Sunday, February 27

The sweet breath of flattery ....

Heraclitus. Detail from
School of Athens - Raphael

'Tis holy sport to be a little vain,
When the sweet breath of flattery conquers strife.
(William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors)

A couple of weeks ago I learned that this blog had been included on a list of the “Top 50 Art History Blogs”. What’s that you say? You are startled? You should be, I certainly was. I received an unexpected email kindly informing me of this distinction, with a link to the site and inviting me to put the link and badge for the list on my blog. On visiting the web page, I found that, sure enough, my humble pillow was listed there with this blurb:
“Alchemist’s Pillow: This lovely blog is intended as a respite for readers who at times find the world a bit jarring. We like the blogger’s refreshing perspective on familiar works. Featured artists include Ansel Adams, Rafael, Escher, and Goya.”
How nice, I thought, although quietly trying to remember when I had ever done anything on the painter Raphael (clue: never, but I did post a poem by Rafael Alberti). Even nicer, though, was the fine company I was in, as some of the other art sites on the list are long-time favorites of mine, like Margaret’s The Earthly Paradise, Bob’s Art Blog by Bob and a few others (though I was a bit puzzled and disappointed over some of the ones that were missing, like Linnea West’s Art Ravels and Jane Librizzi’s The Blue Lantern).

Although this little ego massage was not unappreciated, I decided not to insert a link/badge, mainly because the list is featured on a commercial site that seems otherwise unconcerned with art history. Although they have done at least some research, and the list is helpful in finding art history sites, it had all the makings of a marketing wiz’s ploy to build up traffic to a decidedly non-art commercial site. And, after all, how reliable can a top 50 art history blogs list be that includes a little lapis lazuli elephant whose most prized self-proclaimed talent is an ability to talk to fax machines? It had to be a gimmick.

Raphael — The School of Athens, 1510, fresco, Vatican
(There! Now, I have done something on Raphael)

And so it was… and it is not the only one. Apparently this is becoming a fairly common tactic, not just in art history but in many other appealing fields as well. The site I am cited on also carries lists of the Best 50 Buddhist Blogs, 50 Awesome Atheistic/Agnostic Blogs, Top 50 Insect Blogs, Top 50 European Travel Blogs, Top 30 Civil War Blogs... Isn’t it reassuring, at least, to see that we get fewer (only 30) civil wars than dragonflies, awesome atheists, presumably awed Buddhists and leaning-tower-of-Pisa-holder-uppers? And isn't it fun imagining a blog that could somehow manage to make it onto all of these lists (Jeffscape, and 10th Daughter of Memory, are you out there)? This weekend I found an excellent description and discussion of this trend, Top lists and award badges: art history bloggers beware, at H Niyazi’s superb art blog three pipe problem (3pp). I encourage you to read the article and treat yourself to a rewarding stroll through his blog.

Which brings me to the real point of this post: 3pp has just announced a new project, the art and history site database (AHDB). It is in part a response to the success toplisters are achieving in having their less than reliable lists and rankings of websites claim the choicest turf of the google-search hits list real estate.

In 3pp’s own words:
"The Art and History site Database (AHDB) has been created to serve a specific purpose. Searching online for quality sites dedicated to art and history has become a time consuming process. The Wiki entry for a particular topic or artist is usually the top result in many instances, followed by a slew of image gallery or painting reproduction sites. With particular regard to blogs on the topics of art and history, there is presently no detailed resource that attempts to catalogue these sites and create a search engine that searches only these sites. (…)

This project was commenced in November 2010 and has been tested by a closed group of students and art historians. The basic aim is to create a useful tool to make finding art and history sites easier. There are many resources for art and history online but one that aims to include blogs simply does not exist. An increasing amount of art historians, classicists and authors are now blogging, and there should be a resource to find them that is as easy to use as Google."
To be included on the list of sites that AHDB will search, a blog must be previously submitted to and approved by the AHDB administrator. I have the impression that the list is growing quickly and will soon become a very valuable resource for art history enthusiasts and researchers. I encourage all of you to check out the site, spread the word to bloggers who may be interested in using its search engine and/or being included on the site list. It is not a commercially driven project and will therefore be much harder to manipulate for toplisters and all those clever people out there who devote their time and talent to such things.

The address for the new search tool is I will probably put a link to it on my sidebar in the near feature. The alchemist’s pillow has been included there, and that is a distinction I am pleased to have been given and just as pleased to publicize. So, spread the word.

I know I have inserted many links here; if you only have time or patience or clicking stamina for one, it is this one for 3pp, a wonderful, rewarding and very enjoyable site.


  1. Pleased you squeezed in the Raphael! Dare we hope for Ryokan, Russell, Red-tailed maggots, Rome and Robert E. Lee next? I do hope so. ;)

  2. RRRRRRobert, it shows that you have spent much time in Spain — you sure can roll your rrrrrrr's

  3. My friends at Venetian Red had a similar experience last year and did as you did.

    It's a shame, because I think people do want to be able to locate in one place sites where they can count on the information they're looking for.

  4. Hi, Maureen. It is a shame, because it makes searches so much more cumbersome. I know that for art related searches, you have to wade through so many sites that are just offering prints of the paintings one wants to research, more than commentary, analysis or history. I am excited by AHDB as a step in the right direction and an example of how the same tools that are usued by marketers and advertisters can also empower those of looking for something else. I do not want to badmouth the toplisters too much —like I said, the lists are somewhat researched and can be helpful— but they are extremely unreliable, less than nobly motivated and can become a nuisance.

  5. Yes, I've received several emails in the past, which, upon re-reading, appear to be a thinly-veiled attempt to up their web site traffic (not mine!). (Sigh) Ah, the humanity, being out for gain at the expense of others...

    On a similar topic, I talked with a friend the other day about monetized blogs, the whys and hows. I came full circle to my initial stance years ago: I just can't do that, it's against my religion (haha), at least this month. :)

    As always, thank you for your discerning eye, Lorenzo. I'm off to check out 3pp next.

  6. You'll enjoy 3pp, Terresa. I have no deep objections to people running ads on their blogs if that is what they want and need to do, especially if the advertising is relevant to what the blog is about and the author really believes in the product or service. Personally, though, I don't think you will see any here on my own blog; not that my blog would be considered a lucrative advertising vehicle. I got a good chuckle over your comment about coming full circle on this issue(perhaps we spiral more than circle) and on the religious objection (at least this month).

  7. But you're brilliant sans blog awards!! I think the link was sent to you to
    a) remind you how brilliant and necessary you are and
    b) remind you to have a glass of Chianti and toast yourself, the only lapis lazuli elephant many people will ever meet. Distinct, unique and kind.
    Did you light a candle for me in the mountains? Life has been going on so excitingly for me, I think you must have :)

  8. Ruth said...
    Yours is the only art history blog I follow (until now, I just added 3PP, it looks terrific), and I especially like the way you make it personal. Your writing is full of detail and also always includes a bigger picture. You don't just pull information together, which is enough of a task and would be admirable for covering art works. But you also connect the most interesting tidbits that reflect knowledge, but more interestingly, your own insight and personal connections. I'll never forget one of the very first blog posts I read of yours, in which you pointed out details in one of Renoir's paintings, of the boating luncheon, and you also then talked about Caillebotte, whom I did not know yet, and his connection with Renoir. And then you reminded us that the Renoir luncheon painting was the one in the movie "Amelie" that her neighbor painted every year.

    I have been mesmerized by your posts on 'Rilke on Rodin,' and not just because I'm reading about them too. You have a way of writing that turns everything into art.

  9. Oh, thank you, Shaista, for your kindness and the welcome news that things have been going excitingly well for you. Yes, I and others did light a candle in the mountains for you — every day and on every mountain.

  10. Ruth, what are you doing for dinner? I barely know how to respond, but we could begin with Shaista's bottle of chianti... Your generous comment means a lot to me. As people who read me regularly know, I do try to reflect my passion for art on this blog, although without any pretense of expertise or of scholarship. The nice thing about blogging is the freedom it gives us in what we write, and so, yes, I use that liberty to try to personalize my interaction with the things I find so moving and beautiful in the world of painting and sculpture. Although, I try to research the pieces well, they are ultimately about how a painting or an exhibition or a sculpture affects me, admittedly in the wee but resilient heart-hope that others will be moved in a similar way. While this can seem, and is indeed, rather self-centered (it really is all about me), having someone read and respond to them with the warm attention you bring to the posts, with your ready willingness to meet me halfway on these little personal forays, is a blessing and a gift. Let's ask Shaista to join us for that dinner... there will be candles and all.

  11. Ah, the internet tricks. It reminds me of the vanity presses. It's a shame that there are traffic gimmicks out there. Maybe some good will come of it, though, if it leads people here.

    Thank you for the introduction to 3PP. I just took a quick look, and I will definitely check it out further. The AHDB database sounds great, and I'm glad you will be included on the list. This blog deserves to be noted. It is a wonderful resource, but it's even more than that. The conversations are fantastic. I appreciate the time and thought you put into each post.

  12. Hello Lorenzo, apologies for my tardiness in chiming in! Thank you for the kind words of support for 3PP and AHDB. I'm pleased to give those toplisters the boot in the backside they deserve.

    Kind Regards

  13. I think it is a worthy blog and putting a link on the database will be far more useful to art history buffs than the unsolicited requests. I get them all the time and my blog's just personal rubbish. You can earn quite a good living doing this kind of online trawling (note I didn't say trolling). As for The Tenth Daughter of Memory - of course we're out there and we would link to a legitimate writer's blog if we could find one!

  14. I got something similar once only they wanted me to pay a sum to receive my personalized badge.


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