DRC Critical Art Writing Workshop at the Johannesburg Gathering of the South Project


The Dead Revolutionaries Club was invited by South Project to facilitate a workshop about critical writing in the arts on 19 October 2007 in Uncle Tom’s Centre, Orlando West (Soweto). The workshop was facilitated together with Australian writers and editors David Hansen, Pat Hoffie and Stephanie Britton (artlink magazine).

Bandile Gumbi formulated the central questions for this workshop:

Writing is about the creation of memory
It is a process of reading/reflecting/writing and so the cycle starts again. First definition
It is a process of thinking about and understanding social contexts.
You can’t divorce the writer from the writing, as writing is opinion even if it is supported by methodological research.
In the same breath the writer as a social actor in a reflection of that society and that social context is in turn reflected on the writing.
This informs content and an accumulation of that give rise to a body of knowledge, which informs public opinion. This public knowledge gives rise to collective thinking.

This brings in a question: How is knowledge created, communicated and by whom?

This brings me to question the absolutism of conventional critical writing formats, which is largely academic or journalistic, and propose that we need to broaden the scope of possible critical writing to include for example creative writing. I see this as using this particular art form as a method of analysis/commentary/critique. Thus adding to the vocabulary of writing about the visual. This can only be an inclusive experiment as creative writing is closer to the speech of the majority non-academic people/thinkers/writers and closer to the majority of artist, whose thoughts and social observations is the artwork.

Critical writing in the arts is a comment on the comment. The comment made by the artist as a social actor and interpreted by a comment made by the writer. We assume that the critical writer at this instance is an individuals who has both the understanding of the art as a communication tool thus can decipher the visual language in a manner that speaks to the community which the artwork is part of even if it is that particular person’s opinion. In other instances we go even further and assume that the writer is an active social actor in that community thus speak for the we when writing his or her opinion.

And we need to ask ourselves in South Africa who is that community, is it the community which the artist draws inspiration from to create the art or it is the one that consumes the art. As we know that to a large extent these are different communities in our context. And also keeping in mind the institutions that create the artist and the critic and ask ourselves are they the same and who are they? In a country with deep social divisions there are a multiple of art communities with there our institutions whether formal or informal.

Community is relevant in critical writing as it not only informs content, as in what is topical and relevant at a particular time but also on the style of writing the writer uses, if we keep in mind that writing is a communication method and can be visual and aural.