Fiction Nonfiction, Storytelling in Art Criticism

A collection of exercises from the online course “Creative Forms in Art Criticism and Writing”, lectured by An Paenhuysen. 

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Authors: Michelle Huynh Chu, Pete Driessen, Vivi Touloumidi, Kenesha Julius, Kadiatou Diallo, Maria Martens, Kirsty White, Lea Hamilton, Alexandra Shestakova, Andrea Souza, Christine Burger, Freya Dooley, Gelly Grindaki, Helen Gramotnev and Johanna Halasz.

Edited by: An Paenhuysen

Produced by: Node Center for Curatorial Studies

Design: David Matos

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Introduction

Sometimes more truth is to be found in the telling of non-truths. Virginia Woolf thought so when writing her A Room of One’s Own. The controversial topic of sex could only be talked about while “making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist”: “Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.”[1]

It was in 1952 that Lillian Ross introduced reporting as an art. The Picture was the first reportage written in the form of a novel. With a scrupulous objectivity Lillian Ross gave a minute-by-minute account of the making of the film The Red Badge of Courage. Yet there was certainly a good amount of imagination at work in her writing as she was convinced that “literal gabble often misleads and obscures truth.”[2]

In 1966, Truman Capote followed suit by publishing In Cold Blood, calling it a nonfiction novel – “a narrative form that employed all the techniques of fictional art but was nevertheless immaculately factual.”[3] To Capote, journalism was one of the most underestimated literary mediums and he was out to make it into a serious new art form.

Imagination and fantasy are, however, rarely associated with art criticism. But isn’t art criticism all about opening up an art work to the imagination of the reader? Often art reviews stick to the stiffening facts of the artist’s biography, career and place in art history, forgetting that the art works takes place in the head of the beholder and not so much on the wall. This immaterial art work is hard to be captured into words. That’s why a properly done piece of art criticism requires imagination. “What I cannot see I attempt to call”, Patti Smith writes in M Train.[4]

In the following pieces, art writers make an attempt at storytelling and while doing so they touch upon a genre that can be called fiction nonfiction.

An Paenhuysen

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[1] Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London 2004).

[2] Lillian Ross, “Introduction”, in: Idem, Reporting Always. Writings from The New Yorker (New York – London 2015).

[3] Interview with Truman Capote by George Plimpton, “The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel”, The New York Times, January 16, 1966.

[4] Patti Smith, M Train (London – Oxford 2015).

 

You can also be part of our “Creative Forms in Art Criticism and Writing” online course. Get more information here.