I was checking the other day through notes I had made for a panel discussion in IADT, to which I was invited by Jason Oakley of VAI. I enjoyed the afternoon a lot, but the details are gone from my memory. What I do have is something I wrote for the discussion about how to look at an art publication:
Much of publishing is a sort of ‘meta’ activity – what matters is not the content of the publication but the fact that it exists and that certain people and organisations contributed to it. So the publication becomes about itself, rather than being about the art that it relates to.
Here is something that I do pretty much every day. A new publication comes into the office. If I have time, I pick it up and page through it. If I’m in ‘editor’ mode, I’m noting, roughly in this order, the following: (a) cost of printing and distributing the publication; (b) who funded it; (c) who designed it; (d) who is writing in it; (e) and finally, who the artists are and what it is about. This may take 30 seconds. In that time I’ve got all the information I need – basically, who’s getting money from whom and who is willing to write for whom.
If I’m in artist mode, the order is more or less reversed: I want to know what the work is like, then who did it, then who wrote about it, then what they said, then how it all got put together, then who paid for it, then how much and how it got distributed.
These are very different ways of looking at the same object. When it comes to assessing a publication, the nonartist in the visual arts will be thinking ‘how?’ – how did this thing come together? – while the artist will approach asking ‘what?’ – what art is in the publication? When an artist is trying to figure out how a publication will work in the outside world, he or she would do well to think, at least from time to time, as a nonartist would.
Footnote: Repetition is of value: if I get a product once, I may be interested or not; if I get an update on it three months later, it implies continuity, funding, commitment…