The Ruckus Reading List

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Find out what your local art writers are reading.


Q: What reading materials have been the most beneficial to you as a writer?

A Short Guide to Writing About Art
Sylvan Barnet

The first page of this book lists a number of reasons you may want to consult it: “If you are writing a formal analysis,” “If you are writing a review of an exhibition,” “If you are concerned with forms of documentation,” etc. You may never find a need to read every chapter, but here Barnet has assembled the most essential tools for art writing in a concise and practical volume. For anyone who writes about art or visual culture, and anyone who isn’t sure how to approach such writing, this is the first book I would recommend.
-Mary Clore

Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art
Ed. Maria Elena Buszek

I routinely direct new readers to this book. As a collection of essays from many authors, it offers a rousingly clear perspective on the ways contemporary craft is shaped by (and conversely, acts on) other fields––art, design, and architecture, to name a few. Most importantly it provides language and frameworks that allow contemporary craft to exist independently of these fields, but also to overlap simultaneously. The resulting narrative is more equitable than modernist/western art history––reverent of how marginalized groups were previously undervalued by an association to craft––and also instructive for how this knowledge can be enriching and transformative for individuals and communities.
-L Autumn Gnadinger

The Routledge Queer Studies Reader
Ed. Donald E. Hall, Annamarie Jagose, Andrea Bebell, and Susan Potter

Queer theory heavily influences my perspective on art, writing, and philosophy; accordingly, The Routledge Queer Studies Reader is one of my favorite books to reference while researching. It provides a great introduction to the field and contains essays from many influential writers such as Lee Edelman, Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, Jasbir K. Puar, and Elizabeth Grosz. The essays are conveniently grouped into topics, allowing readers to pick and choose the sub-genre that interests them most. As a whole, queer theory creates a framework for dissecting, analyzing, and deciphering the nature of identity which, as American culture offers visibility to a small, more privedleged section of the LGBTQ+ community, is important now more than ever.
-Kevin Warth

Politics and the English Language
George Orwell

I read George Orwell’s 1946 essay as a junior in high school, and it has affected every paper, artist statement, exhibition review, and tweet I’ve written since then. Orwell urges his readers to prioritize clarity and precision. “It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear… What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.” Through concrete examples, Orwell outlines the ways pretentious diction and abstract language obfuscate meaning. His warning that abstract language soon becomes meaningless (“Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism?”) is timely. Think of the words “detention center” and the words “concentration camp.” How different are their meanings?
-Mary Clore

Introduction: The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin

The author’s introduction to this book is one of my favorite pieces of writing. In it, she details her perspective on the genre of science fiction (and all art), noting what she believes are its capabilities and its limits. That sounds simple (it is simple), but things that art cannot do, rather than what it can, are seldom the topic of criticism outright. Le Guin reminds: “I am not predicting,” but instead “inventing elaborately circumstantial lies.” Even 50 years after its first publication, I find it orienting as a writer to read a master of her form discuss the contours of art’s usefulness (and occasionally, uselessness).
-L Autumn Gnadinger

Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists
Vicki Krohn Amorose

Though I initially wrote off this short guide when it was assigned in an undergrad studio course, Amorose surprised me with the relevance of her advice. She treats a number of topics that are inescapable for visual artists: artist statements, elevator pitches, grant writing, et cetera. While this book is specific in its audience and intention, the lessons it imparts can be applied to any kind of writing. Amorose maintains that we should be succinct, cognizant of future readers, and aware of writing’s purpose.
-Kevin Warth


Q: What have you been reading lately?

dispatches journal
Ed. Gean Moreno and Natalia Zuluaga

In dispatches, editors Gean Moreno and Natalia Zuluaga (2019 Great Meadows Foundation Critic-in-Residence) have created a space for hearty discourse about climate, ecology, commerce, postcolonialism, and the ways these issues can be examined through visual culture. For artists and others immersed in the art world, the conflict between art as a tool of resistance and its commodification by structures of power is troubling, sometimes to a point of hopelessness. The answer is not to retreat but to read, discuss, and find more allies! I was especially captivated by Irmgard Emmelhainz’ “Aesthetic Materialism under Absolute Capitalisms.” The journal is free, bilingual, and offers viewers a format in which they can easily print articles if they so choose.
-Mary Clore

Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art
Series ed. Iwona Blazwick

I’m kind of cheating by selecting a series, but I’ve found these books to be indispensable while researching. Each publication consists of a series of essays on a particular topic as it relates to contemporary art, with entries ranging from materiality to destruction to appropriation to failure. In order to enrich my own artistic practice, I’m currently reading through Time (edited by Amelia Groom).
-Kevin Warth

Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship
Claire Bishop

Artificial Hells is a deep dive into contemporary social practice art (simplified to “Participatory Art” by Bishop), and the challenges faced by audiences, institutions, and critics when interpreting the value of such works. Bishop does not diminish the potential of this kind of work (the potential for community or aesthetic gains). Instead, she positions the inclination to view these works as inherently more ethical than “normal” art to be problematic, and demonstrates how everything from art history to government policy leads us to these inclinations without always being aware of it. At a time when many artistic institutions are looking for their soul, Artificial Hells raises essential questions about the role and value of aesthetics in society.
-L Autumn Gnadinger

Art and Labor Podcast
O.K. Fox and Lucia Love

Fox and Love bring contagious enthusiasm and humor into their conversations on labor practices, which are often left out of mainstream art discourse. The description on the podcast’s website states, “We hope to center the human cost of the ‘art world’ and advocate for fair labor practices for artists, assistants, fabricators, docents, interns, registrars, janitors, writers, editors, curators, guards, performers, and anyone doing work for art & cultural institutions.” The assumption that artists should be willing to suffer for their art seems to extend to all corners of the industry, stretching to include anyone who cares about the way art is seen. Some of my favorite episodes feature interviews with organizers from two institutions that have made headlines with their recent unionization: MoMA PS1 and the New Museum.
-Mary Clore

The Queer Art of Failure
Jack Halberstam

I’d be remiss to not include any queer content on my list! Queer theory can be impenetrable at first blush, but Halberstam writes in a concise, accessible way so that anyone can pick up one of his books. In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam proposes alternate modes of thinking and being that undermine heteronormative definitions of success. He identifies these moments in close textual analyses of art and media, perhaps most delightfully in inane films such as Finding Nemo, Dude, Where’s My Car?, and Chicken Run. The closing sentences summarize the book most effectively: “To live is to fail, to bungle, to disappoint, and ultimately to die; rather than searching for ways around death and disappointment, the queer art of failure involves the acceptance of the finite, the embrace of the absurd, the silly, and the hopelessly goofy. Rather than resisting endings and limits, let us revel in and cleave to all of our own inevitable fantastic failures.”
-Kevin Warth