How To Write About Contemporary Art

As I am faced with page 40 of How To Write About Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams, I am presented with a series of points, questioning the role of art writing in a contemporary context. These questions are as follows;

-Does meaning adhere to art, as an intrinsic core buried inside the artwork, extracted by the attentive writer/observer?

-Or is art’s meaning produced by the critic’s inventions?

-Do art-texts -as skeptics accuse- attempt to conjure a kind of spell, transforming ordinary things into precious art through the incantation of special words?

-Are art-writers ‘talking (or writing) artworks into existence’?

-Is art-writing a parasite, a surplus cleaving itself to artworks better off without them?

-Or is it like a helpful companion, trotting alongside artworks like a subservient, modest guide dog?

By contemplating each point, I start to evaluate my place as an art writer and more specifically as a art reviewer. As Williams discusses prior to these questions, there has been a shift in art writing. Rather than a review being a direct praise or criticism, it can now be described as a ‘interpretation’ or ‘contextualisation’. As an amateur writer, I am constantly being asked/asking myself what kind of writing i’m interested in and what my role as a writer is. My current feelings is that I am interested in art reviewing. However, when asked, the thought of saying that I am an “art review” or even worse “art critic” makes me want to cover my face and hide.

As an art writer, I do believe we are extracting a inner meaning to an artwork and to a certain extent, we create it’s meaning. It’s meaning is our own interpretation and is not set in stone. It is merely an explanation of a possibility and can be dismissed by the artist or viewer.

Going back to the title art critic or reviewer and referring specifically to question three; I do believe there are connotations surrounding the title due to specific art language or ‘special words’ used within particular writings. These words add hardly anything to the quality of an art writing, instead by using these ‘special’ words, the art reviewer is isolating an entire audience who are not directly involved in the arts. I believe that by including an interesting range of vocabulary, you can educate your reader and therefore engage them. Choosing the right words is vital to attracting, rather than scaring the audience. If an artwork is ordinary, the text can not transform it, however, it can be extraordinary in its own right. As a writer, it is partly our job to find something interesting about an artwork and in doing so, the text becomes an important document. Therefore, I do agree that art writers are ‘talking (or writing) artworks into existence’.

When trying to pinpoint the purpose of my own art writing, my prefered vision is the last question presented above. Though I dislike the term ‘modest guide dog’, I do like the idea of being a helpful companion. Whilst I believe that art writing should be challenging and critical when appropriate, I strongly believe that it should be relevant and helpful. In many cases, my interpretation of art discusses a personal experience that all can read, enjoy and learn from. It is very much an accompaniment to the artwork, however, it does offer an opinion which has been considered in a contemporary setting.


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