Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why I write ... ask Orwell

I had an assignment due this past week that loosely asked why do you study or write Art History? It was such a challenge, but I finished it with somewhat of a conclusion and I thought I'd share it here. I know I'll never be able to convince everyone, but I want to try... anyway, enjoy:

The intrepid art historian takes on the Orwellian task of ‘Why I write’

I’m hoping that one day in the near future I’ll be able to introduce myself to someone new and dodge the flinching, embarrassing reflex I feel when the topic comes up that I am art history major. Why does it happen? I’m so passionate about art and the discipline I’ve chosen it makes no sense that I should be ashamed to be engaged in said - often neglected - corner of academia. I try to casually brush off any questions with an attempt at nonchalant grace, ‘It’s different. I enjoy it. Something new…etc’, but I see their eyebrows raise, the awkward bobbing of their heads and their sad, twisted smiles that seem to say ‘Oh, you’ll be ok, somewhere out there is a niche for you’. In this world of politics, economic recessions, poverty, natural disasters, and so on, what significance does art history have? Need I validate my choice to pursue a course of study that is desperately in need of attention and, in truth, a fashionable make-over? My approach to writing art history is strongly intertwined with my emotional attachment to the arts and the reason why I’m in this field of study.

In order to discover my approach to writing art history, one needs to know why I love the visual arts. It may be because my mom flooded my childhood with Disney coloring books and easel paints in colors that would have made Joseph, he of the Technicolor Dream Coat, emerald green with envy. Or because my right brain is functioning at ten times the speed of my left, ergo causing an excess of creative thoughts. To be honest, it doesn’t matter how it happened, I love art because it is a liberating expression of emotion, it is reflective of the surrounding culture and times in addition to being a world of adventure and play. Art is this world of magic that confuses and scares people, especially modern and contemporary art and that is partially why there is a stigma attached with it. My ultimate goal as a student of this discipline is to expose the wonderful adventure that I see in it and bring it to the greater public and that directly influences my writing style.

It is difficult studying art history when there are such clichéd stereotypes of art historians, all of which I want to shatter: there is that of the pretentious modern scholar who uses a style and diction that leaves their reader feeling inferior and disengaged with the topic; the second, that disconnected old, stuffy, tweed-wearing professor who smokes a pipe and rambles on about the glory of the Renaissance while sitting in some hallowed hall, often repeating himself and never arriving at a conclusion; and finally the ultra-feminist trying to re-write history and bombarding you with psychological theories about women that make your head spin. I am often assigned readings that feed these stereotypes so well that it is no wonder that many choose to ignore this subject because it is so pretentious, dry and exhausting.

I want to inject a youthful, engaging tone into my art history writings that ultimately draw the reader in and makes them want to learn more about what I’m describing. I want to invite people into my world, where I see art as a challenge and a game – like the wardrobe leading into Narnia. I will acknowledge right now that in trying to use an active and engaging voice I often need to back peddle to make sure I’m getting my point across. However, my writing style is still in its infancy, it is being pruned by my professors, by the readings I encounter and the art that I study.

My upmost goal is to try to engage my audience - enlighten them. A good writer should hold my hand through their thoughts and ideas, pick me up and dust me off when I stumble upon some concept and guide me on the shining path to greater understanding. Two readings I’ve undertaken lately can be brought to the forefront of this. David Foster Wallace’s ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction’, while not an art historical text was an exceptionally interesting read because it was contemporary, made observations I could identify with and did not overpower me with pompous language and tone. I attempt to write clearly and without too many sharp twists and turns, like Foster Wallace and hope that while my choice of diction is casual, it takes on an academic voice. Where Foster Wallace’s writing was a pleasurable experience, I felt as though I was locked in a fierce battle with Stephen Bann when reading his ‘Views on the Past: Reflections on the Treatment of Historical Objects and Museums of History’. He fed right into the disconnected professor stereotype of art historian that I dread reading. I had no emotional engagement with his excerpt at all, something I hope that all writers think about. I got lost in his brilliance, he is clearly an educated fellow, yet I did not grasp the points he was making and felt as though I was going in circles. When I read I want to be left with an idea of who the person is, I want to get to know them through their text and that was something Bann forgot with this paper.

When I write, I want people to come away afterward with a clear idea of why I write and a greater appreciation for art history – I write it because I love it and I want to share it. I'm working on profound. Hoping it will come one day because I want to inform, educate, challenge and inspire others. Until then, I will work on my style and tone in the hopes that I begin to craft the hallmarks of a new era of art historical writing.

- Life is good

Listening to: 'Otherside' - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Observations: Summer doesn't want to let go
Craving: Something profound

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