Symposium on Art, Politics, and Narrative: “We Tell Ourselves Stories”

Symposium on Art, Politics, and Narrative: “We Tell Ourselves Stories”

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Courtesy SVA.

April 16, 2018
Symposium on Art, Politics, and Narrative: “We Tell Ourselves Stories”
Organized by MFA Art Writing students and alumni
May 4–5, 2018
School of Visual Arts (SVA)
MFA Art Writing
132 West 21 Street
New York, NY 10010

Featuring talks, panel discussions, readings, and performances by the novelists Lucy Ives, Maaza Mengiste, and Yasmine El Rashidi; the historian Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts; the curators Alex Fialho and Candice Hopkins; the writers Mirene Arsanios, Lina Mounzer, and Adam Shatz; and the poet Mina Zohal, among others.

A writer of art criticism, without much variation, tends to place a work of art, whatever its medium or discipline, at the very center of his or her field of concentration. But the intense formal analysis of the artwork and its material (or immaterial) properties is often only a part of the writer’s job. Everything around the artwork makes a ruckus of noisy demands, begging to be translated into narrative—into the story of the artwork’s making, the biography of the artist, an account of the wider political or historical context, the effect of the artwork on audiences, and the traces it begins to leave behind in the world it has entered as a strange species of fact. The lure of storytelling is strong, often troublesome, and requires its own process of critical reflection and inquiry.

Why do we tell stories about and through art, and for whom? What do these stories convey as evidence? Who has the right to tell them and when? How does this change when the stories of art are written as fiction versus nonfiction, experimental text versus classical essay, the work of community advocacy or political activism versus the practice of objective reportage? What is the relationship between stories and the realities of history, power, and systemic violence? Are stories adequate to convey the complexities of historical traumas or ongoing conflicts? When is the original image, action, or object of study overwhelmed by too much storytelling?

“We Tell Ourselves Stories” is an international symposium for enunciating and exploring some of the most urgent issues facing young and emerging practitioners in the field of art writing today. It is both named for and inspired by Joan Didion’s landmark essay “The White Album,” which tumbles through jump cuts, fragments, and juxtapositions to grapple with a set of wildly disturbing events in the summer of 1968. Heading into the equally disorienting summer of 2018, Didion’s text raises pertinent concerns about the efficacy of personal, confessional, and emotional modes of writing, particularly as they appear on the page alongside their analytical, philosophical, and political brothers.

“We Tell Ourselves Stories” will include two evenings of talks, readings, and performances, regarding art criticism through the lenses of fiction, poetry, and history. It will also present three focused panel discussions on the related subjects of art and politics, intersectional feminism, and support structures, all as a means of addressing the material conditions of art writing now.

The symposium is free and open to the public but seats are limited and registration is encouraged. For more information and a full program of events, please visit To register, please email Cigdem Asatekin at casatekin [​at​]

Organizing Committee: Alexandra Alexa, Cigdem Asatekin, Sahar Khraibani, Sanjana Srinivasan, Sumeja Tulic
Faculty Advisor: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
MFA Art Writing Chair: David Levi Strauss
MFA Art Writing Assistant to the Chair: Annette Wehrhahn

We are now accepting applications for the fall 2018 term. 

Generous departmental scholarships, as well as other forms of assistance, are available for successful applicants.

To see sample programs, faculty bios, news, the online journal Degree Critical, recordings of our popular lecture series, and admissions procedures, go to

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School of Visual Arts (SVA)
April 16, 2018

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