How to Write About Contemporary Art

Gilda Williams

An essential handbook for students and professionals on writing eloquently, accurately, and originally about contemporary art

How to Write About Contemporary Art is the definitive guide to writing engagingly about the art of our time. Invaluable for students, arts professionals and other aspiring writers, the book first navigates readers through the key elements of style and content, from the aims and structure of a piece to its tone and language. Brimming with practical tips that range across the complete spectrum of art-writing, the second part of the book is organized around its specific forms, including academic essays; press releases and news articles; texts for auction and exhibition catalogues, gallery guides and wall labels; op-ed journalism and exhibition reviews; and writing for websites and blogs.

In counseling the reader against common pitfalls—such as jargon and poor structure—Gilda Williams points instead to the power of close looking and research, showing how to deploy language effectively; how to develop new ideas; and how to construct compelling texts. More than 30 illustrations throughout support closely analysed case studies of the best writing, in Source Texts by 64 authors, including Claire Bishop, Thomas Crow, T.J. Demos, Okwui Enwezor, Dave Hickey, John Kelsey, Chris Kraus, Rosalind Krauss, Stuart Morgan, Hito Steyerl, and Adam Szymczyk.

Supplemented by a general bibliography, advice on the use and misuse of grammar, and tips on how to construct your own contemporary art library, How to Write About Contemporary Art is the essential handbook for all those interested in communicating about the art of today.


With How To Write About Contemporary Art Gilda Williams has created an illuminating, engaging and urgent guide to contemporary art-writing. While this is clearly essential reading for arts students and those at the start of a career in arts writing or criticism , it is equally invaluable for anyone involved in the art world that needs to transmit information and ideas in written form about contemporary art. So that’s basically all of us.

— Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-Director, Serpentine Gallery

Bless you, Gilda Williams, for reminding us that fear is the root of bad writing, and for showing us how to take courage. Art writing can be deep, accurate, surprising, and even beautiful—and with any luck, How to Write about Contemporary Art will spark a renascence of the deep, accurate, surprising, beautiful art writing we so badly need.

— Barry Schwabsky, art critic, The Nation

Artforum correspondent Williams applies lessons in graceful prose to the field of art writing… [She] excels when looking at excerpts from accomplished critics, including Rosalind Krauss and Walter Benjamin, and when giving nuts-and-bolts advice for crafting specific genres of art-world documents (catalogue essays, short news articles, academic essays, and the like) [This] how-to provides enough art-specific insights to cut through the garble so common in the field.

— Publishers Weekly

In outlining exactly how an auction catalogue differs from a museum’s wall label and a magazine review, down to the vocabulary and tone each should accommodate, Williams gives insight to the inner workings of very different industries: academia, auction houses and mainstream and professional press. Her systematic analysis of the current state of art writing is a first [and her] methodology is flawless.

— frieze

Finally. A book that teaches you how to write and think clearly about art. I can imagine this book inspiriting future generations to write legibly and intelligently art criticism, a field that's become too hermetic and convoluted for its own good. Revolutionary, radical and long overdue. Bravo!

— Kenneth Goldsmith, poet and founder, UbuWeb

Fantastic… a straight-forward must-read for every writer, reader, artist and designer. Williams holds your hand, explaining why you need to do it, what you need to do, and how to do it.


Thrillingly clear … a beautifully formed guide to writing […] should be required reading across every creative discipline. Essential!


A thoroughly sensible and accessible guide to writing that could almost be applied to any subject.


Illuminates contemporary art writing, providing insights into what we write about when we write about art…[Williams] reenvisions what it means to be a professional art writer and outlines the methods, ethics and even the financing that could see the role of the writer codified and professionalized in a new and important way in the art world of tomorrow.

— Burnaway


Gilda Williams


Gilda Williams is a London correspondent for Artforum and lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. From 1994 to 2005 she was Editor and then Commissioning Editor at Phaidon Press. She is a former managing editor at Flash Art International and her writing has appeared in Tate Etc., Parkett, Art Monthly, Art in America and Time Out. Williams is author of The Gothic (2007) and has contributed to catalogues for exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, the 48th Venice Biennale, and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Rotterdam, among others.