While I was writing my guide to interpretive writing about art, I started a list of “museum speak” – words that are common among museum workers but often confound the public. (Read this guide online now in your current browser or download a printable pdf.)
The list never made it into the guide, but I’m posting it here. It’s only a partial list, I’m certain there are many more “museum speak” words. Help me complete the list and we’ll all have a guide to words we shouldn’t use when we write. What words would you add?
- Iconography: Annunciation, Deposition, Ascension, Bodhisattva and many others
- Trompe l’oeil
- School of … Follower of … Attributed to …
- Linear perspective
- Medium: gouache, intaglio, silver gelatin print, and many others
- Ancient regime (and a million other opaque period terms)
- Donor portrait
- The verbs: priviledge, appropriate, reference
And here’s an interesting twist: the term “engagement” was suggested by several people. I don’t consider “engagement” a word we should not write for our visitors to read. But engagement is a big buzzword in our field, now and in the recent past. Are we sick of it now? Did we always dislike it? And at the risk of getting off on a tangent, what’s wrong with engaging our visitors?
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