Last week I made my case for you to become an arts writer/reviewer. Judging by the comments, a number of subscribers are now on their way to starting their art-writing journeys.
Today I want to give you tips on how to write about other artists’ exhibits.
Get The Facts
Gather as much information as possible about the exhibit you’ll see before visiting. Look for answers to the following in press releases and blog posts.
Who? Who is in the exhibit? Who organized the exhibit? Who is the curator?
What? What is the exhibit about (its curatorial thesis or purpose)? What is included in the exhibit? What is the entrance fee? What do you know about the artists and artwork you’ll be seeing?
Where? Where is the venue, including the street address? Where can you park?
When? When does the exhibit open? When does it close? When is the best time to see it?
Why? Why this exhibit? Why now? Why should your readers care?
How? How can you get a complimentary pass? How can you secure images to use in your article? How can you get in touch with the curator or artists?
Plan Your Visit
Call or email the venue to make sure they’ll be open and that you’ll be visiting at a relatively quiet time. Some smaller galleries seem to close on a whim. Likewise, you don’t want to look at the work when school tours are going on!
Venues with entrance fees will often give legitimate publication journalists a complimentary pass, but you must be established and prove you have a significant following.
Make a cursory walk-through of the space. How is it arranged? Is it chronological? By artist? By subject? By media?
What’s good about the installation? What strikes you as “off”?
Look deeper. What work stands out as worthy of your attention? Select 3 or 4 pieces (depending on the space you have) and focus on those works.
Why do you like them? What makes them strong? How do they relate to one another and the exhibit as a whole?
I write almost exclusively about work that I like because (1) I’d rather spend more time with work that I like and (2) I enjoy the challenge of persuading readers to my line of thinking. Also, in all honesty, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t write to be critical, but to point out strengths.
Jot Down Notes
Do not run through an exhibit with your camera and go home to write. Your digital images can neither replace the experience you have with the art itself nor can it replicate the relationship of the works to one another.
Sit your butt down and write in the gallery. Ask for a stool or chair if you need one.
Get permission to take pictures and ask the venue if they have preferred credit lines for you to use. Make sure all names are spelled correctly. Double and triple check the facts for accuracy.
Make Sense of It All
Go home and put your thoughts together. You’ll forget your brilliant ideas if you wait until tomorrow.
Write that crappy first draft immediately and revise it in 2 or 3 sessions until time runs out. If you’re working without a deadline, make one up. In my experience, nothing motivates more than a due date.
I’m planning to tackle this subject in more depth. What do you want to know that will help you with your reviews of other artists’ work?