Feet, Participation, Practice: An Introduction

Orit Gat

When you start working at a print magazine, you quickly learn what color proofs look like, how to use proofreader’s marks, what bluelines are. You’re introduced to a tradition that guides editors, writers, and publishers, and binds a magazine to its readership.

The internet has none of these. Could you call a blog a publication? Is Tumblr a publishing platform? What about the “news curation” service paper.li, which allows its users to assemble (aggregate) a newspaper from social media posts and links? An expansive view of the online publishing landscape will include all of these as publications. So many forms have been created on the web, so few of them novel, even fewer rigorous. And yet, we tend to believe that online publishing is the future.

As the endless conversations about the death of print begin to die out and more complex conversations about the current state and status of reading online material are published, it is time for a more sustained consideration of current publishing that moves away from the tech-obsessed (“half of American adults now own a tablet or e-reader”), so preoccupied with comparisons of print-to-screen relations and the transition from one to the other, and into a conversation of the past, present, and future of publishing—and how these are intertwined.

Learning on your feet

What web-based publishing has borne is a new generation of writers and editors, many of whom have little or no experience working in print. “Of course we would publish on the internet,” reads the first line of Triple Canopy’s semiautobiographical essay, “The Binder and the Server.”[1] What was so clear about it? For the editors of Triple Canopy, it was obvious: server space was cheaper than hard-copy printing, the internet was a familiar medium, and readers hungered for online publishing done differently. But that “of course,” italicized in the original, sticks with the reader: Was it really ever that plain to see?

In “Freedom of the Present” Dushko Petrovich describes the first magazine he wrote for, and the day they launched a website. “They, of course, needed content. It seems odd, in retrospect, but this was 2004, so the website came after the print journal and involved something of an adjustment in everyone’s thinking.” The adjustment in thinking about the relationship between print and web publishing is the subject of Petrovich’s essay: the internet allows for a new feasibility for publishing projects. No need to choose a printer, just a host; no need for a mailing budget, just an e-mail address; you get the gist. It’s no longer a chicken-or-egg kind of situation of which came first, the print magazine or the website, but, rather, always a conscious choice to delineate new relationships. Petrovich writes about the magazine he co-edits, Paper Monument, and the way he and his colleagues have thought about the (print) magazine’s website as a separate space with its own terms of engagement.

Without a tradition or a history, we find ourselves perpetually looking to the future. But as we discuss the future of accessibility, distribution, and reading experience, we may forget to examine the way we forge a history as we go along. I often use the example of “Snow Fall,” the Pulitzer Prize­–winning article published in the New York Times. This multimedia article was hand-coded by a team of developers and took months to create. The Atlantic (founded in 1857) lauded “Snow Fall” as the future of journalism. But the article neglected to do exactly what the New York Times should lead in (especially after the much-discussed, leaked innovation report): the creation of new publishing platforms, rather than hand-coding one essay after another. That’s what we may forget as we discuss the “future of journalism”: that a lot more publishing lies ahead (not to mention the amount of stuff published online), and we need to come up with new platforms that use the digital to its fullest potential.

The process of building such platforms will have to be rooted in an understanding of publishing traditions, however, rather than a succumbing to what’s assumed to be the right way of doing things online. Pace, especially, seems to be a problem here: many magazines, from the Paris Review to Flash Art, call their online presence a “daily” and their print content “archive.” The separation between the “blog,” or “daily” texts, and those published in print serves very little purpose, while it also demotes the online writing in contrast to the print publication. Can this be done differently?

The Printernet,” Rahel Aima’s contribution to this issue, sets forth the early days of the Dubai-based magazine THE STATE. “Deracinated, placeless, and decidedly not local; we may as well have been in Brooklyn,” she writes of her co-editors and herself—and then thinks through what it means to be local, to have a geographic concern, focus, interest, both online and in print. Aima talks to the physicality of the print issues of THE STATE: a volume in which separate pouches stood in for browser tabs, or one focused on scent, which were doused in fragrance. The aesthetic of these issues points to a lingering question about the changing expectation for print (a collectible, “special” object), but also a great example of one of the most fascinating aspects of the print-to-web conversation—that its subject is not only the reader but also the writer, editor, publisher.


The representation of different participants in the conversation about online publishing should be expanded to a complex consideration of terms of engagement. What do we look at online? In “Everything Is Moving,” Basia Lewandowska Cummings makes a convincing case also for not looking. Writing about art means writing about images. The kind of visual literacy that has developed in the contemporary art context should be translated to the way we think about the flow of imagery through media. Visual analysis can be a strong tool to think through representations—and thus, implications—of politics. That authority is asserted visually. Cummings writes about #ISISmediablackout—the refusal to grant online attention to the images coming out of ISIS territory—as a strong tool of resistance. The kind of considered, responsible relationship to the consumption of images online that she describes should be a guideline for the way we think through the proliferation of images, texts, and data made available, along with how this proliferation is made available, and how it is mediated.

This is the context in which a growing number of outlets dedicated to commissioning or displaying artwork online has proliferated. And the flip side of the way we now view images is the process of making them. Digital technology has obviously changed that completely, and the presentation of work on the web reflects evolving attitude toward the search and organization of information, its distribution, and how meaning is created by way of classification online. Julia Weist’s artist project “Industry vs. Machine: Canonization, Localization, and the Algorithm” concerns exactly that. Her contribution focuses on Google’s in-depth searches, which basically serve to prioritize those subjects that are of deeper, greater interests. What does that mean when discussing art? Cindy Sherman has more in-depth results than Richard Prince. Few artists born after 1965 have any in-depth results. Is the Google canon a new guideline for assessing what work will have a lasting impact?

Sarah Hromack discusses another form of organizing and displaying work online in “Another ‘C’ Word: On Content and the (Techno) Curatorial.” Her essay deals with how the use of language has shifted in the online context. On the internet, the impulse to organize has morphed into a new form of curating, in which clicking on the like button is another method of disseminating information. “To speak of ‘content’ is to indicate everything, all at once: An ur-glut of digital detritus to be pushed around, pixel by pixel and file by file, by the nameless and unpaid masses,” Hromack writes, reassessing both the labor that goes into online distribution and the value we assign to the stuff we “favorite.”

Best practices

Where would we start? The nuts and bolts of online publishing in the arts have yet to be configured. Copyright still poses both an intellectual and a material problem, with images being copied endlessly from one source to another, masking even further the trail of crumbs that may lead to an image’s original owner. Similarly, citations have become a growing problem; hyperlinks have come to stand in for proper footnotes or endnotes, creating a system of pointing rather than showing. This is an unsustainable system, since a broken link can mean a gap in research. The person who takes those links and turns them into proper citations is the copy editor, but few online publications go through the same processes that print magazines go through: a couple of rounds of content edits and a copyedit, followed by a proofread. Instead, these three different functions have been leveled into one, where editors read each other’s work and give feedback combining copyedits and content edits.

The nitty-gritty details may seem easily solvable, but they are rooted not in lack of professionalism, but in larger questions about what it means to publish online. Questions of scope and ambition, whether or not they are measured in pageviews, define the pace of publishing for any given platform, as does the idea of being timely online. If print schedules allude that a certain subject, or exhibition review, or interview is interesting two months after the fact, online this timeline appears outdated. Web design also affects this sentiment: the endless scrolls, the blog design so many sites adhere to, means that as a reader scrolls down and links at articles (“More after the jump!”), he or she will probably not look beyond the first page of articles. The shelf life of a given article depends on the frequency of publishing, but it becomes yesterday’s material quite quickly, disappearing into Google results.

Use should direct our thinking about online publishing: What does it mean to make a contribution online? To support new writing and the presentation of work, publishers and editors need to build new platforms, ones that do not necessarily adhere to the reign of pace, tone, and scale currently promoted online. Resisting the temptation for a wider reach is difficult, but it’s one answer to a fallacy of online participation: that audiences self-organize on the web. Just as Aima writes that just being online does not make you global, so the question of what a personal, intimate web will look like has yet to be answered. Is the local only the Yelplike, crowd-sourced material pertaining to a neighborhood, a city, a state? Or can it be a web-based publication that sets a goal of a public of fifty or a hundred readers? The web offers a different sense of proximity, a new scale. Its economy has yet to be defined, but it is possible. Print-on-demand, for example, offers a financial model that will work for an audience of any size.

A number of essays in this issue end with a question. The way we speak about the internet emphasizes complexity, politics, and policy, but also considers how the web is used. How it’s useful. It’s hard to be a techno-skeptic these days, but the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that accompanied the dot-com bubble and the rise of web 2.0 is also suspect. As the internet grows corporate, the possibilities it offers for small-scale, considered endeavors seem farther from us, but they shouldn’t. Weist’s project entailed using a mechanical turk, in order to avoid Google’s tailoring results to Weist according to data the algorithm already had on her. The more the internet is tailored to its users—for advertising purposes, of course—the more we learn one positive guideline: there is no one-size-fits-all web.


This special issue on the current state of online publishing in the arts is the last iteration of Red Hook Journal in its current format. I’d like to thank the CCS staff, and especially Suhail Malik, Ramona Rosenberg, and Tracy Pollock, for inviting me to edit it and for their support of the project. Many thanks are also in order to Debby Mayer for the fantastic copyediting job, Victoria Ivanova for her work on RHJ, the CCS class of 2015 for their insights about it, and Tirdad Zolghadr, who established RHJ and edited its first issues.

Orit Gat is a writer based in New York. She writes about contemporary art, publishing, internet culture, and different meeting points between these things. Her writing is published regularly on Rhizome, where she is a contributing editor, and has appeared in a variety of publications, including friezeArtReviewThe White Review, and Spike Art Quarterly.

The Red Hook Journal has received generous support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).

[1] Colby Chamberlain, “The Binder and the Server,” Art Journal (Winter 2011). See http://artjournal.collegeart.org/?p=2644