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Growing up in Manhattan, Ana Finel Honigman always had a penchant for art and fashion. By the time she was a teenager, Honigman developed a fascination with fashion theory, drawing inspiration from the writings of Valerie Steele and Anne Hollander. She quickly realized she could best relay her creativity through her writing, prompting her to pursue a career in art writing and earning a doctoral degree in History of Art from Oxford University. Now based in Berlin, the native New York journalist and scholar is sharing her wisdom through A.F.H.- Culture Writers Agency, matching artists with acclaimed consultants, writers, and editors. Whitewall spoke with Honigman about launching the agency, working with creative producers, and her outlook on the future of art writing.
WHITEWALL: Before founding A.F.H- Culture Writers Agency, you contributed to numerous publications, books, and scholarly journals such as Artforum.com, New York Times’ Style Section, and Artsy. How did you get your start as an arts writer?
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN: I started publishing exhibition reviews in local arts publications in D.C. and then Time Out New York when I was an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College. I started to think critically about art through thinking about fashion. Thinking and writing about art and fashion became my creative form. I believe that my abilities as an art writer really benefited from my early experiences experimenting with making art because I can empathize with the process, and that’s a bit deeper than just theoretically interpreting the final product.
WW: What made want to launch a writers agency?
AFH: I was hired by an artist last year to write his statement and we worked together on a text that expressed his personal history, creative goals, and interpretation of his artworks. At the end of the process, he admitted that he wanted to approach me earlier but felt shy about asking a writer to read his words and help him craft a statement. I started wondering whether other artists might find the prospect of approaching a journalist or critic intimidating, so I decided to facilitate these creative encounters by starting an agency where artists can be matched with interested and experienced writers.
WW: How does the agency facilitate this process of matching a writer to an artist or project?
AFH: When an artist or designer contacts the agency, I look through the work they produce and I find a writer whose interests and background are compatible. I then invite the writer to accept the assignment. Some writers prefer to work anonymously on assignments, to avoid any potential or perceived conflict of interest, so I will interview the artist or designer and the writer will correspond to the artist or designer using his or her ID name. My main role is thinking, “Who can really understand this work and relate to this creative person?”
WW: What other services does the agency offer?
AFH: We write press releases and other material for galleries and we offer our services as seasoned writers to brands looking for copy-writers and consultants. I think the most interesting “other service” we offer for artists and designers is actually part of the writing process. In most cases, the most important thing the A.F.H.-Culture Writers Agency provides to artists and designers is not the piece of writing produced but the process of discussing work and motivation with a professional who thinks critically about creative work. In order to effectively embody the artist’s or designer’s voice, the writer needs to ask a lot of questions. I always ask the questions that I would need answered if I were writing an article about the work—so I try to really push for why and how.
WW: What are some of your thoughts on the current state of art writing and its future?
AFH: It is almost impossible for art writers to make a living writing about art for publications. Since academia pays adjunct professors so poorly, teaching is no longer a viable way to augment one’s income. This creates a very real challenge for critics and the art community. If art writing can continue to contribute to the art community, there should be more open awareness that writers are often volunteering their voices and writing is a fulfilling hobby or creative identity but not a career. Young writers need to start thinking about other ways to employ their skills and artists should appreciate that critics write for the same reasons artists make art.
WW: How do you hope A.F.H. will contribute or influence art writing?
AFH: One of the agency’s main contributions is pairing independent artists and freelance writers. It enables artists to best express themselves and their work. Artists are increasingly managing their own careers online instead of working exclusively with galleries. We provide a tool for artists aspiring to present themselves and their work in a polished, professional, way. I believe that creating easily understood, informative and thought-provoking writing for artists will help critics gain traction when writing about artwork and attract curators and collectors to worthy work.