Voice & Tone

Last Tuesday’s class we discussed voice and tone more in depth as well as how each writer/critic has a specific one they choose to use. We were assigned four reading by critics who greatly differed from one another varying from scholarly to sarcastic and intimate to distant. I found this to be very helpful because I myself was unsure on how to execute this in my own writings. I was not sure if my personal voice and tone were being presented in my writings or if they sounded just like another art jargon filled essay, absent of my own ideas or style. I quickly learned not all exhibition reviews or critical analysis papers have to necessarily include philosophic language, constant Kant references (although he is wise), or fluffed up metaphors. However, depending on the audience those characteristics are both expected and enjoyed. For example, we read a paper by Boris Groys and another by Jerry Saltz both of which are well known having similar audiences in the art world, but their voice and tone are on completely different sides of the spectrum from one another. Both readings I enjoyed and found interesting but I mainly focused in on their own use of voice and tone, Jerry Saltz was informative and critical while maintaining a sort of satirical and comedic tone, poking fun at both himself and the present art world. While Boris Groys’s writing was highly informative but I felt he had a more intimate connection with what he was discussing, even though he included philosophical language and Kant references. I felt as though the sarcastic and satirical tone of Saltz writing created a sort of distance between him and what was being discussed, lacking that intimacy. Both writings showed that there are multiple ways to show voice and tone.

-Kiana Long





  1. I think that’s the funnest part of voice and tone because it has such a wide range of possibilities. I really enjoyed that lecture because, in a way, voice and tone are structured without restrictions. There are specific ways to go about evaluating ones review on whether it has consistency in voice and tone, but it doesn’t push you in one direction or another. You determine it for yourself and follow that path thereafter. It was easy to revise a classmates review because one just had to look for a change in how they spoke. Not to my surprise, most reviews were able to successfully achieve the objective which shows how easy it was to maintain that goal because of the subjects flexibility.


  2. I had focused really hard to leave voice and tone out of the first descriptive draft, that I found it really difficult when it came time to add it in. I knew it was necessary though, my words were so dry and frankly unengaging. The best part of adding voice and tone for me is actually feeling like the person behind the words actually matters. I guess that’s the best part of art criticism too, we’re not writing the words to be judged like an essay, we’re speaking to the reader about our own feelings the art gives us. I can agree that editing these essays was an easier task and a more enjoyable one as well.


  3. I agree with Kiana that there are, in fact, many ways to incorporate voice and tone. I appreciated when we, as a class, broke down the external factors of voice and tone, which included the relationship between the viewer and the exhibition being viewed. I think that knowing how to write for voice and tone, which can vary depending on the person, gives each story more richness by bringing his or her own institutional ideology (agenda) to the table. As a reader, it’s been challenging for me and continues to be so with some of our more jargon filled readings. It serves a purpose, I know, but I have to admit being drawn more to clear cut simplistic thoughts. Perhaps over time, my writing and ideas will help shift my perspective.



  4. I left, or at least tried to leave out tone in my first draft too. When I did and it got reviewed, it seemed that the “toneless-ness” was my tone. So going back to wasn’t a matter of adding voice or tone, but changing it. Once I figured that out, writing a more fluid and personable review was easier.
    I agree with Kiana that the class readings were helpful examples on how to write in appropriate tone, even if the people writing on the same subject use a substantially different voice.

    -Adrienne Hudson


  5. This was such an interesting class discussion for me mainly because I’ve never really thought about or focused on my tone while writing. I always just figured how I write is how I write and there wasn’t a need to focus on something I can’t change. But seeing that its totally within the realm of possibility to change your tone and how you choose to write a piece, usually in regards to what audience you are writing for, makes it all so much more fun. I’m looking forward to exploring these different ways in writing criticisms.

    -Hannah Jones


  6. I like your point about wondering if your essays are coming off as jargon heavy or unrelatable and then realizing that its just voice and style and that there is no template for critical writing. It is something that I struggle with as well. I think it is important to realize though that we are not writing a research paper, which is what I think most of us are used to writing at this point for art history classes, and that what we are trying to present is a interpretation of what we are seeing, full of are own voice and understanding.

    Dylan Draper


  7. Like Kiana, I also found these particular readings extremely helpful when it came to understanding the different options a writer has with voice and tone. Each reading achieved different types of voice while still successfully providing a piece of art criticism. My favorite happened to be the one my small group was assigned to pick apart – James Elkins “What Happened to Art Criticism?” I’m used to writing in a very academic style and prefer it, though it tends to get dull and excessive to read. It was helpful to see how Elkins was able to include some humor and poetic language while staying true to a formal, academic style, and this is the type of voice I would likely take on as an art writer. Also, it is so tempting to use art jargon, and in writing my own artist statement I find myself including it naturally without even thinking about it. It’s helpful to focus in on this tendency in this class and be encouraged to use alternative language.

    Lauren Lerwick


  8. I just wanna say, I did not expect this many comments but I appreciate all of them and am glad for the most part you all agree with me. I think it’s kinda cool how we all worried about the same things in executing voice and tone and that I was having common struggles.


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