Blog Post

Writer as Artist // ELO // Curating & Exhibiting Electronic Literature Workshop


The Writer is an artist.

Here’s another thought on artists and designers and their role in digital publishing.

In her book Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet, Christine L. Borgman breaks down the roles and functions of an author into four categories:  Writers; Citers or Linkers; Submitters; and Collaborators.

But in digital publishing, the role of the design—especially in its use of technology and its interweaving of multiple modes—is key, critical.  I was re-reading sections of Borgman’s book during the storm and while responding to emails, and, I thought, where’s the artist?

How do we distinguish from artist and writer?  When and why did these terms become so separate from one another?  In the world of digital publishing, writers and scholars need a new, special awareness of design.  (I keep returning to one of my earlier posts, “Where is the author?”)

While I was getting over the last hurdle of Hurricane Sandy in the Mid-Atlantic, on October 30, the University of Bergen in Norway hosted a workshop entitled “Curating and Exhibiting Electronic Literature” meant to investigate various models electronic literature are exhibiting in art venues (such as galleries and museums) and how such materials are read within these environments.

The workshop served as another step in preparing for the 2015 Electronic Literature Organization’s  (ELO) conference that will also be hosted in Bergen.  ELO continues to be the group to follow for those interested in the evolution of literature within the digital age.  For those perhaps unfamiliar with the group, among the number of projects worth exploring is the Electronic Literature Directory, a wide-ranging database collecting electronic works including hypertexts, multimedia productions, and visual and animated poetry.

Notes on the workshop’s proceedings are available at jill/txt, the blog of Jill Walker Rettberg, professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen.




Interesting! I will definitely look in to that title!


// Julia


Kevin, I think you're asking an incredibly important question here. Borgman's typology leaves little space for the artist within scholarly production, and this is problematic for anyone incorporating design elements of any kind into their scholarship, let alone for hybrid scholar-practitioners who treat their artistic practices as programs of research. Further, I think your assertion that writers are artists foregrounds that the claims writers make always exist within larger cultural and ideological contexts. So thanks for this post!


Thank your for raising this point, Kevin.

I'm also interested in this question and by the questions that organizations like the ELO are working on about how we curate, categorize, and make available digital literary art.

Along these lines, I've been particularly curious about how the lines between media, artform, and type of artist become blurred in digital contexts:  the poet, the visual artist, the narrative author, the designer, and the programmer are collapsing in on each other. These roles are often shared by a single artist or an art collective that creates a single work. As exciting as this is, it often makes writing about, analyzing, collecting, and curating these works difficult.  Do any of you feel the pressure (either by your department or the people you discuss these type of works with) to answer qustions like: "Is this person a poet?" or "Is this literature?"

These "mixed media" artists are nothing new...Was William Blake a poet or an engraver? Is Johanna Drucker a printmaker, a storyteller, or a scholar? However, we often work within academic and social frameworks that prefer categorization, and I think we are going to have to either find a way to fit the works like the ones featured in the ELO's database into the categories, or (more likely) re-imagine the lines we have drawn between artforms and the artists behind them.


At the Literacy, Language, and Culture PhD Program at UMBC, students are encouraged to think interdisciplinary (and required to do so:  the program is a bit longer than other programs because we all enroll in classes on theory and methodolgy from both the Humanties and Social Sciences).  So from this dimension--at least for the time being--I'm really in the middle of things, trying to figure out how the social sciences and the humanities, how the academic and the artist, how print and the digital, can have more productive conversations.  Always thinking: "How else could we think of things?"

I agree with this idea of the system's "preferred"  categorization of things, of "academic and social frameworks," and this is the problem for me.  I've just returned from a conference on New Media in Copenhagen, and I think all with whom I spoke agreed for the the most part that past discourse, the dichotomy of "offline" and "online" (and in the case of my presentation "consumer" and "producer") was problematic--such spaces, like terms of the scholar, the artist, etc., are increasingly blurred, collapsing--yet most of the papers I heard still relied on concepts and theories that maintained these binaries (or some narrative that is out-dated).

In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned that I see a lot of newly published poetry collections as so derivative and so narrow that they often appeal to the smallest possible audiences...And I think, in the digital, there's an opportunity to address more universal, relatable themes, more diverse groups.  But I also fear immediate comparisons to more traditional media--paintings if they're displayed in a gallery or museum, or print if on an iPad/mobile device/e-reader, etc.--and that they will be seen as "lesser arts." 

I just got off the phone with a poet/friend of mine who rejects the use of technology in his graduate poetry seminar.  He just doesn't know much about electronic works--doesn't know what to do with it...A colleague at another institution compared such works to these past years' trend of 3D cinema: a cute, sometimes enjoyable "gimmick." How to get beyond these views?

I'm not quite sure where to go, but, for now, I like being in the middle of things. Until I have more answers, I'll ponder on William Morris's thoughts on the "lesser arts" and encourage those with the views above to "look at art open-eyed and with all sincerity; I want an end of believing that we believe in art-bogies; I want the democracy of the arts established: I want every one to think for himself about them, and not to take things for granted from hearsay; every man to do what he thinks right, not in anarchical fashion, but feeling that he is responsible to his fellows for what he feels, thinks, and has determined."

Shift happens...

Perhaps continued conversation will reveal that "less" sometimes is "more"?

Artist is Poet is Scholar is Publisher is Teacher is Administrator

is the where we are now.

And I'm excited to go hat shopping.