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Art Writing Emerges as a Practice
The teaching team of the MFA in Art Writing at Goldsmiths, London, along with Maria Fusco, composed sentences as a form of art practice in 2011. Here, considerations on the first of these sentences.
When I first read that the teaching team and students of the MFA in Art Writing created by Maria Fusco, at Goldsmiths (University of London) had written a manifesto in 2011 by composing sentences as a form of art practice, I was intrigued. What is art writing? How does it differ from other writing, like poetry or literature? Does art writing erase visual art or complement it? And what is practice?
Fusco, a Belfast-born writer, now teaches Interdisciplinary Writing at the University of Dundee in Glasgow. She was awarded a PhD from the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at The University of Edinburgh and founded a journal for and about art writing called “The Happy Hypocrite”.
When interviewed by C. Sharatt, in 2018, about the manifesto Fusco explained: “What was new about the Goldsmiths MFA was that, before the course began in earnest, art writing was not an academic subject; it was the first time it was acknowledged as an academic field that had some sort of visibility. The program was making visible practices, plural, that were already happening for some time. For example, Andy Warhol wrote a novel, A, basically a big transcription, in 1968, and Salvador Dalí had written a very bad artist’s novel, Hidden Faces, in 1944.” 1
We can think of other, more recent instances where art writing has emerged forcefully. The generation of artists that came to prominence during the mid to late 60s (the first to have attended universities) explored ideas and concepts not linked necessarily to a visual form and used word and writing as part of their practice. Sol Lewitt’s drawing instructions, Richard Serra’s Verb List, Yoko Ono’s Explanatory Cards are but a few examples.
Fusco believes in teaching yourself through practice, therefore she extended that concept to her pedagogical approach. She thinks you can become proficient in art writing as a result of repeated exercise of it. Her classes involved mostly writings on what the students were already interested in as opposed to class assignments. So what is art writing?
The ninth statement of the manifesto attempts to clarify by stating that it addresses material literary forms, which draws attention to the spatiality of writing and the physicality of its support, but the interests of Art Writing diverge from those of literature.
The Glasgow School of Art describes Art Writing as: “Drawing from disciplines including visual art, art criticism, art history and literature, this interdisciplinary field is as much about creative production as it is concerned with critical discourse.” 2
In S. Moonie’s essay on writer and art historian Charles Harrison she states that for him: “Art Writing addresses material literary forms, which draw attention to the spatiality of writing and the physicality of its support, but the interests of Art Writing diverge from those of literature... it involves relations between people.” 3
In Art Writing, words are not just displayed in graphic form, they attain a sense of presence, they create space, they name, they define, and may even clarify. Criticism, curation, and independent publishing are all forms of Art Writing. In his essay about art critics Pablo Lafuente believes that in certain instances: “...the work made by the artist is not exactly the same work written about by the critic. The critic makes the work appear other than it is, producing a new work.” 4
Finally we look into the meaning of the term “practice”. The dictionary defines it as a “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2019). Fusco believes in teaching yourself through practice. Therefore, her classes were developed from the students personal interests rather than from fixed assignments.
Karl Marx uses the term “praxis”, to refer to the free, universal, creative activity through which man creates and changes his historical world and himself. “Praxis is an activity unique to man, which distinguishes him from all other beings.” And defining a habit as “being a structuring structure that organizes practices and the perception of practices”. 5
The anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, who was strongly influenced by the relationship between culture and power, developed a Practice Theory that reinterpreted culture’s definition. Previously “there was an accepted concept that people are influenced, and possibly defined, by their culture. Anthropologists would attribute human action and practice in relation to their respective culture. However, this frame sometimes led to cultural stereotyping and profiling of people to explain how they acted in relation to their culture. In contrast to this approach, Practice Theory acknowledges that culture is a thing that is mobile, and therefore does not exist where certain ethnicities are based, but can spread across areas. In this view of culture, it is a thing that does not define people; rather the people define it by giving it meaning in their lives.” 6
Art Writing viewed through this lens can reframe art to be better defined by the groups that practice and the ones that write about it.
Fusco says she believes “that ‘art writing’ is a redundant phrase now”. She continues by explaining “that ‘interdisciplinary writing’ is a clearer, more nuanced phrase” 7 and as such has renamed her course “Interdisciplinary Writing” now at the University of Dundee in Glasgow where she teaches.
We could argue that Art Writing has been named within an academic institution, renamed Interdisciplinary Writing within another, and remains a practice. Which is perhaps to the discipline’s benefit since, according to Lafuente “there is no point in institutionalizing art criticism when art is involved in breaking boundaries. Today anything can be art then audience can be anyone. With the disappearance of criteria, the possibility of defining an audience disappears too.”8 The same conclusion could be applied to all forms of Art Writing.
1 Sharatt, C. (2018, November 1). Writing as a visible practice: An interview with Maria Fusco. School Watch - Art &Education.
2 ClaireBiddles. (n.d.). The Glasgow School of Art. Art Writing. https://www.gsa.ac.uk/study/graduate-degrees/art-writing/
3 Moonie, Stephen. 2022. “Our Cherished Moments of Involuntary Realism: Charles Harrison, Modernism, and Art Writing” Arts 11, no. 1: 23. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts11010023
4 Lafuente, P. (n.d.). Notes on art criticism as a practice. Institute of Contemporary Arts. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from https://archive.ica.art/bulletin/notes-art-criticism-practice/
5 Wolff, J., & Leopold, D. (2020, December 21). Karl Marx. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/#TheoHis
6 Ortner, S. (n.d.). Practice theory. Theory + Anthropology / Practice Theory. http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532696/Practice%20Theory
7 Sharatt, C. (2018, November 1). Writing as a visible practice: An interview with Maria Fusco. School Watch - Art &Education. https://www.artandeducation.net/schoolwatch/229480/writing-as-a-visible-practice-an-interview-with-maria-fusco
8 Lafuente, P. (n.d.). Notes on art criticism as a practice. Institute of Contemporary Arts. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from https://archive.ica.art/bulletin/notes-art-criticism-practice/