In defense of free blogging

This was something I wrote about a year ago when I first started investigating blogs. Kind of long, but I thought it might make a decent first official post. Let me know what you think.

I have only even been aware of the existence of blogs for maybe a year. I didn’t even realize there could be such a thing as a blog about pottery until about two weeks ago. I had been contemplating a presence on the web as a venue for my pots and a forum for my ideas, but I didn’t really have a clue as to where to look, what to look for. So I suppose I am a novice at this. My first thought was to sign up for a free website. A fellow artist I had known in grad school had a site designed for her and it was so far out of my budget that I knew this option would only be possible in some distant unrecognizable future. So ‘free’ was in, a necessary constraint to what I would be doing.

Still floundering, I asked around with some of my computer savvy friends and it was suggested that I look into a blog. How happy was I that a google search of ‘pottery blog’ led me straight to Emily Murphy’s blog of the same name! Not only was it fleshed out in a way that I would want my presence on the web to be, but her posts are so interesting and generous with their helpfulness that I will forever stand in grateful awe of her.

Ok. Now you have the set up. The question whether to blog free came up last night in a conversation with a colleague who coincidentally was busy studying photoshop online to get a handle on how she presents the images of her pots. I can never remember the wording of conversations but as we discussed various things the gist of her comments was that she would never do a free website or blog. The word she used with horror was “template”, free stuff merely being a template where you jam on some of your images and words. She preferred a designed site where things were clean, simple, and elegant.

Well who doesn’t want that? Needless to say I was embarrassed about my plans and ashamed I even contemplated this ‘template’ thing. My hasty defense was that I was too poor to do much more than the free stuff at this point but that I could at least learn for free and move on to better things when I could afford them. The last nail in my coffin came when she said that she never wanted to do something with a website or with her art that didn’t make the right statement about her, that didn’t reflect what she wanted to express. Using a template would come off as shabby and unprofessional. Damn! I had some thinking to do.

Luckily I could only get three hours of sleep before the turmoil woke me back up and demanded that I find a resolution. So the question was whether or not to feel guilty about free blogging. My first thought was that, after having picked through various blogrolls, my survey indicated that, yes, there is a difference between ones that are designed and ones that are free. There are also some frivolously ‘unprofessional’ templates out there. But on the whole templates didn’t bother me. It turns out that there are some really talented designers crafting templates and free blogs are shaping up quite nicely.

So the next question was whether giving over control of the presentation to a template meant being unprofessional. What I then realized was that my colleague’s comments said much more about what her own prejudices were than what might be right for me. I admire her as a person and as an artist. I love her pots with a passion. They are clean, simple, and elegant (remember that phrase?). They are all about design, control, and precision (sound familiar?). So she really was just expressing a personal motif, not necessarily a judgment I had to abide by. After all, I throw loose pots and fire in a wood kiln. How different is that?

What I like about the free blogs is that what I sacrifice in control over the presentation I can more than make up for by having quality content (and the presentation needn’t suffer if you can abide scruffy organic things). So instead of balking me, my resolve is to now push ahead, whether I am ready for prime time or not. I hope I don’t embarrass myself too often.

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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5 Responses to In defense of free blogging

  1. A quick note. Since writing this I no longer have access to a woodkiln, and sadly, Emily has tailed off in her blogging efforts. She moved, had to renovate her new home, and it took time for her to get back to making pots. I hope she eventually picks back up where she left off. She is a tremendous inspiration.

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    I’ve worked professionally on web stuff for 10 years; I stubbornly built all my own sites from scratch; I’ve made custom sites for other artists, etc. And yet I still think you’re absolutely right.

    The fact is that in 90% of cases, all the structural stuff that makes a website work — up to any including most of the layout and even some of the graphic design — is just infrastructure. It’s like the plumbing and wiring of the online world. So unless you’re the kind of person who wants to sweat their own copper pipe or pull their own Romex wire in the physical world, you should probably just accept that those things are not a reflection of your creativity or dedication and get over it.

    As you said about the multitudes of talented designers (and, I would add, coders) already doing this stuff, I think that unless you personally have a good background in graphic design and experience with the software that lets you turn that into a decent website, let someone who knows those trades far better than you lay the groundwork. The industry has come a long, long way since the days of Tripod and MySpace.

    If that still feels too low-rent or unprofessional, spend your time learning how to tweak the (much easier) stuff on top, the parts that will be seen and that have a better chance of affecting what visitors actually think about your work. Or, better yet, focus on making better content — words and pictures — which is the only reason people ever stay on a site for more than a minute.

    The website is for the art, not the other way around.

    • Oops! Bad blogging etiquette on my part already. Over a week gone and I haven’t replied to this thoughtful comment. Better late than never I hope….

      I guess my main reason for not having replied is that I am in total agreement with what you say. Still helps to have a seasoned professional confirm those thoughts though. Your conclusion that the focus should be on better content and that the site is in service to the art rather than the reverse is spot on. I guess my only aside is that my friend was probably less aware of the newer less cheesy options on places like wordpress. It is so easy to get the wrong impression when even respected artists and galleries are stuck on sites that look pretty bad (by today’s standards). I guess my other aside would be that too often even we art makers are confused by issues of style over substance. Flashy bells and whistles are almost a default, garish and toxic colors compulsory. I suppose these motivations were pretty influential in web design as well, and hence the proliferation of web cheese. If my friend’s reaction was anything it was a response to this and I can only sympathize with her desire to hold the line at simple and austere. I’m just glad that those are now commonplace options in free blogging.

      • Becky says:

        I’m just getting caught up on your back log of posts, and this one caught my eye because I went through the same thing when I started my blog.

        I think part of the problem that come up when someone starts a blog is that they are so excited that they’re going to be ‘famous’ that they don’t really stop and think about how their blog is going to look. I changed the layout, colors, and font on mine at least 5 times. I actually change it quite frequently just because I get tired of the same old thing after a while. In the beginning, I didn’t even know you could blog for free until someone told me about blogger. I had talked with some programmers I knew who were more than willing to help me set up a site, but at crazy fees. I’m a potter, not a physician. I wasn’t going to drop $500 for a website I could get for free. I understand your friend’s theory that she didn’t want any part of her business to look anything less than her best, but for $500? I’ll pass… $500 buys a lot of clay and tools.

        I ended up *trying* to make my blog reader friendly. I have about 10 things on only one sidebar (instead of the cluttery looking dual sidebars), and I change the header photo with every post so it not only relates to the post, but keeps the page looking fresh. I change the colors frequently, and oh my.. I have to kill off any bright pink links. I can’t handle the bright pink links.

        I agree with Scott on letting the professionals write the code. Have you ever looked at code before? I added a gadget once and trying to find the right place to add the code just made my eyes swim. I think free blogging is the way to go. There are lots of options now for making it look just the way you want without sacrificing simplicity.

        Happy blogging. 🙂

  3. I guess it is fairly common among potters. Other than Scott I can only think of a small handful of potters who don’t use one of the free options. For blogs at least. I think my friend was less interested in doing a blog and just wanted to have a professional looking web presence. But these days wordpress blogs come off as pretty good imitations of the older style websites.

    Thanks for the thoughts! Happy blogging to you too!

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