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Experiments in Art Writing

Podcast – Adrian Rifkin

  • 21 April 2021
  • The British Art Talks podcast is an audio series from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. It features new research and aims to enhance and expand knowledge of British art and architecture.

In this series art historians and writers describe key literary, poetic, fictional and art materials that have shaped the form of their writing.

Lively questions of the material form of art studies have re-emerged in recent years: of creative process, of the weight of words and voice and of possibilities of historical speculation. Creative Writing and Art History (2011) edited by Catherine Grant and Patricia Rubin features a range of essays exploring both historical and contemporary modes of creative writing about art. Fictions of Art History (2013) edited by Mark Ledbury, considers the ways in which the discipline of art history, the writing of fiction and the making and viewing of art are comingled. A range of events and sessions have reflected on art history as a literary practice – as ‘fiction with footnotes’, on the mode and potential of ekphrasis, and on diverse practices of ‘art writing’.

This vital activity in the domain of art historiography arises as a range of erstwhile critics and historians are taking leave from established epistemological modes to participate in formal experimentation.

This series hones in on the work of a set of innovative and distinctive UK based art writers, asking them to describe core encounters, materials, voices and texts that have shaped the very form of their writing, and their performance of it, throughout their careers to date.

Works referenced in this episode

Adrian Rifkin, ‘A Roman Holiday’, Parallax 8, no. 4, (2002): 4–7.  

The Shangri Las, ‘Long Live Our Love’, Red Bird, originally released in 1966.  

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, La Fin de Chéri (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1926).  

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, trans. H T Lowe Porter (London: Martin Secker, 1927).  

Edgar Wind, ‘The Fear of Knowledge’, Art and Anarchy Reith Lectures (London: BBC, 1960).  

Franz Schubert, ‘Der Lindenbaum’, with Lottie Lehmann (soprano), Wintereisse, Columbia, 1940.    

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of man against purple background.

    Adrian Rifkin: Throughout the eight years after leaving a university post as either a professor in art writing, fine art or visual culture, and a prior two decades of teaching critical studies for artists as well historical studies and cultural studies in Portsmouth Polytechnic, the exposition of my thinking turned to performance. This is to say something that I called enunciative events, distant from the lectern, with archives, power points, musical and filmic material, pieces of furniture, props of one kind or another, improvised into temporary maps of possible propositions. A number of these can be found on YouTube and other sites, although their point was that they were throw away, flying against the criterial of an RAE or an REF. Covid-19 brought this to an end and since then I have been working on the archives with which I set out in 1968, a certain kind of French art history that developed between 1900 and 1914. I have been thinking about this in part as an alternative to the now dominant Hamburg model, through which I was myself initiated by exiled members of the Warburg circle. In the podcast I hope to give an overview of a singular relation between research processes and their involuntary but triumphant poetic. My first essay in this direction will be published with Ma Bibliothèque later this year as Future Imperfect: The Past Between my Fingers.