The labels beside art on the wall of a gallery, the catalogs, the announcements, the website copy, all of those words get edited. Rosemary Shipton is one of the editors who works for art galleries, and she told us about her work.
The Kinds of Products
There are a lot of labels in a gallery. “Labels generally come in three sizes,” Shipton says “Wall, cabinet, and individual object.”
Catalogs from art galleries contain essays as well as images and captions. “The essays in an art catalog are similar to the texts in any serious nonfiction work,” Shipton says.
Background Knowledge for Editors
An editor of gallery materials is most effective when they are familiar with the genre. Shipton suggests that editors “have a good knowledge of art or the applied art in they are editing.” Editors should know the publishing conventions of the genre. “I have a vast collection of art books and catalogs from prestigious art publishers and institutions. I consult them for models of how to handle tricky problems.”
Special Challenges in Editing for Art Galleries
Some of the challenges are typical of any editing: short deadlines and strict consistency. Others are common, if not standard: “making fairly erudite material accessible to read” and working with people “who have English as only their second or third language.”
Magazine editors will be accustomed to tight word counts, but there are few niches where space is so tight that editors work to character counts. Editors may wield a heavy hand to make copy fit. Shipton says “ [label] text (plus caption, where applicable) must not exceed the space allowed. You get a character count (not just word count) so you can cut them down or rewrite them to fit the space.”
Getting Work at Art Galleries
The galleries themselves often hire editors, rather than work coming through design firms. For books, editors are hired primarily via the individual or foundation that is supporting the publication.
A Challenging Project
We asked Shipton to tell us about a fun or challenging project: “A three-volume, large-format work, profusely illustrated, written by an international team of experts (Austria, Germany, England, US, Canada) of 10 authors, funded by a US family foundation, and published by a German art publisher in both English and German (separate volumes).”
If that description hasn’t already raised your blood pressure, there’s more: “All the German texts had to be translated into English, and vice versa. It was essentially a packaged publication, so our team of writers, editors (I, plus copy editor), and translators communicated over three years by email and Dropbox, met once a year (in Europe, NY, TO), prepared all the text and illustrations, and sent everything off to the publisher, who then organized the design, production, and printing. We did all the proofing and checking of proofs.”
You can exhale now, because it has a happy ending: “The result,” Shipton reports, is a “gorgeous, well-reviewed publication, regarded as the definitive work on the subject.”
Rosemary Shipton is a freelance editor and co-founder of the publishing program at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. She has worked on several hundred books as well as her work for art galleries. Log in to leave a comment, or join the discussion over on Facebook or Twitter.