Reviewing art exhibitions at galleries and museums is a craft that takes careful preparation and research. You must care about art and artists and have a good eye for the artistic. You must be willing to engage deeply with the art and to write thoughtfully and intelligently about whether the exhibition achieved its goals. You should be equally comfortable with background research and your own powers of observation and interpretation.
Develop a Vocabulary
Immerse yourself in the language of art. Artists and art patrons have specific ways of talking about art, the techniques used, the schools of art and their influences. Develop a vocabulary that lets you write about art in a meaningful manner by reading other reviews, taking art history courses or attending art lectures at museums and galleries. Interview artists about their work and pay close attention to how they speak about their art and the words they use.
Visit the Exhibition
Contact the curator. Find a good time to visit the venue -- preferably when groups will not be present -- and ask whether you can take pictures. Galleries may supply you with images. Walk through the gallery to see how the curator installed and organized the work. Then choose which artists or artworks you are going to mention by name and go back and study those pieces. Take good notes on the art itself as well as the artist's name, title, media, date and size. Some reviewers make sketches. Talk to the artists or curator directly, when possible, and ask about the work and why it is displayed the way it is.
Assess the Art and the Exhibition
Evaluate how the venue organized the show, the artist's technique, the matting, framing, artistic choices, lighting, display cases, installation, traffic flow, label text and label styling. Interpret whether the art and the exhibition achieves its purpose. Engage readers in an understanding of what the art is, how well it communicates, how successful the artist is in mastering his chosen technique and what the work attempts to do or say. Assess the objectives of the exhibition, considering why the curator chose particular artists and works and how the works relate in theme or technique.
Write the Review
Start with a lead that captures the interest of the reader and accurately introduces the rest of the review. Describe the work to provide the foundation for your interpretations and criticism. Put the work in its historical context by identifying its school or art theory. Provide relevant information about the artist. Trust your instincts and be specific about your interpretations and criticisms. Engage the art personally while avoiding value words that are meaningless. Be honest in your critique; don't nitpick just to have something negative to write or gush simply to promote an exhibit.
As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.