buckner: Writing About Art
I’m working my way through a stack of papers by art students from a class called Writing About Art. These are kids who have very little experience writing; mostly they take studio art and design classes. I find myself writing the same comments over and over, so I came up with this list of commandments to hand out tomorrow. I thought I would post it here. Any other suggestions?
The Ten Commandments of Writing About Art:
1. Never use an artist’s or anybody’s first name in a piece of writing.
2. Don’t talk about what you don’t know, or didn’t know until you wrote this paper. Be assertive in your opinions. Don’t capitulate with phrases like “kind of,” “sort of,” “could be,” or “almost like.”
3. Don’t refer to the paper as an assignment or talk about why you chose your subject.
4. Don’t quote non-famous people. This is a controversial commandment and might find opposition in some quarters of academia. That’s why their papers are so boring. Always go to the source first. If you’re writing about Matisse, find out first what Matisse says. Then quote the opinions of people the reader is interested in knowing, like Picasso or Giacometti—but not just any academic scribbler.
5. Don’t generalize too much about the artist’s work. Describe specific examples.
6. Tell stories, but do so strategically to strengthen what you are trying to describe. Term papers need to be more formal than narrative writing. Don’t just blather on about how you went to the museum and saw this or that painting, etc.
7. Use your natural voice. Be honest and genuine. Don’t try to sound intellectual. Carefully edit fragments and run-on sentences.
8. Plot out the overall structure of your paper. Where is it going? Don’t meander.
9. Give historical background, but don’t let it dominate the paper. It’s too easy and it becomes very tedious.
10. Entertain me.