly, I can't think of a better reason to subscribe...)



August 17, 2009, 8:38 PM

The rationale of separating the criticism from the personal writing is sound. The mustard/maroon color scheme of the site where the criticism is supposed to live seems worth rethinking though. I think "art reviews by Franklin Einspruch" or some such thing would be helpful to have on the home page. You've probably experimented and decided it's not worth it, but I find that after scaling images to 500 px, an unsharp mask at .3 pixels and around 50% almost always helps. Also: five reviews a week? Is that a serious commitment?



August 17, 2009, 8:39 PM

(you get it?: "enter the critic.")



August 17, 2009, 9:09 PM

I've decided that I like strange, loud designs. As for the resizing, you're no doubt right, but I batch resize images using a Python program I've written. I can live with the results. Yeah, five reviews. They won't all be long ones.

I know what I meant...



August 17, 2009, 10:42 PM

Franklin and opie:

I used one of the monster blogs for discussion in a grad painting class, the "scalise and ware at dorsch" thread that began January 12, 2005 and ended on January 23. Set in 9 point Helvetica the 287 comments required 75 pages to print. The last sentence by flatboy said "It wouldn't look like a blog if everybody used perfect English." I think he touched on a major issue if Franklin wants to "package" it. On the other hand, just that one thread is too long for most people to read. Without severe "packaging" the many jewels contained in Franklin's copious archive will never surface again. It does seem a shame to let them float off into the ether.



August 18, 2009, 7:01 AM

So what is the subject of your New Criterion review?



August 18, 2009, 8:09 AM

Franklin, only half of the new site title can be seen; the other half is covered up by the review headings. I can't imagine that's deliberate; it looks weird and very awkward.



August 18, 2009, 9:29 AM

Good luck, Franklin. And congratulations on your New Criterion piece. I'm surprised to learn that the Boston Globe doesn't have a larger circulation than New Criterion, especially when you consider the Globe has no internet paywall.

I agree with Alesh that a byline on the front page (not just on the "about" page) would be appropriate. Or, perhaps you're considering integrating other writers into the mix at some later date (kinda like Prairie, except with Kung Fu, not Fung Poo)...

I suppose when you put up your new reviews, you might make short note of, and link to, the new KF review here on
Then, if people click over and read the KF review, they could post their relevant (or otherwise) comments back here on, rather than bothering you with an email response that might be preferably intended for, say, Jack, or Opie, or some other lurker here.



August 18, 2009, 10:52 AM

One day I will pick through all those old posts so that none of the good stuff gets lost, though it may be effectively buried anyway. John, I'm glad you feel that some of it is worth preserving.

Jack, I won't give away the surprise. Could you send me a screen shot of the problem with the title? The way I built the CSS should have taken care of problems like that.

MC, that's true, the Globe probably has a larger readership. Still, the NC is a national-level magazine, and that's a first for me. I would consider taking guests critics but only so I could go on vacation periodically. I have run group efforts like Prairie Artsters and they're a hassle.



August 18, 2009, 11:53 AM

Franklin, as I skimmed the 287 comments last night, I considered what a job it would be to distill them down to something readable, much less imbue them with a character that could stand in for what they have as blog commentary. The thought of doing that for everything you have is truly overwhelming, but I'm glad you have not ruled it out.

A model that might work is Plato's rendition of the Socratic dialogs. While there is no way to prove it, it is doubtful that his versions are an exact transcription of what took place.

You might identify a half dozen or so "great themes" from all the archives and make each one into a chapter. You could determine who the major players were and put together a running dialog amongst them from comments they made across many threads. (Your character reminds me of Socrates, which is what gave me this idea in the first place.) Finally, you could condense the minor players into a few archetypal ones - some positive and some negative - that could account for the best of the "drive bys", as well as some of the more substantial challenges, not to mention the occasional noteworthy contribution some of these not-so-regular commenters have posted.

It would take a lot of effort. But it might be publishable.



August 18, 2009, 11:55 AM

Well, your CSS didn't work as planned, Franklin. There's a block with the various review headings on the left side of the screen, sitting on top of the left half of the site's title and covering it up.



August 18, 2009, 12:31 PM

John, the most hackneyed dreck imaginable has proven to be publishable. I've finally accepted that practically any artist, real or imagined, can get what looks like a major monograph published, complete with lavish full color images. Talk about low standards (if any).



August 18, 2009, 12:59 PM

John's idea of a Socratic dialog is a nice one.

I would hate to have to do it. The categorizing itself would be wicked, a challenge for the likes of Linnaeus.

You are right about the art critical junk out there on the shelves, Jack. On the other hand, although I have published quatities in magazines I have never been able to convince any publisher to publish a collection.



August 18, 2009, 1:46 PM

John, that's really one hell of an idea. Let's work on that in 2010, after I get the WDBA up to date and get work in the studio rolling steady.



August 18, 2009, 2:56 PM

congratulations on the new gig. you deserve it.



August 18, 2009, 3:45 PM

Thank you, 1. (I might stop short of calling it a gig, but they've been glad to have me in the magazine this one time. Hopefully another will follow.)

IE7 users should now no longer be experiencing terrible layouts.



August 18, 2009, 4:09 PM

Sorry, Franklin. Problem remains the same on my PC.



August 18, 2009, 7:02 PM

I'll second that idea John, and more.
A similar idea occurred to me, although I had in mind some of the 'socratic' dialogues from Chuang Tzu or Schopenhauer... I had also imagined setting Greenberg in dialogue with others, using his own words, but of course the archives already has a number of organically constructed dialogues on the art issues from a variety of some Philathethes-types, and their antagonists, of course.



August 18, 2009, 7:12 PM

I was thinking of a format like the one used in Goedel Escher Bach. I could start with the original post for the topic and direction, but otherwise rewrite it as a conversation. That would definitely work a lot better than reposting the blog posts with comments.

Obviously, I need an editor. Volunteers?



August 18, 2009, 7:35 PM

There are way too many "original posts" I think. How many? Several hundred? Many of them are too local to Miami as well, even though many quickly evolve into something wider in scope. In the end, to get at the truth, I would employ considerable omission and some outright fiction. That goes way beyond "editing". It would border on "writing'.



August 18, 2009, 8:13 PM

Congratulations on the New Criterion assignment. Writing for the Web is a great thing but there's something special, I think, about seeing yourself in print. There is the different (if overlapping) audience, of course -- but also just the physicality of it is nice. I let my subscription lapse but will try to get my hands on a copy



August 18, 2009, 9:54 PM

John & Franklin:

The challenge here is quantity and categorization.

The good thing about the Socratic idea is that you can take a section of writing that is about some subject and simply make up a a question for it. I'm sure that's what Plato et al did when crafting the dialigues.

This presupposes pulling out the good chunks and sorting them according to subject before setting them into the appropriate question series.

Simple to propose but hugely difficult to do. As I said, I have written a half a million words on the blog (I kept track) and there are others (aside from Franklin) who must have written as much. Surveying & culling such and archive is truly daunting.



August 18, 2009, 10:27 PM

opie says: "Surveying & culling such and archive is truly daunting."

Even more daunting would be to make it small enough to digest and tight enough to be readable ... less an archive and more a story of what happened. I am sitting here and imagining how much talking might have been behind the Dialogues, words that had to be summarized, condensed, re-phrased, made-up, and ignored for the sake of literary values.

I'm interested, but not yet volunteering.

Who would be the audience for the result?



August 18, 2009, 10:53 PM

It's true, Arthur. There's nothing like print, and nothing like being paid to write, not just for the money, but what it says about your ability to put thoughts together. I have had the occasion once or twice to say to someone, I am one of the few people who can tell you how much his opinion is worth. It's between ten and twenty-five cents a word depending on who's paying. It isn't much, but statistically speaking, neither is a .250 batting average.

An book wouldn't just rely on outright fiction - it would be outright fiction. A book really has to work as a book. I'm imagining a fictional narrative in which artists get together and have arguments modeled on exchanges. Everybody gets a new identity, including me, and the issues get argued out as if in the course of normal conversation.

Another project. Kill me now.



August 19, 2009, 5:01 AM

Sometimes the money is the least of it, unfortunately.



August 19, 2009, 7:44 AM

John & Franklin

The good idea here is making something of the very rich content generated by this blog over the years. The secondary good idea is using the form of a Socratic dialogue.

The challenges are twofold

1. The quantity of material.

2. How to make something that will go over.

The first is a matter of lots of work ("kill me now") which is a matter of choice and organization.

The second would have to be worked out, and is a matter of a good fundamental idea as well as spin and catchy titles and such like. We have dug pretty deep into the nature of art, particularly modernist art, and I am convinced that all kinds of workable ideas lie buried there, even a basic "what is art, anyway?" text of some sort.



August 19, 2009, 8:07 AM

I can see it as a book used in art theory and painting courses, maybe other traditional studio courses as well. But text book publishers are typically overly dominating when it comes to content. And they love revisions that make the previous edition obsolete, so they can resell the same thing to the same market.



August 19, 2009, 8:28 AM

Sounds like a very sound professional decision. I will admit that as a reader it opens up the possibility of choosing an specific interest category as well. It's brave, though - partly because of the time committment (seriously, 5 a week!) but also because it means a significant break from the way it's been. But then as you say, blogging as changed, so we should too. Best of luck with the new arrangement!



August 19, 2009, 8:57 AM

Franklin, I demand you fix that damn layout. It's driving me nuts. I suppose I may be a tad more, uh, tetchy than most, but it's not good to annoy the customers.



August 19, 2009, 9:04 AM

I'm having a hell of a time trying to figure out what the problem is in the first place, Jack. Sorry for the inconvenience.



August 19, 2009, 9:05 AM

As for the book idea, it's a nice thought, but I'm afraid the time and effort it would require represents too high a risk of lost investment, unless publication was assured (and I don't see how it could be). It's not just publication per se, either. Where's the audience for decidedly unfashionable views of art? I mean, we're hardly typical, in case you all haven't noticed.



August 19, 2009, 9:29 AM

John I wasn't thinking of a textbook - it could never be that and it wouldn't fly anyway - but something spun like pop culture but containing lots of artblog-type wisdom & revelations.

There is a real market for this kind of thing, part of which is that vast underground of art & craft-interested people who think the current art world does not represent their interests. It just has to be done right. Or done at all.



August 19, 2009, 9:40 AM

I agree -- five a week is insane. Even if they're short, you still have to go out and spend time with the artwork. Write some longer ones too.


Chris Rywalt

August 19, 2009, 10:16 AM

I see the problem Jack is seeing. It's visible on IE 7.0.5730 at least, which is what I'm running here.

For some reason your content div is wandering north and covering up your logo. I can't imagine why. Maybe the mix of absolute and relative elements? Maybe because the logo's in a header block and not a div? I'd try wrapping a div around the logo elements, see if that helps.



August 19, 2009, 10:31 AM

I added a conditional comment that positions the content absolutely if your browser is ie7. Even that doesn't seem to be kicking on. The logo is positioned absolutely, so it's out of the flow; wrapping a div around it shouldn't do a damn thing. The figurine is a background image applied to the body tag. Oh, ie7...


Chris Rywalt

August 19, 2009, 11:27 AM

I don't think absolute positioning takes an element out of the flow; only floating does that. Absolute positioning nails the position down but everything still flows around it. Should, anyway.

I've spent many hours of my life fighting exactly the same problem as this and every time I do it the solution ends up being slightly different. I despise CSS. I tried to talk a programmer friend of mine into working with me on a new page definition language for the Web. Something everyone could switch to. He had been involved in the HTML5 group, which has become hopelessly mired in stupidity and politics. He wouldn't do it, though.

In this case I'm not sure what to do other than keep trying different things until something snaps. I usually start by putting in a lot of "border: 1px solid Green" lines -- using different colors for each item -- so I can keep track of everything, then randomly changing things -- position: relative, position: absolute, float: left, and so on -- until something breaks horrendously. Then I work back from there.

Firebug is extremely useful in figuring out what CSS is being used and what isn't, and what's being inherited, but it's no use for IE.

Do you have Windows installed or are you trying to do this from Mac? If you have Windows installed there's a method, using Virtual PC, allowing multiple versions of IE on the same machine to make it easier to debug cross-browser.



August 19, 2009, 2:22 PM

opie (#36) I was thinking text because I actually used a long thread as a text - adopting it before I knew exactly where it would wind up.

Maybe a title like BLOGGING THE BRAINS OUT OF ART would attract those who are tired of art's subservience to ideas supplied from outside itself.

Jack (#35) It could be sold as a locked e-book, with PayPal used to accept funds in exchange for an unlock key. There are a couple of e-books on clicker training dogs that seem to fare well - and they appeal to a similar small but devoted audience. That would guarantee publication.

As far as "decidedly unfashionable view of art" goes, this is a Socratic dialogue, not every view would be unfashionable. In fact, a character very much like George would play an important role. He did a very good job of representing what a lot of art folks believe. Myself, I'm too realistic to be an optimist, so I often found myself suspecting George's speculations about the future of art were more likely to come true than what we want to come true. He made a large contribution to the liveliness of the blog when he participated and a character like him would do the same for any book.



August 19, 2009, 3:48 PM

I deleted my cache and the kungfuartcritic homepage is still messed up on my computer, which is running ie7.


Chris Rywalt

August 19, 2009, 4:04 PM

Yes, John, you need an antagonist like George if you're going to have a Socratic dialogue. If everyone agrees, then it's a lecture.

I can't remember his name, but in the Socratic dialogues there was always this one guy who needed to be set right. You need that guy.



August 19, 2009, 4:13 PM

OK, I think it's time to notify the authorities about the layout problem. I smell vast art-world conspiracy.



August 20, 2009, 10:08 PM

I'm pleased you've found a niche for your considerable talents, Franklin, and I wish you every success that you've not already achieved. Here's hoping you can sustain a habit of considering and critiquing and looking and writing and so on and so forth. An Infinite Kung Fu Art Critic?



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