Art Talk with Christopher Jobson of Colossal
“[A]rt is the highest form of human expression, and when it’s threatened, we risk losing our cultural identity.”—Christopher Jobson
With more than 300,000 Facebook fans, 71,000 Twitter followers, and nearly 5,000,000 monthly page views, it’s fair to say that the art blog Colossal, is, well, colossal. The brain child of Chicago-based designer Christopher Jobson, the three-year-old blog has become a must-read thanks to Jobson’s careful curation of artwork running the gamut from the outsider-ish scupltures of Blair Somerville to Alberto Seveso’s art-science photography to the now-viral photo of a frog caught jumping just as NASA was sending a spacecraft into orbit. We spoke with Jobson via e-mail to find out who are his must-reads, why art matters, and how a close encounter with art historical “smut” as a schoolboy changed everything.
NEA: What’s your 10-word bio?
CHRISTOPHER JOBSON: Creator and editor of Colossal, a blog about art and visual culture.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience of the arts?
JOBSON: In second grade my buddies and I went to the school library and found an old art history book. Flipping through the pages, we discovered large fold-outs of classical oil paintings that depicted nudes in various poses, and, as you might expect from a group of little boys, we started snickering and fighting over the book. At that moment, our teacher came over and caught us. Without saying a word, she grabbed the book and carefully removed several of the fold-out spreads. We were shocked. And embarrassed. And a little terrified. Apparently, it was okay to tear apart books with “inappropriate” images.
Later that day, when we came back to class after lunch, all the pages of nude paintings had been laminated and were now hung on the walls where they remained for months. That might have been the moment I truly began to recognize and respect creative expression. It was an extremely important lesson about art and context that made a huge impression on myself as well as all the other students.
NEA: What was the spark for Colossal? What’s your mission statement/guiding principle?
JOBSON: Colossal was born from a lack of creativity and inspiration in my own life. I had been working for years as a web designer in a role that was personally unfulfilling and was unsure of what to do about it. As a way to expose myself to new ideas in art and design, I started the blog as a way to catalog and share the interesting things I encountered around the web. Three years later it’s still going and has completely taken over my life.
I want Colossal to be a place where anyone, from any background, can discover art and aspects of visual culture that are interesting, fun, and approachable. To that end I shy away from criticism and interpretation and instead provide as many resources as possible for visitors to learn more on their own. I want to share art as it is, without justification.
NEA: What do you call the work you do—arts journalism, arts blogging, arts writing, none of the above—and why?
JOBSON: I don’t think I would refer to myself as an arts journalist, or even a writer for that matter. That said, on Colossal you’ll find lots of writing; some of it is even quoted by actual journalists! I generally treat the blog more as an ongoing web-based art gallery than a collection of thoughts or essays. The images are what’s most important, followed by supportive text and other information.
NEA: What’s your advice for anyone who wants to start their own arts blog?
JOBSON: Blog every day.
The goal in the beginning should be to find fulfillment and happiness for yourself in whatever you’re writing about. Make sure that after your 50th post and your 500th post you’re having just as much fun as you were when you started. Don’t be concerned with traffic or followers.
Spend time making sure your blog has a unique design and doesn’t feel like a template. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just different.
Lastly, find things that nobody else is talking about. I think it’s important for new blogs to contain large amounts of original content if growth is [a concern]. This is the hardest part, but it’s what pays off the most.
NEA: What are your five favorite arts-related blogs?
JOBSON: Lately I’m enjoying Booooooom, Hyperallergic, My Modern Metropolis, The Fox is Black,and PetaPixel. They are all frequently updated with all kinds of great art, photography, and arts-related news, so each influences what appears on Colossal and challenges me to be a better blogger.
NEA: What kind of arts blog do you wish someone was writing that doesn’t yet exist?
JOBSON: I wish some brilliant, engaging writer would start a humorous art history blog. Something that uncovers all the hilarious, unexpected, and awful stories that have happened throughout the history of art and is able to tell it in a way that doesn’t put people to sleep.
NEA: Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
JOBSON: Sarah Sze, Arno Minkkinen, Tony Cragg, Jason deCaires Taylor, Antony Gormley, Maya Lin, Andy Goldsworthy. I am fascinated by environmental art as well as explorations of the human form, that strange point where humans collide with the natural, a place where I think all of these artists are doing amazing work.
NEA: In addition to starting Colossal, what’s the best arts/culture-related decision you’ve ever made?
JOBSON: I think deciding to move from rural Texas to attend Columbia College in Chicago dramatically altered the course of my cultural upbringing. It exposed me to all kinds of creative influences from art/design to modern dance to creative writing that would plant the seeds for what Colossal has become.
NEA: What’s your elevator pitch to someone who’s wondering why the arts matter?
JOBSON: I was thinking the other day that it would be great if somebody made a video montage of all the scenes in apocalyptic films where you see the Mona Lisa being hurriedly packed into a crate. When the art is being loaded into a bunker, you know things are getting serious. But honestly, what a great way for a filmmaker to quickly and concisely share what we all know to be true: that art is the highest form of human expression, and when it’s threatened, we risk losing our cultural identity.
NEA: What does “Art works” mean to you?
JOBSON: For me “art works” would be the emotional transformation that occurs through the act of creating art, or experiencing it. That precise moment of discovery that forever changes you, however significant or imperceptible.