A project for two books—or two sets of class notes—on writing that uses images. The first project is about art history, and the second is on novels and experimental writing.

The project as a Venn diagram. Art history, visual studies, visual anthropology, and some other disciplines partly overlap one another at the center. Some texts in each are innovative in respect to images. Outside them is the larger field of experimental writing on art; and the largest concentric circle is writing, of any kind, with images, of any kind.

A page from an artist's book called Classification of a Spit Stain. Artist's books are often combinations of text and images, but they do not figure more prominently in this project. The principal reason is that they do not often involve continuous narrative: instead they make texts into pictures, which leads in a different and, I think, less problematic and interesting direction. 

Two book projects: What is Interesting Writing in Art History? and Writing with Images

These two projects might end up as books, but for now they are notes for two courses I am teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

What is Interesting Writing in Art History? asks why art history, art theory, and visual studies have had so little to say about what counts as interesting writing. Usually writing is said to be good if it is plain, clear, eloquent, and adequate to its task. Art history has virtually no pedagogy or texts on what might constitute interesting or experimental writing. This website contains analyses of individual texts on art, both in disciplinary art history (Rosalind Krauss, Leo Steinberg, T.J. Clark, Alexander Nemerov) and outside the discipline (John Berger, Lean-Louis Schefer, Hélène Cixous).

Writing with Images is about a subject that is wider than art history, theory, or criticism, and includes them all as special cases: the topic here is writing (experimental, nonfiction, fiction) that uses images (usually photographs, but also drawings, graphs, etc.). This project includes analyses of works of fiction that use images (W.G. Sebald, Georges Rodenbach, Raymond Roussel, Tan Lin, John Gardner, Orhan Pamuk, Umberto Eco, etc.).

What is Interesting Writing in Art History? and its surrounding project, called Writing with Images, are both exercises in criticism. They are also meant to be practical, because I am trying to open this field for myself, for my own writing. I hope these chapters can be useful to others who write, necessarily, differently.

This is part of my Live Writing Project: I am writing online, and I'm also embedding documents live on this website. The idea is to expose the writing while it's in process, instead of working until it's presentable or finished. Absolutely all comments, suggestions, and criticism are welcome. Please post your thoughts on the two sites (links in the box at right). All contributors to the book will be mentioned and thanked in print. Private messages can be sent via this website's contact form.

The image below is from the Atlas Press version of Roussel's New Impressions of Africa, an exemplary work of experimental writing with images. An analysis of it is posted in Part III.