I Shot the Sheriff: Art in the Time of Blog-Era

A little backgrounder: Almost thirty years back, when there were not even land phones in villages (forget internet and blogs), as a 10 year old boy, I became addicted to writing. The addiction came through a rejection; rejection from the editor of a children’s magazine. I had sent him a small poem written by me and in a week’s time the postman dropped an envelope at my doorstep, which contained a few lines written by the editor, telling me to stick to writing. That was the beginning of my writing career. Even today, I write everyday without any intention to publish. Writing gives me a sort of high and sharing it with others heightens it further.

Like in the case of many of my contemporaries, blogging happened to me almost 3 years back. Many established young writers of our times had already become acknowledged bloggers by that time. For example, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan who published her debut novel You Are Here in 2008 and Amit Varma, whose debut novel My Friend Sancho came out in 2009. By the new millennium’s initial years internet publishing of creative writing had become a reality. Some even tried at publishing novels through text messages in mobile phones.

Today blogosphere (the universe of active netizens who not only share information but also publish their creative works including writings, paintings, photographs and videos) has become an active field of virtual social exchanges. Many fellow netizens including the well-known curator, ShaheenMerali call themselves ‘activists’ in the virtual sphere. They have a proactive method of researching and sharing, often without being controlled by the comments that they receive after their postings in personal blogs and other networking sites like Facebook.

To tell you the truth, I never cherished an ambition to become an ‘activist’ in the blogosphere. But today, with so many such activists around, at times I feel that I should not be sitting at the shore and watch the waters flowing down there. I had registered my personal blog ( in 2007 and had happily forgotten about it. In mid 2008, at the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, I was spending an (exhibition opening) evening with a few friends. Alexander Keefe, an art writer who comments on Indian contemporary art was present there and he introduced me to his personal blog ( I became curious and promised him that I would start my blog very soon. It was the beginning of my blogging practice.

As I was editing an online magazine at that time, to avoid the clash of interests, I decided to devote my blog solely for doing a sort of creative writing that includes poems, snippets, anecdotes, short stories, general observations, film reviews etc. During this period I came through several other blogs which were either entirely devoted to the news of contemporary Indian art, Indian art market and other related topics. Artists’ collectives and experimental art group also launched there blogs (for instance, of Sandarbh), critics also started there own stuff in the virtual space (example GirishShahane’s Right from porn to post-modern, cutting edge to cutting chai, you name it and there is a blog for it today.

Almost 4 years back, when Orkut became a fad, as a part of Gmail use many had become members in this social networking site. So many other sites followed it. Though Orkut ruled the roost for a couple of years, with the launch of Facebook, Orkut became a bit defunct. When Facebook became a bit reader oriented, twitter happened where one could post 140 letter-ed comments on anything.

In early 2008, there was a strong campaign against Facebook amongst the Facebook members. They posted articles discussing how Facebook abused the information that the management gathered from the members and used for proliferating market interests. Criticism did not withstand the flooding of membership in the Facebook. Today FB is one of the most cherished sites by the netizens to post their daily comments, philosophy and evenworks of art.

Facebook actually directed me to organize my art writings in a different way. I found FB as a way to share my writings with a larger audience. Simultaneously FB taught me how not to write certain things; like ‘I am having a cup of tea’, ‘just got up’, ‘look at my beautiful family’ etc. I changed the track of my writings in my personal blog and decided that I would only write art related matters there. If at all I share anything with a larger public, I would share nothing about myself as a person, but only the art related writings that I deem pertinent to be shared.

Today, with the ‘Live News Feed’ FB has lost its simplicity. Some sort of pristine nature is still preserved in the personal and group blogs. However, for artists, art related individuals, art writers and communities, social networking spaces have become, considering the diminutive number of art journals and galleries in India, a platform for sharing their work without critical/economic and censorial mediations. These spaces have turned out to be the virtual extensions of personal studios and desks. To speak in a bit more existential terms, these spaces have become ‘ventilations’ of individual emotions.

Considering the internet density in India, we cannot claim that we have achieved a kind of democracy in this field. Though the numbers are empirically high, seen against the vast population of India, the internet users are still a minority. However, within this minority, the artists, critics and all the other art categories have found some sort of a liberal democratic milieu in which they can express their creativity without fearing any kind of censorship. (I am not unaware of the fact that blogosphere and netizens are not restricted by geographical definitions of nations. Also I recognize the existence of spam filters and auto-deletion of offensive materials, as censorial methods).

Expression of art or sharing of works of art or art writing through the agency of virtual spaces raises a few crucial questions. Has this democracy of sharing in networking spaces become devoid of its ideological implications? Do all the netizens indulge in daily postings or argue on issues or even make comments or give thumbs up, involve in these activities acknowledge the other ‘networked’ communities, who are not directly addressed in this process? Does the aspect of sharing give birth to a sort of virtual autocracy of some over the silent ones in the same community? Has sharing become a naive exercise to establish one’s class, caste and creed, through knowledge manipulation? Has net activism resulted into the reduction of ‘active real time’ work?

All these questions have both negative and affirmative answers. However, from my experience, I would say that the art activism, which has become possible through virtual spaces in a way redefine the notions of public-private realms of sharing and viewing. Each uploading in the blogs and networking sites anticipates an audience, which is equally intelligent and dumb. Through this mutual acknowledgement, a lot of private spaces are turned into public and the public is brought into a shared realm of closely knit netizens. Net activism is the in-thing of our times. As a closing note, I would say, the most democratic public space of net activism, metaphorically has become the underground activists’ space where only a set of like minded people keep a close watch on certain subversive things taking place, often without a sound track. The over ground activists would always post one-liners like, ‘beautiful morning in Cartagena’.

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About Author

Johny ML is a Delhi based art critic and curator. He holds an MVA in Art History and Criticism from MS University, Baroda and MA in Creative Curating from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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