I precociously decided I wanted to be an ‘art writer’ after my year seven half-yearly Visual Arts exam. We had to choose a couple of works from a selection, draw various elements of each on the page and write about their significance. I wrote about Magritte’s Le Viol (1935) and Braque’s Compotier et cartes (1913). I drew a little bunch of grapes and a woman’s breast and this and that on the edge of the lined paper, and delved into what they might mean and why they were painted the way they were. I loved the idea that these were latent visual clues, left there on the canvas for decades by some now-dead guy in Europe, and there I was, a 12-year-old girl in Sydney, uncovering what they might mean.
12 years later, dragging my boyfriend around the museums of a museum city, a major cultural capital stuffed to the brim with major cultural capital. A sea of intra-continental tourists on their new year’s break seemed to think the object of visiting a museum is to be photographed posing next to each famous painting before moving on. I woz ‘ere. ‘Why don’t they just buy the postcard?’ we asked each other. Then, within the white walls beyond the tangle of pipes and acrylic-clad escalator of yet another museum, I spotted Braque’s Compotier et cartes. ‘This is it,’ I said. ‘I wrote about this painting in year seven, and that made me want to be an art writer.’ ‘Now THAT is worth a photo,’ he said.
Writing enables me to come to an understanding in my own time. It allows me to have the argument with myself first so I can maybe then go and have it with others. And art provides the ingredients for that to happen. Writing about art forces me to slow down, to think about what is in front of me right now, and how that relates to specific ideas. It is a sorter, a filter. And somehow, it also helps me to produce words which might make someone else want to look at art. And for that I am grateful.
A total cliché, the photo of me standing sheepishly and hypocritically (I woz ‘ere) next to that painting with notebook in hand sits on my desk, a reminder of what got me into this game in the first place. Writing is a challenge I truly enjoy, a challenge posed time and again by art. I need writing in order to keep going, and I need art in order to keep writing. It’s that simple, and that complicated.
Chloé Wolifson is an independent arts writer, researcher and curator based in Sydney, Australia. She is regularly commissioned as a writer, including exhibition essays and reviews, and has curated and co-curated exhibitions in public, artist-run and commercial spaces. She has over a decade’s experience in arts administration and management.