Design Blogs: The New Museums

Lacking the burdens of tradition, bloggers are increasingly functioning as collectors and curators of design. A close look at a good example, 50 Watts.

So you never had the time to study exhibition curation or library science, but nonetheless would love to practice these arts and sciences? Now, thanks to the geeks who devised programs like WordPress and TypePad, uploading a veritable museum, gallery, or library to the Internet is as easy as remembering your login—and considerably more fun.

Many blogs are indeed galleries in the cloud, extending interest with artifacts where traditional museums and libraries will not venture. These blogs are exhibition spaces for pop cultural objects that conventional venues usually keep in uncatalogued storage, like imprisoned feral children, hidden from view to all but persistent doctoral students. Of course, not all these online reliquaries—few, in fact—are as curatorially well-endowed as the brick and mortar museums, but many do provide raw riches from which curators and scholars can study unknown rarities. The rest of us, who stumble upon the sites, can simply enjoy them as eye candy.

I've admired a few of these troves, and the most engaging, for its obsession with bibliographic graphics—book covers, jackets, and illustrations—is called 50 Watts and curated by Will Schofield, a 34-year-old bibliomaniac. He says that as a high schooler from the cultural wasteland of northwest Philly, he just wanted to sit in front of a wall of books "and fritter my life away. I managed to find my way to mind-blowing writers like Beckett and Lautréamont when I wasn't getting in trouble or working at Franklin Mills Mall (home of Milton Glaser's mechanical-Ben-Franklin)." While Schofield was working at an independent bookstore, the Pennsylvania Book Center, the manager, an ex-Marine, admired his "quiet desperation and hopelessness and turned me on to Thomas Bernhard and Cioran and most of my favorite writers. After a few years of back-breaking catering jobs and poverty I landed a job at a small independent publisher where I've now worked for 10+ years as the sole paid employee. I like to call my position 'Editor/Mailboy.' Philly has cheap rent and I don't drive, hence I've been able to afford to amass books all this time."

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Originally called Journey Around My Skull, the site started as an old-fashioned book blog, what Schofield calls an "I like this book and you should read it" blog. From the beginning he included the book covers, so it had a visual component. "Sometime in 2008 I trash-picked Biology Today, an early-1970s textbook with fantastically strange illustrations," he says. "I featured the book and got a lot of positive feedback. Soon I started to collect illustrated books and to contact artists about showcasing their work, and the blog morphed into its graphic-intensive state."

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Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

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