Writing about Art

Back in 2004, I was lucky to be able to attend the annual College Art Association (CAA) conference in Seattle. Most people go to the conference to present papers or to interview for jobs. I just went to see what it was all about. I attended many of the sessions, hung out with friends, did a little sight-seeing, and saw some art while I was there.

In a cleaning frenzy yesterday, I came across some information that I had saved from the conference. At my professor's request, I had typed up my notes and presented them to my fellow grad students. I found the CD with the notes, so I thought I'd share some of the info with you, too.

Below are my notes from a session titled "Harnessing the Power of the Pen: Professional Writing Strategies for Future Artists, Art Historians, and Museum Professionals." I've previously posted my opinions and tips on writing an artist's statement, but the panelists also talked specifically about writing grants and writing as a curator and as a freelancer. I've listed the panelists and their specific advice:

Artist’s Statements
Madeline Djerejian, photographer
Stressed the importance of voice and consideration of audience.
There are no real rules for artist’s statements, but there are certain things that people want to read.
Introduces the reader to your work and to you
Supplement to visual information
Not so much a description but it should make people want to look at your work
Crystallizes your thoughts about the work
Should stand on its own and be clear

There are different kinds of statements for different situations
· Specific body of work
· Body of work as a whole (philosophy)
· 1 page - may accompany a show or a grant application
· 1 or 2 paragraph statement for a portfolio or application
· 25-word statement – central idea for a cover letter or bio

Keep notes while you’re working
Consider your audience – assume that the reader has never seen your work
Don’t be defensive – consider that the reader is interested
Use plain and direct language
4 or 5 points might be enough

Consider:
1. What kind of materials are you using and why?
2. Where did the initial inspiration for the work come from?
3. What is the central or guiding image in the work?
4. Are there elements such as sound or installation?
5. Any notable collaborators?
6. Where does the piece fit into your overall work or career?
7. Is the work a limited edition?
8. Is there a specific venue that the work is geared for?

People don’t want to struggle to read it – avoid flowery or pretentious language
Develop a strong first sentence and opening
Keep it as short as possible
Don’t explain everything
Don’t announce what you’re trying to do, just say what you’ve accomplished
Don’t use catch-phrases
Be specific
Not just a list of things you like and don’t like; tell us why
Use first person
Don’t use “we”
Don’t be ashamed of your obsessions or interests if it’s directly related to the work
Don’t be wishy-washy
Don’t brag
Be careful with poetic language
OK to be personable and fun
Remember that it’s your statement
Use 12-point font
If you are given guidelines for a specific application, follow them
Ask a non-artist to read it
Spell check
Be honest with yourself
It’s never finished for very long (revise it periodically)
Review your statement alongside the work
Be true to yourself and true to your work
Suggested looking at http://www.nyfa.org/ to see successful artist’s statements (ones that have received grants)

 

Curatorial Writing
Bruce Robertson, Center for American Art, LA
From object label to catalog essay:
· The voice is coming from inside the museum, heavily institutional
· There is a heavy editing process (editors, PR, education, marketing)
· Give up ownership – just something that is there to be used
· It’s more important for it to be out than to be perfect
· Audience is the public; consider that you’re writing for an educated public (college freshmen, not educated in art, no need for dumbing down; you’re just extending their knowledge base)
· You can’t tell the whole story
· Most is rhetorical – public speech aimed at a community
· You want to convince an audience of some point and that it’s important
· There’s a pressure in institutions for blandness
· Don’t use abstract or passive language; vary your sentence structure

Grant Writing:
· The audience is usually someone with a non-art degree
· Get their attention in the first paragraph
· Aimed generally
· Object and question first, theory second
· Say what it is first, in simple language
· Follow the guidelines
· Don’t parade your genius
· Foucault is not going to read it – nobody cares about your academic theories

Freelance Writing
Lorraine Karafel, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Metropolitan Museum of Art
She is a writer trained as an art historian
Freelance writing is sometimes scholarly writing, sometimes exhibit reviews, articles, proposals, exhibition materials, audio guides, of film strips.
The structure, language, and length are specific to the type of material and different information is included
Consider that a book is read privately and a label is read publicly
You’re often reshaping long into short and re conceiving it and how it is used
Use words to make the subject compelling
Might need to bring a different viewpoint to the writing
Reveals the writer’s personal relationship to the work
Include the history and why it is a work of art
Choose what conveys understanding of the work
Audience may be peers
Determine audience and gear the writing to them
Thoughtful and intimate
Research and knowledge presented in a passionate form
Look at examples of similar items or publications, look at format, style
Read your text out loud; read it to someone who is not in the field
Must be clear to a wide audience
Reveal your love for the subject
Help the reader experience art in a new way

This article is excerpted from artistemerging.blogspot.com



 

 

 

 

 


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