Art Writing Workshop with Mark Rappolt

Courtesy of Boggio Studios.

Courtesy of Boggio Studios.

At the Outpost, ArtReview asia's Editor-in-chief Mark Rappolt dwells on art writing from a broad perspective. 

Mark Rappolt boasts an impressive background. He is the Editor-in-Chief of ArtReview and ArtReview Asia, the latter of which he founded in 2013. He has written books on the architects Greg Lynn and Frank Gehry.

His writing has appeared in a number of journals, magazines and newspapers, and during the past year includes catalogues on the artists Yuko Mohri, Ádám Albert and John Kørner.

In 2017, he co-curated (with Tom Eccles and Liam Gillick) Like A Moth to A Flame, a two-part exhibition spanning 4000 years of artistic production, at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, both in Turin. 

On March 5, Mark Rappolt facilitated an art writing workshop at Bellas Artes Outpost. The workshop considered art criticism from an at-large perspective and focused on issues surrounding form, language and translation in critical writing. A group of art writers gathered to hear Rappolt share thoughts about his work and experience. Five minutes into the workshop, the Outpost is reduced to silence as the writers listened in awe. He began to explain the process and concept behind the recognized ArtReview publication.

Listening to Rappolt is compelling as it is refreshing, as he emphasizes the need to approach writing from an unconventional perspective. He explains some fundamentals:

  • When writing about art, an individual must not succumb to using solely the artist's words.

  • Taste is essential in critical writing: It is completely acceptable for your opinion to change and your writing style to evolve.

  • Writing is about self-knowledge. Despite this, the greatest critics work with artists.

  • In order to write an article, one must always fact check--art can be perceived as false and could possibly be ego driven, so it is necessary to double check whether the information you have written is credible.

Simultaneously, he also highlights the importance of showing both sides of the coin. Allowing space in your writing for the opposition to argue may, in turn, strengthen your case. 



When addressing the concept of language, he emphasizes how essential the choice of language is for art writing. English is chosen because it's a language that requires more description. In spite of this, it is better to keep certain words in their original language to keep the authenticity and create context through language. Language should be uncomplicated, however, it may be discipline-specific in order to attain the same degree of complexity as the subject. 

Rappolt explains the difficulty in choosing which artwork to cover in ArtReview. He responds by stressing the question isn't which artwork to select but what piece to leave out. When selecting art works and how to frame them within an essay, begin by determining what theme or detail of the artwork you'd like to emphasize and connect relevant issues to that one concept. In essence, to critique is to consistently ask questions. It is acceptable to not always like the artist's work as long as your argument has enough reasoning behind it. One question should lead to another until an interesting subject is found. Awareness of the audience may also inform the writing. Considering the spectators may change the form of the essay.

Moreover, when experiencing an exhibition for the first time, it is important to venture into the gallery alone. As someone who would like to pursue art writing, it is important to avoid reading criticism. Ignoring gallerists and curators' opinions foster a fresh perspective. Furthermore, he warns the group of writers that even exhibition images may change how you write, thus one must write under the expectation that there are no images. Furthermore, it is necessary to choose carefully how to describe them. ArtReview rarely publishes about popular artists. You should ignore what other people are looking at and find the obscure. He, then, emphasizes how an individual's mood shapes their writing. Thus, visit exhibitions in good spirits because it may inform your writing. 



A participant asks, "How does a writer take on writer's block?" Rappolt had a brilliant and unorthodox response to tackling this common dilemma. He  puts forward the concept of creating a list. A list of impressions and what you were drawn to within an exhibition creates structure for critiques. Trust one's memory since writing about what an individual likes leads to a detailed and honest critique. He reiterates, once again, that writers should trust their opinion and should not be concerned or embarrassed. This may act as a distraction and will eventually interfere with the quality of the writing. One must control what is going on in their head to continue what is going out. Learn from other disciplines to find inspiration. Rappolt is inspired by fiction novels and this enables him to think of novel ways to approach art. He also once belonged to a collective that were fascinated with and practiced writing with restriction, which helped his writing find its rhythm. 

Three-quarters into the workshop and the writers shift the discussion towards the concept of cultural appropriation and nationalism. Rappolt asks, "Do writers have to discuss Filipino art?" A participant responds with the necessity of showing the global contemporary art scene what the Philippines has to offer and the culturally-rich history that comes with it. Rappolt illuminates the irrelevance of nationality in art. Analyzing from a national perspective can be seen as destructive because it limits the scope of writing. 

Courtesy of e-flux.

Courtesy of e-flux.

A visionary in the art industry, Rappolt passes on an innovative style to tackling art writing. Rappolt states, "It's not about taste, it's about what tastes good". This phrase may not be Rappolt's, but one may say that it successfully sums up the editor's approach towards critical writing. At a time where the contemporary art scene is ripe for expansion in the Philippines, Rappolt's words cannot be more useful.  Art writers heed attention as Rappolt gives food for thought.

Bellas Artes Projects