We had a very polite “complaint” about your writing from one of the SOA Artists on Thursday. It made me realize that we’ve come to an inappropriate place, and we need to address this immediately.
I think most of you would say that Art110 is an “easy” class. Still, having 3 posts due every Sunday, even if they’re “easy”, that’s still a lot of deliverables. For this reason, when your TA Brittany Binder and I grade your 131 x 3 = 393 posts every Monday, we’ve been pretty permissive with your writing. I don’t think of it as Academic Writing, but more as informal or blog writing. I classify it as experiential writing. Even though it is not academic writing, you are still university students, and the reality is that many of you are writing at a very low level. Brittany and I have been enabling this by giving you full or nearly full credit for writing that would be unacceptable in just about every single other course at this university.
This has to change today.
Realistically, many of the posts you’ve written would not pass the CSULB WPE (Writing Proficiency Exam) yet most of you have or will pass the WPE. This suggests that the issue is not lack of ability but lack of motivation. I take a lot of the responsibility for this. The grading has been way too permissive and I’ve unintentionally “encouraged” you to write poorly.
The artist I had a long, detailed conversation with on Thursday was Laura Scattergood. Last week we saw her BFA in Fiber Arts exhibition at the CSULB SOA Merlino Gallery. I’m sure you recall her living room-esque scene layered in with myriad guns and bullets. Scattergood was pleased to find 4 essays under the merlino-gallery tag. But then disappointed to discover that 3 of 4 were so poorly written that she couldn’t show them to anyone and had to secretly wish that you’d never written them.
Writing about Living Artists
My conversation with Scattergood made me realize something I should have thought a lot more about before: the fact that we are writing, often badly, about living, working artists. All of your writing should be university quality. However, when your Activity of the Week writing is poor, Brittany and I sort of cringe, look the other way a little, and move on to the next week. With your Artist Conversations however, that’s online content about your peers who are trying to build careers right here and now. Our bad writing is hurting the very artists who are being so generous in sharing their work with us. It’s beyond unacceptable.
Last week one of you referred to Laura Scattergood as “Luna Scattergood” and another of you referred to Brian Davis as “The Juice Guy, I don’t know his name, but he’s the Juice Guy.” I hope you can see that such disrespectful, sloppy writing is humiliating to me, to Long Beach State, to the School of Art, to wonderful artists like Scattergood and Davis, and even more importantly than the artists themselves, it should be humiliating to you.
We’ll look at the 4 Scattergood posts in class on Tuesday. One of them, Eduardo Catalan, was very good. The other 3 were really not acceptable. Starting today we’re all going to have to do a lot better.
To be clear, while I wish everyone was writing with the thoughtfulness that Eduardo did, he’s actually done more than was asked for. We gave him some EC, and in the future we’ll try to give even more EC for work this thoughtful. You don’t have to write as much as Eduardo did. 3 well written, grammatically correct, coherent, analytic paragraphs will still be enough for full credit.
Confidence in your writing
A lot of your writing is bogged down with awkward statements like “I guess” and “as far as I could tell.” These might suggest a lack of confidence in your Art knowledge, and/or a lack of confidence in your writing in general. If you can develop the ability to write confidently and clearly while you’re at CSULB, that will be a great achievement. It doesn’t matter if you develop that in an English class, in your major, in Art110, or anywhere else, it’s a skill that will absolutely advance your career. If you can be more articulate and persuasive both on the page and face-2-face, you’ll wind up landing more satisfying jobs and making more money. I promise!
If you were the art critic for the LA Times, or for Artforum magazine, we might expect you to have a lot of knowledge of both contemporary art and art history. As an Art110 student, I don’t expect you to have either. If an artist like Scattergood or Davis is referencing contemporary or historical ideas in art or culture, you’re not expected to know that. Although, in a brief conversation with them I’m sure they’d be happy to fill you in on the context of their work. When you write about work in the SOA galleries it is entirely appropriate to bring your own understanding and prior life experience to your writing. In fact all 4 of the posts on Scattergood’s show last week had somewhat comparable insights on her BFA installation: that the juxtaposition of a domestic setting with so many tools of destruction had something to say about contemporary culture. Your insights were good. Your writing could have been a lot cleaner and clearer.
Some years back I was viewing the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Lichtenstein was a Pop Artist known for bright colors, cartoon imagery, and benday dots. As I viewed a painting of a man and a woman sitting in the front seat of a fast-moving car and starting out the windshield, the actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu, from the original Star Trek) walked up, glanced at the painting for a couple of seconds, turned to me, and said with a knowing smile in his voice, “We know what’s goin’ on there!” and then walked off.
For Takei, what was “goin’ on” was so clear it didn’t even need to be stated. So I don’t actually know if what he got from the painting was the same as me or not. Or if either of us had the same idea as Lichtenstein. And since the painting was a remix of a comic strip, I don’t know with certainty what the original comic artist had in mind. The four of us might have had pretty similar, or not so similar, ideas about the painting. What is clear is that Takei looked at a work of art, fit it into his own life experience and sensibilities, and came to a conclusion about what he was looking at. I’m not asking anything more of you.
Scoring Your Posts
Because our class is so large, and I am asking you to turn in so many pieces, Brittany and I are not giving you the detailed feedback on each post that could help you become better writers. I apologize for that. It isn’t realistic in the time we have available, but what we can do is go over a few samples on Tuesdays and talk about what’s working and what could be written better.
Combining the Artist Conversation and the Classmate Conversation in your scores on BeachBoard was a bad idea. I did that because I was trying to keep your points sheet as short as possible. But it made it harder for you to get clear points feedback. So effective immediately, I’m making separate BeachBoard items for each piece of writing you do. Instead of 28 points total for both conversations, now you’ll see 20 points for the Artist Conversation and 10 points for the Classmate Conversation.
As you know, our class is based on 1,000 points possible, with 900 points for an “A”, 800 for a “B”, 700 for a “C”, 600 for a “D”, and 599 and below being an “F”. 20+10 for conversations is 2 points more than 28, which brings our semester possible points up to 1014. I will not be changing the 900 / 800 / 700 /600 requirements for each grade level. In effect I’m putting 14 “free” points out for you. Instead of 900/1,000 or 90%, now an “A” will only require 900/1,014 or 88.7%. So it’s a free 14 points or a lowering of each grade requirement by 1.3%. So a tiny bit easier for you to earn a grade. And it shouldn’t be hard to write well and earn full points. But we’ve got to see much stronger writing about your Artist Conversations.
- Misspelling, misnaming, or not naming your artist will be an automatic 0.
- Not tagging your artist post will be an automatic 0.
- Combining your 2 conversations in a single post will no longer be accepted. If you do so, it will be a 0.
When I say “0”, I actually mean “1”. Let me explain. When you look at your points on BeachBoard, you might see:
- “Blank” Points – This means we haven’t posted your points yet. Try back in a few hours.
- “0” Points – This means we looked for your post and couldn’t find one.
- “1” Point – This means one of the major infractions listed above. I’m giving you “1” so it’s clear that this isn’t “we looked for your post and couldn’t find one”.
Proofread your work!
I want to be clear that in the past I’ve made the poor choice of being very permissive in grading because I appreciate that I’m asking you to turn in 3 posts per week. I’ve unintentionally encouraged you to be sloppy and not to proofread your work. You definitely must carefully proofread your work every time!
- Check the spelling of names
- Be sure to tag your Artist Conversations
- Add links to artist’s websites and other relevant links
- Check your grammar
As you know, we use the same tags every week:
If you’d like help with your writing, try pasting it into a tool like Hemingway App
A long time ago I was an Assistant Art Director at the NBC Television Network in Burbank. We got this huge pen plotter to make CAD drawings and a computer with AutoCAD on it. Nobody did anything with it and all the Art Directors could have cared less about it. So I decided to make it do something. I’d never used AutoCAD, but I gave it a try. I spent about 2 days drawing the Days of Our Lives sound stage and sets. When it printed out, I was really proud, look! I CAD drew the entire DOOL Stage! And then the Art Directors looked at it, and said, rightly, that the drawing was crap.
I was proud at having taken something I’d never used and managed to draw a huge sound stage in 2 days. But the Art Directors didn’t care how clever it was, they just knew the result was a poor drawing. So then I wound up spending the next 2 months drawing NBC’s Santa Barbara sound stage and sets, at the time, the largest television sound stage in the world. It was really long and meticulous. I think the plot took 2 to 3 hours to print and the whole time you prayed that none of the pens ran out of ink. I’ll never forget, when it was finally done, one of the Art Directors, Jack Forrestel, looked at it and said, “Now you’re talking!”
My initial pride in having done anything in 2 days was rightly scorned. When Jack finally praised my 2 months of serious work, it felt great.
Of course, when I worked at NBC, I collected a full-time paycheck. For you, an Artist Conversation post is just another Sunday night chore to tick off.
I get that.
But just as the NBC Art Directors weren’t impressed with my “golly I did something” efforts, you won’t gain anything worthwhile from bad writing. And the good news is, it isn’t going to take you a lot of time to do better. I think one or two passes of critical proofreading, really paying attention to what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, should be enough to take your writing from sloppy to acceptable. For sure I’m available before or after class if you ever want help with it.
A few semesters back, the SOA Artists were excited to have us coming to their gallery shows. Then we descended like locust, shoved a bunch of cameras in their faces, we went snap, snap, snap! and then left. They felt like they’d been attacked by paparazzi and instead of feeling good about our visit, they wound up wishing we’d never come. Since then we’ve tried to have Art110 Gallery Visits be more about conversations and engaging the artists with their work. And it’s worked! You did it. I haven’t heard that old paparazzi complaint in a long time now. And to be clear, taking a photo of the artist, or their work, or both, is great. It was just bad when it seemed like it was the only thing we cared about. We’ve pretty much totally resolved that problem, and it gives me hope that we can resolve this writing problem too.
A Couple More Considerations
Above I’ve listed some basic minimums that you’re going to have to meet to score well. Now I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions that you can make your own choices about, but that you should take a moment to think about and make a considered choice on.
1st Person vs 3rd Person
Most of you already are writing in 1st person, and I definitely recommend it. You might need 3rd person in other classes, but 1st person makes complete sense here. I also encourage you to stay in 1st person when you write you “About Me” statements. Even when it seems like someone else is writing about you, I find 3rd person to be distancing. And on a blog or website where we presume you are writing about yourself, 3rd person feels very detached and pretentious.
Again, you choose. But consider it carefully. Some people like 3rd person bio writing because they feel it’s more authorial.
For the past 12 years Mr. Zucman has conducted in-depth radio interviews with artists. When he approaches a conversation he tries…
For about a dozen years now I’ve been doing radio interviews with artists. When I have the chance to talk with a new author or choreographer…
Yes the 2nd one is informal, and you can decide if it’s appropriate for your resume or not, but in my judgement it’s a much more engaging “About Me.”
First Name? Or Last?
In reviewing your posts about Laura Scattergood I notice a number of you referred to her as “Laura.” Even though I’ve just encouraged you to be informal with 1st person writing, I’d personally choose the formality of referring to people I don’t know well by their last name. If you want to be on a first-name basis with everyone, ok. Or you can choose a bit of formality with last names. You can choose, but you should be consistent. Maybe the worst thing you can do, and it’s easy to find examples of this online, is to refer to men by their last names and women by their first names.
In this post I’ve referred to artists like Scattergood and Davis by their last names. But I’ve referred to people inside our class, like Eduardo, by their first names. I also referred to Jack Forrestel, an art director I worked with at NBC Burbank, and later at CBS Television City, by his first name. So I’ve switched around. But I’ve consistently referred to people inside our group, or someone I knew well, by their first name, and artists that we’ve met on a weekly basis by their last name.
This is a very long post, and I hate to have to bring up one more thing, but unfortunately I do. This one is not your fault at all. It’s just the way the dice roll sometimes. As you know, the “south-side” galleries, Dutzi and Werby, had an MFA Advancement (to Candidacy) show this week. The solo shows are the best for us. It’s great to be able to go to Laura Scattergood’s show or Brian Davis show, see an entire gallery of their work and talk to them about it. Now that we’re moving into the latter part of the semester we will be seeing more solo shows, but there will be group shows still to come.
For this week’s Advancement Show, there were several grad students sitting outside of the Dutzi and Werby galleries and many of you spoke with them. One of the grad students, Lesley Nishigawara, has emailed me asking that you not use any photographs of her nor any quotations that you may have written down from her. This is unfortunate, nonetheless we should honor her request. I’m sorry if Nishigawara feels she was misinformed about your intentions, and I’m even more sorry that you were misled about your ability to write about your conversation with her.
Just so you know, I’ve done everything I can think of to communicate who we are and what we’re doing with the exhibiting artists. I’ve sent links to our posts to all the artists. I’ve informed the gallery coordinator about our work. I think this works pretty well for the solo shows. But with the group shows it’s hard to know who might be sitting there when we come by. I also go to the galleries every Tuesday and talk face-to-face with the artists about our upcoming Thursday visit. Unfortunately in this case Nishigawara and I never spoke and she misunderstood your interest in her work. Of course any ideas you learned from her are still ideas you can talk about. But please don’t use any direct quotations from her, cite her name, or post her photo. All the other grad students there that you might have spoken with are completely fine to quote, reference, or post photographs of.
If you’re still reading this far down, thank you. I really don’t think it will be too hard to write quite a bit better. This will be great for the SOA Artists we visit, and honestly, it will be great for you. Give me a shout if you have any questions or suggestions.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve written for you about Talking & Writing About Art.
See you in class!
Image: Lit is a Hit