15 May



My colleague Dany Louise– who will most likely be writing something more nuanced, more diplomatic and less apoplectic about it anon– alerted me to Eleven Statements Around Art Writing, which was published by Frieze a few years ago and perpetrated by the teaching team on the Goldsmiths MFA course in art writing. They should be bloody ashamed of themselves but almost certainly aren’t. I think these people having responsibility for the intellectual and professional development of students is a mild form of institutionalised abuse, since they’re clearly filling their students’ heads with absolute crap, wrongheaded objectives and bad habits in writing. Not to mention the fact that they are patently atrocious writers themselves. Especially where artists or writers are concerned it’s rarely true that those who can do and those who can’t, teach… but this is the exception. These are the ones who really can’t.

The comments are genuinely worth reading, unlike the article. Even Frieze’s co-editor Dan Fox seems increasingly unable to believe the endless rabbit hole of bullshit he’s tumbled into and he vainly makes some attempt to extract sense from these gibberish statements, although the best comment is not by Fox and says simply:


I know exactly how this gentleman feels. For a start, how can a statement be “around” anything? Before anybody gets to the text they’re assailed by a title that’s the worst kind of pretentious bollocks. It’s also inadvertently revealing of the inability of Fusco and co. to actually make assertions that express any courage of conviction. No, they dither “around” statements instead because that’s easier than commiting to the act of saying something and standing by it. I’m sure Nietzsche is not considered cool on the Goldsmiths Art Writing MFA, but as the great syphilitic loon with the soup strainer ‘tache once wrote: “There are terrible people who, instead of solving a problem, bungle it and make it more difficult for all who come after. Whoever can’t hit the nail on the head should, please, not hit it at all.”

‘Eleven Statements Around Art Writing’ is co-authored by the teaching team –Maria Fusco, Michael Newman, Adrian Rifkin and Yve Lomax – of MFA Art Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. It proposes a moment in contemporary production: writing as art practice.

One cannot propose a moment, because a moment is a conceptual, arbitrary, subjective unit of the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future. A moment, by definition, happens and passes outside the influence or choice of any being. Secondly, a large subset of writing has been a form of art (or artistic) practice– or related to or influenced by artistic impulses and imperatives– since the advent of literacy on Earth. To mention only one example, China has a tradition of calligraphic text that goes back thousands of years, in which the act of marking the characters themselves had an ideological or religious dimension, i.e. writing as art practice.

Thirdly, I reject your proposal because you are all twats.

Art Writing emerges as a practice.

This is a great example of the type of artbollocks sentence that is lexically correct English but can’t be parsed into anything that makes any real sense or conveys any useful information. Don’t worry, plenty more of these to come.

Art Writing is a possible form of the liberty of the image.

Art Writing names an approach within contemporary culture that, in wanting new potentials, embraces writing as a problematization of the object of art, its dissemination and forms of exhibition.

I don’t even know what all this could conceivably mean. How do you problematize an object? What for? I also doubt any of the four authors could adequately explain why it’s necessary to problematize objects or what is gained by doing so. Or are they referring to “object” as in purpose? Not that this would make sense either.

Art Writing does not take modalities of writing as given, rather it tends to, and experiments with, non-division between practice and theory, criticism and creativity.

I think this means “art writing does what it wants”, although Art Writing doesn’t actually do anything because it’s a literary genre and not an autonomous entity with desires, volition or an agenda. Writers in every genre and culture have always experimented with the “non-division” (i.e. “putting together” in plain English) of practice, theory, criticism and creativity. Anybody who doesn’t know this– or affects not to know this so as to aggrandise themselves and flatter their own egos– should never be allowed to teach or to hold any kind of academic post.

Art Writing sustains all forms of art criticism, including the experimental and the hybrid. The art work may be intensely engaged with, or it may be the starting point for fictional and poetic developments.

Art Writing is in the situation of a fulcrum.

If Art Writing is in the situation of a fulcrum, then what is being leveraged against it? Of what physical material is Art Writing made? Why are the words “in the situation of” in this sentence when “Art Writing is a fulcrum”, although equally vapid and hollow as a statement, says the same thing in half the space? This is what’s known in my house as a really fucking stupid metaphor. Furthermore it’s an example of art writers using technical and scientific terms with total disregard for what they really mean. The point of any given language having a collectively recognised lexis is that all speakers of that language are, for the most part, able to communicate relatively clearly and efficiently because they all agree that “fulcrum” means “the point against which a lever is placed to get a purchase, or on which it turns or is supported.” In other words, if you start just kidnapping words and unilaterally making meanings up for them without explanation, the result is Babel; linguistic and semiotic chaos. I can start acting as if “fulcrum” means “supermarket”, “my uncle”, “happy” or anything else, but the resulting pronouncements will not be comprehensible to anybody but me. Fulcrum was fulcrum that he was fulcrum to fulcrum fulcrum at the fulcrum.

Art Writing is an anthology of examples.

Art Writing is re-invented in each instance of Art Writing, determining its own criteria.

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.

Is this because literature is actually readable, enjoyable, relevant and the product of craft and creativity?

Art Writing involves relations between people, as discursive. In so far as it is art, Art Writing can engage public space no longer sustained by ground, including that of truth.

“Public space no longer sustained by ground”? Like a playground that fell into a sinkhole? What else could this possibly mean? Truth isn’t a public space either, because truth is another abstract, subjective noun and not a thing that has any objective physical existence you could walk around in or on. That’s why you’ve never heard anybody saying they just bought a lovely sturdy pedestal for their truth, or that all their truth fell off the shelves when their upstairs neighbour slammed the door.

Art Writing institutes such public space without truth, and sometimes disappears into it.

What is Art Writing disappearing into, public space or truth? Apparently there’s lots of stuff around Art Writing, but nobody resembling a copy editor or even a person who speaks English. In any of the possible permutations, none of these three abstract terms can possibly disappear either into each other, or into something that doesn’t exist.

“I can’t find my Art Writing, have you seen it?”

“I think it disappeared into that truth over there a few minutes ago.”

Here is an example of Art Writing disappearing into its own arse. I’ve seen a lot of blithering shit written by people who claim to be professional writers about– sorry, around– art, but for the most part relatively little harm is done except for the writers making themselves sound like fools. They deserve to be thought of as fools anyway because that’s what they are, so who cares? These people are supposed to be educators, though, and that makes me really angry. Talk about art school damage. While I read these statements I felt as I might if I’d experienced a massive embolism in the area of the brain responsible for language processing. This is not the effect any writer or educator should ever cultivate in their readers.



  1. anitachowdry 15/05/2014 at 10:27 AM #

    Another great morning read Alistair, thankyou! I have suffered art writing discussions at university myself – I always thought I did not understand what they were on about because I am thick! Your satirical comments on ‘Art Writing’ and ‘Truth’ as physical entities are halarious, and conjure up some wonderfully surreal images.

    • Alistair 15/05/2014 at 10:55 AM #

      In any profession or type of work from physics or curating an art gallery to bricklaying or commercial fishing there is sometimes a genuine need for specialised vocabulary and knowledge, but one of the major functions of excessive jargon or technical language– especially international art English (AKA artbollocks)– is to grant power and prestige to a minority of privileged insiders while trying to withold access by the rest of us. So in that sense it’s no accident and is indeed a deliberate feature of some art writing that certain people be (wrongly) made to feel stupid for not understanding it.

  2. pseudosensible 29/12/2016 at 11:40 AM #

    Well I was definitely going on apply for this MFA. Looks like it’s time to reevaluate my options!

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