Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes on the Ideal Reader

Further to John Bentley Mays' recent notes on role of the "ideal reader" in art criticism, I wanted to go public with the "ideal readers" I keep in mind when writing different kinds of pieces.

When I'm doing a Q&A for the National Post, I tend to keep my sister in mind. She's an intelligent and accomplished person, and does not work anywhere remotely near the sphere of the arts. The arts also don't particularly lie in her usual area of interest. Keeping her in mind helps me (I hope!) in trying to make links between art and the "real world" or art and more newsy events.

When I'm doing a review for NOW or the National Post, I tend to keep a close friend or two in mind, one who likely knows something about art. The reason to think of a good friend is it helps keep me honest—I have to think, well, what would I really tell this person about the show? Would I honestly recommend they go see it? Would I tell them not to waste their time? Or would I take the "meh, whatever, either way" route?

I do know when I'm writing for the National Post in reviews, I tend to let the language get a little more convoluted and flowery than for NOW--I'd actually like to pull it a bit more back to basics (which is to say, to a more conversational tone) but that's gonna take some work!

When I'm writing in-house stuff for Canadian Art, previews and the like, I tend to think of people I see around in the art world, folks who aren't close emotionally but who have some background or interest in art and who might also have more of an interest in background or history issues in terms of institutions or galleries.

Finally, when I'm writing for this here blog, well, to be honest (geez, this will sound just great!) I guess the ideal reader is myself—though I'm verrrrrrrrry happy to have a few Unedit my Heart readers who aren't me, I think it also likely comes across that this is a working-it-out-in-the-brain or writing-it-down-in-case-the-brain-forgets-it type of space. Admittedly, I do also sometimes think of colleagues with similar interests, and what they might be wanting to know about, but that's much rarer, likely (yipes!) 1 to 5% of the time.

Anyone else (if anyone's still reading...) find that thinking of an ideal reader helps them in the writing process? Anyone going to use that strategy when writing their top 10s for Sally & LM? (Anyone can submit, due December 27, details here! Do it!)

Image from the Blogger Institute


pixo said...

Do artists have ideal viewer in mind when making art?

As a viewer, I think I am an ideal viewer for painterly paintings, but not for installation art.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Pixo,

I'm not sure... maybe we should ask an artist.

Or maybe that particular situation is closer to a novelist or creative writer situation. I think I'll posit in that case that the writer is writing for themselves first... the editing for others happens later. Maybe the same thing happens in art?

In any case, I find the ideal reader is most helpful in "nonfiction" writing.