How to write About Contemporary Art Without Coming off all Twatty Or Ekphrasis vs Transubstantiation


What is dead bad for a start is a shit title for your thing. And then what's bad is maybe a bad opening sentence. But then a badder thing is over-intelligenting your thing; either that or repetition. Do not talk down (or up) to your reader. Try to sound exactly like they do when they talk to themselves in their head.

And you should say what your thing is about first of all before you put down your ideas about it.

But if your title says what's coming up then you can jump right in.

Secret Tip 1 - Spellcheck.

First. The best thing of all would be to don't write anything and just enjoy art.

Second. I met one artist and he said 'I don't know what my art means,' and I mean, if they couldn't say what it was about then what chance do you have. Or me.

Well ‚a big chance‘ is the answer. Because any artist who says that is just an awful bullshitter.

Secret tip 2 - Count the adverbs. Use 2. Tops.

It's you anyway who has the best chance to say what something is because you are the one looking at it. Aren't you?

So think about it. Google it. Google the artist. Read about him or her talk to him or her, read the curator‘s exhibition schpeel and/or the catalogue bit and then you write about it.

For example:

Theres this exhibition called X by X at X. It is mostly things X-coloured made of X. Its about X which is different to what X did in 20XX.

This is relevant today because X.

If 'X' is not the name of the artist you are writing about then replace it with the name of the artist you are writing about. Ho ho.

Note: Slot your own opinion of the art into this formula at your own peril. I mean it's your funeral, mate. That is unless you have something really evil, really funny, or most importantly, really relevant to add.

Use words like 'punctilious'. Don't use words like 'nice' or 'Hitlerianisation'.

If you get too flowery and poetic become a poet; it might suit you what with all the flowery words and poetry. Right?

Secret tip 3 - Don't listen to spellcheck when you make up words like Hitlerianisation to make a point. Spellcheck does not know everything.

And above all be original...


Writing about Painting

Winter is here. I tend to write more in the winter months. This has been a productive year as regards my studio art work but the time for reflection is upon me.

I do reflect daily on my and others' art of course but it is all too rarely that I reflect on the impact (or lack of) my choice of materials and subject matter has had on others as well as on myself over the last 6 months.

A fair number of well meaning people who have actully seen my many paintings, collages and assemblages this year have told me that… they like my writing...

This is material enough, I think you would agree, for some serious reflection.

Whenever I am asked who the most influential artist has been for me I innevitably answer Marc Rothko.

It occured to me just today that it is not Rothko's paintings which have been so influential per se but the book I read about him in 1992.

Rothko's 'difficult' art was explained to me in such a way as to open my eyes to, not just Marc Rothko, or to abstract expressionism but to a whole new way of looking at and appreciating art.

It would appear I learnt more about writing about painting than painting paintings.

Painting about Writing

Much of what I make is conceptual, philosophical or even literary in content and meaning. When I work instinctively without due forthought I compare my work to James Joyce or Gertrude Stein or Louis Aragon. Never to other painters.

Last month I visited the Jiri Kolar retrospective at the National Gallery here in Prague and was beside myself to learn that there was a book available, in the gallery shop, in which there was a mix of Jiri's collages alongside short poems and aphorisms of his own making. The book cost 60 Euro and remains on the shelf. But the thought of reading his creative writings for the first time was/is so exciting to me.

Grayson Perry's book 'Playing to the gallery'

Van Gogh's letters

Andy Warhol's Diaries

Paul Gaughain's 'Noa Noa'

Wassily Kandinsky's essays

Marc Chagall's 'My Life'

John Berger's writings

All of these have given me so much more emotional pleasure than the actual art.

Anyone who has seen my art will notice that I find it impossible not to write on it. Whether it's nonsense, a number, a quote or one dangling word, there will always be something there which I want you to read.

To explain myself?

To explain the piece?

To distract the viewer from my lack of belief in the work?

Or just because alphanumerics are pretty?

I clearly have some reconciling to do here.

The worst writing about art can come across as a clever excuse for bad work.

The best writing about art is usually subjective and it says what it sees.

I like the type of writing about art which is philosophical but not exclusive. Light but not dumb. Honest without being irritatingly sincere.

The type of painting I like often looks scribbled and has writing in it.

My own paintings are mostly scribbled and have writing in them.

I want to make a mess and I want you to understand it.

And so I write. I write because I also want to understand it.

I still believe the answer to life the universe and everything will fit on a t-shirt. And so I write in the hope that one day I will stumble across this elusive perfect statement.

I do not believe that an image alone can save the day. At least not one made by me.

And so I write.

I know I have read literature which echoed the 'itness' of it all.

Did I ever see a picture that said it all?

Door to the River - Willem de Kooning

Étant donnés (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) - Marcel Duchamp

John William Waterhouse - Hylas and the Nymphs

Anyways…in conclusion…

Art is the fun to be had explaining the obvious.


Hope you enjoyed all that. Follow me on Instagram, like me on Facebook and feel free to say 'Hi' to me on either one of those or even on the contact page of this very website.

Also follow and like our Alt*Art Society FB page. Also find me at Elpsis Boo Channel on youtube.

I am committed to making this blog as snappy, fun, experimental and accessible as I can. If any of what I post, paint, paste or print resonates with you, please forward to friends and colleagues with wild abandon!

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