Art Fag in the City, IMing with Paddy Johnson


It’s been fun blogging for two weeks on Art21 and I thought it was only appropriate to end with an interview with art blog legend Paddy Johnson. She’s the mastermind behind the fabulously named Art Fag City.

Last week, I caught up with her online.


[According to Paddy, the soundtrack for this chat is: Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” (video)]

Hrag Vartanian: So I saw your tweet today: “Embracing my Maximum Sorrow. I am mediocre. Mediocrity is in me.” I figured you were writing….do you feel mediocre whenever you write even if it’s not true?

Paddy Johnson: To make a short story long, my desk is a TOTAL DISASTER so I was looking at these flyers from Kevin Bewerdorf’s show I saw close to three weeks ago now and the pamphlets, which have this kind of weird corporate/web look to them, ask you to embrace your mediocrity. So I was doing that by twittering mediocrity (Paddy’s recent review of the show is here).

HV: So was that why you were feeling mediocre? They suggested you feel mediocre or you interpreted them that way?

PJ: Well the mantra the PDF asks you to repeat is “I am mediocre, mediocrity is in me…so I did it.”

HV: Wow…that’s kind of deep, or wait…maybe it’s shallow.

PJ: But to answer your question, I think there are times when we all feel mediocre for some reason or another…so I struggle with that sometimes.

HV: Do you ever feel that about art blogging?

PJ:  Sometimes, but usually I cure myself of that by rereading posts I’ve forgotten about.

HV: I know you write about new media a lot. Do you consider your blog a form of new media?

PJ: Only in the sense that the Internet is still relatively new and evolving. People are already getting fairly used to using the Internet—it feels increasingly inaccurate to describe publishing that way. To be honest, I think comment moderation (as aspect of blogging that can reasonably be described as new media) is trickier than blogging itself, should a blogger really invest in that aspect of it.


HV: So why do you blog, Twitter and all that stuff? What gets you up in the morning?

PJ: That’s a really good question. It sounds cheesy to say, so you’ll have to forgive the cliché but I think more than anything else, it’s a deep love for the medium, meaning the Internet. It may not surprise you to learn that I’m an extrovert by nature. I feel deep anxiety when I can’t share a link with someone. I think it’s a very difficult medium for those who don’t like company, or at least that’s my impression as an extrovert. I can’t speak for introverts.

HV: In your opinon, how has it changed the art world? Better? Worse? Not much?

PJ: You know, I used to work for a dealer who once told me, that the Internet, cell phones, etc. didn’t really change the fundamentals of closing a deal so much as they increased people’s ability to bother you. Of course, at the time (2001), she could speak to cell phones and email but she wasn’t really talking about social networks or multimedia players.

HV: So you don’t think the Internet is democratizing the art world?

PJ: I would like it to democratize the web and in some ways it does. People have much greater access to art than they had previously. UbuWeb is the best example of that. But I hesitate to apply the term quite so broadly because of course, as the Internet expands, larger publications really demand a lot more traffic than they have had previously. It’s pretty hard to compete with those kinds of resources. So smaller outfits ultimately have the same problems they always have.

HV: Well, now for the juicy stuff…what do you hate about art and blogging/the Internet?

PJ: Trolls.

HV: Do you have some?

PJ: Everyone has some. They are mostly benign, but it takes a bit to learn how to deal with them effectively. Usually you have to make a mistake or two with them before you know exactly what not to do.

HV: Do you have a guilty pleasure online that is related to the art world? Mine for instance is bad student videos on YouTube.

PJ: Mine is How’s My Dealing, a blog that rates dealers, curators and critics by their reputation and solicits comments from artists on their experience.

HV: Do you check it daily?

PJ: Oh no, it’s impossible to read five million multicolored updates at the top of the blog, none of them with links. It’s pretty annoying but then every once in a while a gallerist will answer claims that they’ve been unfair and it gets really juicy.

HV: How about the issue of images online…do you feel supersensitive to ensuring copyright, making sure it’s a stellar photo of artwork, etc?

PJ: Obviously I prefer good photographs over bad ones so I usually use those from the gallery’s website over my own. I always give a link to the source when I use an image I didn’t take—which at least in theory, provides some compensation in the form of credit and traffic.

HV: How much do you hate flash websites that don’t allow you to direct link to anything!?!?!

PJ: Flash websites are infuriating. I really think funding needs to be directed to non-profits purely for web development. They have the worst looking sites of anyone and they function poorly. This is speculation but it seems like a lot of these websites get half-made and then they run out of money.

HV: I know Bloggy and JamesWagner refuse to write about galleries who prohibit photography. Do you have a similar policy?

PJ: Yes, though I forgot this summer and wrote about one gallery opening in particular. Which makes me a pretty poor activist particularly given the fact that the opening wasn’t really ground-breaking.

HV: Why do you think they do it?

PJ: Ignorance, more than anything else. Of course, they all have their reasons but they’re wrong.

HV: I always sensed it had to do with the rules of branding, meaning you want as much control as possible and galleries are simply brands nowadays, no?

PJ: Yeah, understandably galleries want control over how their artists’ work is presented, but the damage they do to a contemporary artist by limiting a show’s documentation far outweighs whatever a snapshot uploaded to Flickr could do. Galleries with a firm understanding of the net will make sure that when their artist’s name is Googled, the name comes up. A lot of galleries buy ads for their artists now. Also, it’s not like people can’t tell the difference between a cell phone picture and a professionally shot photograph. Assuming that’s not the case does a real disservice to everyone because it limits how people experience art.

HV: Ok, five Flickrstreams, art blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter accounts or anything else you think everyone should be looking at online.

PJ: Naturally, ArtCal. As I mentioned before, UbuWeb, a giant archive of video art, mp3’s and texts publicly available on the Internet. Triple Canopy is a great independent publication—great writing, diverse subject matter.  It’s a little like what you’d imagine a freeform Frieze publication to be–embracing the web for all the things it’s good for (writing as much or as little as you want on whatever you want), and rejecting the negatives (unedited or poorly considered content).

On the subject of art blogs, has artist John Michael Boling blogging for them now and he posts really great art. The blog is a real resource. I think for the more adventuresome net surfer, there are some good surf clubs out there. Surf clubs are group blogs made up of artists. posting mostly images and gifs. A lot of it is found stuff on the Internet. Some of it is art some of it isn’t. Super Central, Spirit Surfers, Double Happiness, Loshakada are all worth checking out.

Basically my Internet surfing falls into a couple of categories: places I go to read about art, places I go to find art, and places I go to experience art. The difference between the last two being that the former generally provides representations of art but not the art itself, whereas the latter itself is art. Anyway, the answer to this question could become very long and involved since I look at a lot in all three categories.

HV: Now the million dollar question: do you secretly consider yourself an art fag?

PJ: Are you kidding? I’m totally out of the closet! I mean, Art Fag, as the name connotes on the site, refers to an “art fan” and I LOVE art. So yeah, you could call me an art fag.

HV: Are people surprised a woman writes your site?

PJ: All the time. Paddy is typically a male name (technically my name is Paddy-Anne) but nobody ever calls me that so that, coupled with the name of the site, coupled with its bitchy, even aggressive tone tends to confuse people but that’s fine.

HV: Thanks for chatting Paddy

PJ: np!

Top: Detail of Paddy Johnson’s Willing To Travel (detail), 2005, Digital print on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches
Middle: ArtFagCity logo
Bottom: Paddy Johnson, Good Communicator, 2005, Digital print on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches