Good Ideas About Bad Writing

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The comment stream on yesterday’s post about bad art writing has been particularly good.

1. I agree with “ruthk’s” point that the rise of curatorial gibberish is linked to the desire of museum people to demonstrate to university scholars that they can still talk the talk, and that by moving to the more populist world of exhibitions they haven’t sold out. (Though given the typical curator’s salary, “sold out” is not the right term.) This kind of remorse was common in the 1940s and ’50s among literary novelists who were lured to Hollywood to write screenplays. The solution then was to start smoking a pipe. I wonder if that would work now.

2. I was interested in “jrirwin’s” point that the problem begins in college, where art history students aren’t expected to think independently, just to master whatever is the prevailing jargon of their field and regurgitate it on papers and exams. Sorry to hear that nothing has changed since I went to school in the ’70s, or for that matter since Dickens.

3. “Sprung” is right about artists’ statements. A lot of them are written in the same dreary language, which is probably a consequence of the fact that so many artists come out of MFA programs at the same universities that churn out the curators.

4. As for Anthony Calnek’s comment that so many texts are badly written because art is difficult to write about — trust me, I know all about it. I fall down on the job all the time.

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