The Joys of Writing

I have been writing texts about art for more than 10 years. And I love doing this. Each text is like entering a new world, it involves seeing new art, talking to artists, reading other texts, doing research. And, also very important, playing with words and images.

I hope to go on researching, writing and talking about art for many years to come. But there are some things that make me feel uncomfortable and that is the general disrespect for writers. I have received so many “offers” to write essays (or give talks) that each would give me “great exposure”, “collaboration with a great team” and so on. Of course, all these beautiful words only hide the real issue: They won’t pay me.

Many other writers, translators, artists, curators etc. will only be too familiar with this. And as someone once said: We should ask those who give us these great offers whether they go into a bakery and ask for bread for free and tell the staff they would tell all their friends about how great that particular bakery was. Or whether they would ask a hairdresser to cut their hair for free in exchange for “exposure”. Or call the plumber and offer him “great networking opportunities” while he’s fixing broken pipes…As soon as our experiences are translated into other fields, everybody can see how ridiculous such proposals are.

But writers, artists, curators are still often asked to work for free. So far, I would say that I have my fair share, but still have managed to avoid being too much bothered by it. Mostly, I have worked with art journals, catalogue publishers and editors who have been respectful and have made it a pleasure to work with them. I have also sometimes offered my work for free if it has been for some good cause or to help friends.  But I always reject giving away my work for free to large institutions, commercial venues or magazines or to people who are not my friends. However, I just had a “proposal” on an entirely new level.

Apart from writing texts for art journals, online art and culture magazines or exhibition catalogues, I also publish my research in academic journals. Since my return to academia is quite recent, my list of academic publications is not that long. And that apparently means that some publishers think of me as a “young researcher” and therefore “easy prey”. Only, I have been working with all kinds of institutions for long enough to know when something is fishy.

I received an email today with the following wording:

Dear Charlotte Bank,

This is Cultural and Religious Studies, an international, professional and peer-reviewed journal published across the United States by David Publishing Company, 616 Corporate Way, Suite 2-4876, Valley Cottage, NY 10989, USA.

We have learned your paper A Space of One’s Own. The Emergence of a Contemporary Art Scene in Syria” at the 18th International Congress of DAVO. We are interested in your paper and also would like to publish some unpublished papers from you in our journal. If you have the idea of making our journal a vehicle for your research interests, please send the electronic version of your papers or books to us in MS word format via email attachment. All your original and unpublished papers are welcome.

From now on (2015), all the papers published in our journal will have its own DOI (Digital Object Unique Identifier) numbers.

Currently, we are trying to invite some scholars who are willing to join our editorial board or be our reviewers. If you are interested in our journal, please send your CV to us.

I presented the said paper in 2011. Maybe it’s a bit late to state an interest in it in 2016. Also, I wouldn’t normally place my research within “cultural and religious studies”. Furthermore, the wording of the email is very strange and faulty. And I have never heard about a serious academic publisher actually contacting researchers because they would like to publish their work. A brief google search gave some interesting information. The “David Publishing Company” seems to be a publisher from China (not from the USA as stated in the mail) and they appear to have quite a reputation of being predatory. Here are just two articles about their practices:

They seem to target “young” and “inexperienced” researchers and contact them after conference presentations. And once they receive the paper and it is “peer reviewed” and accepted after a very short time, the writer is asked to pay (!). I was not familiar with the concept of “academic predatory publishing”, but have occasionally come across fake self-publishing services. But this seems an entirely new dimension of disregarding writers’ rights. And what makes it even more perfidious is that it seems to rely on inexperienced peoples’ credulousness.

My writing is situated in a field that is still quite young (non-Western contemporary and modern art or Global art). So often, we have to place out writing in lesser known and new journals. But we should not forget to do the natural thing when thinking about where to publish: Do proper research before sending in any new, unpublished text.




About zakharifblog

Art historian and curator, living and working between Berlin and Geneva. Formerly based in Damascus.
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