How to Write an Art Review

Ever thought about writing an art review for your blog or local paper?

Writing art reviews is a great way to meet people and build your credentials. It also provides good practice for honing your eye. You can’t help learning when you look closely and critically at lots of art.

For a number of years I wrote art reviews for various local publications and even a couple of national publications. I’m a little rusty, but here are some tips on writing about art exhibits in galleries, art centers, and museums.

1. Make sure there’s something you will like at the exhibit. It’s hard to write about art that doesn’t spark something in you. The artist’s story may come into play, but your focus for a review is on the art, not the artist.

2. Visit the exhibit at a good time. You don’t want to go when there are tours or sketching sessions in the galleries. You want the space mostly to yourself. You want quiet. Call the venue and ask them to suggest the best time to come. If the person answering the phone doesn’t seem to know much, ask to speak to the education office, curator, or public relations officer.

Plan on spending at least an hour in the galleries.

3. Bring a pen, notepad, and voice recorder
–depending on how you work best. I used to travel up to an hour to review an exhibit. It was nice to have the recorder to help me process my ideas on the ride home.

Check with the venue ahead of time and see if it’s okay to take photos.

Muffy Clark Gill and

Muffy Clark Gill and Nuch Owen Exhibit

4. Scan the galleries and get a feel for the installation (how the work is hung or installed). Are the works in chronological order? Grouped by subject matter or by artist? How has the curator made sense of the large grouping? Use this information to give your reader a sense of being there.

5. Select three or four artworks or artists to highlight in your article.
These are pieces you will describe and talk about by title. Spend most of your time with these works. Sit in front of each one for long periods of time. Write down every detail so you can describe it for your reader.

Note the correct attributions for the art: artist’s name, title, media, date, size (if available). Pick up a list of works on view or copy the text from the labels. Double check your spelling.

6. Select one thing to criticize. If you like everything, your readers will get suspicious. But you don’t have to be as critical as you might think.

I have been known to harp about lighting, display cases, installation, traffic flow, label text, and label styling. I’ve also knocked the way a show was organized (e.g. the juror was anonymous). You might find fault with an artist’s technique, matting (boy, don’t get me started on poor matting!), framing, artistic choices and clichés, or craftsmanship. It makes more sense to criticize installation and curatorial choices in a group show and an artist’s individual choices in a solo exhibit.

7. Take photos of the installation if they’re allowed
. By this, I mean photographs of groupings of art–not of individual pieces. Most venues will allow anyone writing for a print publication to take photos. Photography rules for bloggers are more nebulous.

Note that most installation shots of two-dimensional art is pretty boring. Still, you might want installation photos to help you remember what you saw. For illustrating your article, sculpture adds a lot to an installation image. If there is no sculpture, single artworks might be the best choice to use with your article.

8. Write a draft of your review while your exhibition experience is fresh. I tend to sandwich any criticism between praise of the highlights.

9. Sit on your draft for 24 hours and then look at it with new eyes.

10. Rewrite and edit. Edit your review for spelling, grammar, redundancy, and anything that might put the reader to sleep.

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