Sunday 9 November 2008

The Parlous State of Publishing for Writing about Ceramics.

This post will appear in three parts. it is about the vexed question of how to write and talk about pots, about ceramics, about craft and about art. It's also about where and how publish what we do write. Part one is below. Parts two and three will appear later this week. They're in the pipeline - I'm working on them. There may be another section discussing examples of art-speak, pot-speak, Ceramics' emancipatory inheritance and Ceramics' mythic imaginary - these last two are a bit connected but not entirely. Ready?

Part 1: A moderately short story about writing a book review

Alice was eating toast and marmalade and feeling rather pleased with herself. She’d been sent a big fat glossy, expensive-looking book to review, at least that’s what she thought she had to do. Confrontational Ceramics was the title. She settled down for a quiet morning’s reading – the sort of reading you do with a pencil, note book and those mini post-it notes in different colours for marking special pages. Just for a moment, she felt really quite important. Gradually, as the morning passed, storm clouds gathered, as the sordid truth slowly dawned. The beautiful fat glossy book was dreadful. Dreadful in every way. The text was ghastly - it was only an introduction and then some mini-introductions but, even so, they were enough to put you off the whole thing - and the rest of the book was made up entirely of pictures with something called, ‘artist’s statements’. These apparently were where the artists were allowed to try and bully you into thinking what they thought. Well Alice jolly well wasn’t going to be bullied. She threw the beastly book across the room, and went and consulted the Cheshire Cat. She was, after all, expected to write about the thing. What was she to do?

Well, she wrote the review and let’s just say that, in the process, she learned that it was almost impossible to write a negative review which wasn’t inherently depressing and as unreadable as the book she objected to. She sent it off and it was politely returned. She tried again. It went back and forth for weeks.

‘Try writing about the ‘work’ instead of the text,’ growled the white rabbit, fishing out his gold pocket watch and snarling about academia, while Alice, almost in tears by now, meekly agreed but also snarled. She berated the parlous state of publishing and wondered how to review ‘work’ she hadn’t actually seen.

Then a neighbour publication, ‘Sopra Nova Glittery Handwork’ published its review of the bestial book, and Alice noted that it was written by a Patrician White Patriarch with a very Proper Pottery Pedigree. She also noted that he’d made exactly the same complaints as she had. The White Rabbit emailed: he too had noticed that Alice’s objections, (yer honour) had been upheld by the senior Prefect with the Perfect Pedigree. Alice tried not to feel too smug, and suppressed the ‘I told you so’ that threatened to jump out of her mouth. She wrote the new review, but the bestial book didn’t get any better.

Alice still doesn’t know if the Parish Council Pottery Newsletter will publish the new version or the old version or an amalgamation of the two, or nothing. She still isn’t sure if the senior prefect’s review has somehow made her’s more palatable or not. The White Rabbit seems somewhat mollified, but you can never be sure with rabbits. They take fright easily.

It had been a funny morning. Alice felt strangely satisfied and yet something was still bothering her. The Cheshire Cat still hadn’t uttered. So she thought she’d go and see the Red Queen just to see if she had anything to say on the matter.