Book review: How to Write About Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams
This is an important book for anyone who writes about art and its related disciplines. From Textile Foundations to Sustaining Your Practice as a textile student you are asked to comment on the work of others and your own creative output. This is a skill that does not necessarily come naturally, and many students struggle with it. It is therefore important to get some help. This book is different from the many “how to” writing books because it makes a strong case for knowing your subject and writing creatively about it. It explicitly explains the importance of bringing together observation and critical thinking with articulating your knowledge and conclusions. This is important in all the writing you do as an OCA student, including the learning log, research projects and critical essays. But these skills go beyond your undergraduate studies; informing the artist statements, funding applications and website blurb you will write. It could also be argued that these same skills will positively impact on your work life and improve the way you digest written communication generally. In her talk at the Garage Museum in Russia, Gilda Williams makes the case for artists becoming better writers as the growth of digital technology demands that creative practitioners effectively articulate their motives and conceptual thoughts. This is certainly what we expect from you, as students, through the continued reflective thinking and critical analysis of your own work.
So, what does this book have to offer? How to Write About Contemporary Art lays bare what good writing is. The author picks apart examples of writing to illustrate where the strengths and weaknesses are. Guiding the reader around common pitfalls without suggesting there is a one size fits all formula. It demystifies writing by clearly setting out its purpose in art culture and why it is so important to write with clarity. Covering the many areas where writing in the arts is used this book demonstrates the nuances of different writing styles but encourages you to be brave about your opinions and cultivate a creative spirit. It makes the case for prioritising the development of your writing skills and also taking some time to get each piece of writing right.
The spin off, I think from using this book will be two-fold. Firstly, you will become better at looking and thinking about art, design and craft. It will encourage a more purposeful approach to examining secondary research material, leading to evidenced based knowledge. Inevitably this will contribute to stronger creative practices in your more practical work. Secondly studying this book will help you become a better reader. Not only by being able to identify good sources but also extracting the useful and illuminating information.
I suggest you read this book from cover to cover with pencil in hand to make notes and marking pages you will want to come back to, as I have done. Writing articulately about your work and the work of others is an intrinsic part of your studies so I recommend you set aside time to craft your skill.
How to Write About Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams, published by Thames & Hudson.
Presentation of the book How to Write About Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams at Garage, Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqi_k1RQsnQ&app=desktop
See Joanne’s post about a workshop she attended with Gilda here.