Saturday, 3 November 2012

Art: Developing critical writing on the contemporary visual arts

Entering the world of critical art writing can be challenging for emerging writers. Between February and July 2012, Axisweb, in partnership with Arts Council Wales, Art Review and This is Tomorrow, ran a programme of writing workshops and publication support for three emerging writers based in Wales.

The Critical Writing Programme comprised of writing workshops and professional mentoring by three established critics: JJ Charlesworth, associate editor of ArtReview; Cherry Smyth, who writes regularly for publication including Modern Painters, Art Monthly, and Art Review; and Chris Sharratt, editor of

“We wanted to develop a professional writing programme that took people away from an academic style, to one which is engaging to a wider audience,” explained Project Coordinator Alicia Miller, “bringing in professionals to give seminars and act as mentors is immensely valuable.”

Three writers were selected in December 2011 to participate in this year’s project: artist Ciara Healy, filmmaker Rowan Lear, and artist, Brychan Tudor. They participated in three half-day workshops which covered a range of subjects including: how to write to a specific audience and engage readers; how to write to different guidelines and specification, and conduct yourself as professional writers; how to find your voice and style, and have the confidence to speak critically.

Ciara Healy’s review of Jonathan Anderson exhibition ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen, was published by This is Tomorrow, and has also had her work published in Art Review. “It’s completely changed my career, it’s fantastic!” Ciara explained, “it has really given me the confidence to approach my writing. I was always uncertain about writing poetically and critically and now I’ve developed my own style that I’m more confident about using. It’s my voice that I finally feel as though I’m speaking.”

Rowan Lear produced three pieces of writing that were published by This is Tomorrow, including a review of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition ‘Observation Point’ at Camden Art Centre, London. Rowan saw the project as “a really positive experience. It gave me a real confidence boost with my writing. I learnt some really useful skills like how to write to guidelines and how to get work published.”

Brychan Tudor’s review of Singapore artist Zhao Renhui ‘The Institute of Critical Zoologists’ exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff was also published by This is Tomorrow. Brychan thought that “it was an incredible experience. It was a chance to get a real feel the professionalism of writing. It wasn’t just meeting the writers, but I learnt a lot from the other participants.”

The experience was a positive one for all involved. Chris Sharratt, a mentor on the programme, was delighted that his “advice and feedback was useful. I think you can sometimes take for granted the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, and working with writers who are still finding their feet is really rewarding.” Cherry Smyth explained that “all of the participants had particularly strong voices which made it very easy to identify their style and their interests. It was really a joy to do.”

There are plans to run the project again next year to help raise the profile of Welsh arts and emerging writers based in the region.

This article was featured in Axis Notes 2012.

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