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Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia – Writing About Art

Writing About Art

Essay by Liz Howe

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” – Elvis Costello

Great quote, and in, part so true. And yet there is the human urge to interpret, understand or alight upon that to which we are so visually drawn. Writing is a means through which the eye, the hand, the heart and the mind commune to illuminate the artwork. It is a deep form of appreciation that connects the artist, the writer and the wider audience in an open conversation. The artist offers the work to the world, the writer offers a response. The audience is offered free entry into further discussion, thought and consideration of the artist’s work.

Writing about art is like dancing to music. A good writer dives into the work; dipping under the surface to explore not just the melody. She invites the work to reveal its hidden structures through timbre, harmony and rhythm. She takes the time to dance along. She slows down and listens to the work.

This act is not commerce, it is not celebrity, personality or autobiography.

Strong writing about art tunes out other stations long enough to listen and feel. A good writer intensely engages the art work and the resonance it transmits. Each review, each article, each deeply considered note written in gallery comment books across the world breathes vital energy into the creative process. This process fuels creative life for the artist, as the artist’s work fuels creative life for the writer.

The writer’s archetypical ‘typewriter’ is currently cluttered with information. Turning on the computer yields constant internet chatter; daily technical tricks exposed, exhibition announcements, images of new work or what our favorite artist had for breakfast! Snippets of information such as these connect us through the alluring cult of personality but they do not feed contemplation, introspection or study. The pace of wisdom is much slower.

The writer Jeanette Winterson states:
“Right now human beings as a mass, have a gruesome appetite for what they call ‘real’, whether it’s Reality TV or the kind of plodding fiction that only works as low-grade documentary, or at the better end, the factual programs and biographies and ‘true life’ accounts that occupy the space where imagination used to sit.Such a phenomenon points to a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.”

And just like the artist aims to express an inner urging and make connection with the wider world the writer must dig into the inner life of the artwork she examines. Offering her words so that, “other voices might be heard, speaking of the life of the mind and the soul’s journey.”

I invite you to engage with and enter into the life of work that draws you in. Sit with it and and feel, be with it then respond. Seek to know more about about it and share those thoughts with others…with the artist, with the world. In this way you participate in and offer energy to the creative life. In the process your own creativity will be enlivened.