Stringing the Words Together

How to write about yourself and your artwork so that your audience will get the message.

Many artists are very skilled at producing their work, few of them are equally confident when it comes to writing about that work. Often they feel uncomfortable about “blowing one’s own trumpet” but the reality is that the exercise is necessary. We live in an age when we expect information to be freely available on almost any subject – how often do you think to yourself, ‘must get a book about that next time I go to the library’, or more often these days, ‘must Google that when I get an opportunity’?

Writing about your work can take many forms. There are artist statements to go with a particular piece or pieces of work, autobiographical notes for catalogues etc., flyers and other publicity material for exhibitions or shows or your own studio. Maybe you would like to have your own website so that people can see your work on the net – this is by no means expensive or beyond anyone’s reach, but it does need care. A website which does not run properly, or where links don’t work etc. is worse than no website at all and gives a very unprofessional image.

The content of your writing is probably the most important part. There is an oft-quoted maxim in writing, write about what you know, so writing about yourself and your work ought to be easy – but it isn’t. Look at your rough notes, and ask yourself if you have answered the basic questions – Who, What, Why, When, Where and How?  Not all of these questions will be relevant – it might not add to your work at all that you started work on this piece while you were on holiday on the Gold Coast last year, although if you were inspired by the scenery then it may be relevant. If you have considered those questions though, and answered them where appropriate, then you will at least be informing your reader.

As for style, for people who are not used to writing for publication it is often best to remember KISS  (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”). Write as if you were explaining your work to someone who was in the room with you, a stranger with whom you would not use very informal language. Equally, don’t get carried away trying to impress. It is easy to write a piece full of long and flowery words, but if it doesn’t actually say anything then you would have been better off with words of one syllable.

On that note, you need to watch your grammar. If you are not confident, and since grammar is not always taught in schools these days many people aren’t, get yourself a simple book on the subject. Spellchecker on the computer will help with spelling, although it is by no means perfect. It’s easy to type weir instead of were for instance, and spellchecker won’t pick it up. The grammar tool on the computer is not infallible either, but it is a start. Using accepted grammatical structure makes a piece easier to read, as your reader will be familiar with that structure. When you are happy with the way your piece looks, proof read it (on screen to start with assuming you are using a computer). Then print it and proof read again. (Time and again I find that errors which I don’t notice on screen jump out at me as soon as the words are on paper.) Then, when you are happy, give the piece to somebody else to proof read, and don’t be surprised if they pick up at least one error – it is incredibly easy to miss them in your own work. As well as asking them to proof read, ask for comments about the content of the writing, particularly if they are reasonably representative of your intended audience. It never hurts to get a second opinion.

For an artist, the presentation of the work, colour, layout etc ought to be easy. You are probably confident with composition and colour theory, and similar rules can be applied to a piece of text as to an artwork. Choose paper and print colours, fonts, graphics etc to achieve an effect that says what you want to say and fits in with the image you wish to create. Here still, though, keeping it simple has advantages. If you are preparing a piece for print, colours, fancy fonts, etc can work out expensive, and may not necessarily be justified. There are some terrific effects to be had, but you have to ask yourself is it worth it?

If you are creating content for electronic media, whether webpage or something that someone else is going to print, be very careful. A webpage can look very different on different computers. We are all familiar with walking into a TV shop, and seeing the same picture look very different on each TV set, well to some extent a

similar principle applies to computers. Different browsers, monitors, operating systems etc. all play their part, so the effect that you labour for hours to produce on your set up may not look the same on another user’s machine. If in doubt, get expert advice, but unfortunately it is often a case of designing for the lowest common denominator, and forgoing the spectacular for something that works. Even if you are e-mailing somebody a piece that they will print, you should be aware of the pitfalls. If you use an unusual font, for instance, the receiver needs to have that font installed on their computer, otherwise their machine will just substitute the nearest one available, which may not be at all what you wanted. Always ask for a proof, and be prepared to make adjustments if necessary.

When all the fine-tuning has been done, and you have got the writing just the way you want it to look, then go ahead and print it, or commit it to the internet. It is always possible to keep going over something and making minute changes to improve it, but if you keep doing that forever no one else will ever get to read it, which pretty much defeats the purpose. If you are happy that the writing expresses what you feel about your work, then it is achieving your aim, and there will always be another occasion for writing when you can do things a little differently.

Julie Livingstone

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