Editing can be a hard, tedious, and boring task. Not everyone writes well, and even fewer people enjoy the process of nitpicking a text before publication. Ensuring texts maintain factual accuracy, stylistic integrity, and basic grammar is one of the great endless (and thankless) tasks of good communication. Unedited texts appear sloppy, and they reflect poorly on the writer and the subject they highlight.
This ArtSpeak column is all about editing. Picture me as the dour schoolmaster lecturing about where to place a comma. I’ve inserted as much humor as possible into this column, because the art of editing needs a bit of levity. We all make mistakes. Editors often edit their fellow editors. This is how we transform good texts into great texts.
I seek precise, effective texts. This is why editing is so important. All of my examples here come from the schedule of events for Elevate: Microcosm, this year’s installment of the annual downtown art event organized by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The event has a beautiful “About” statement, but the programming blurbs read like unfinished drafts.
This event has four curators—Allie Bashuk, Monica Campana, Mark DiNatale, and Pastiche Lumumba—who apparently don’t know the difference between its and it’s. In the case of Elevate: Microcosm, the schedule of events seems to have been created by multiple writers, but without an overall editor coordinating everything at the end. This is a classic case of lack of leadership—when commas, hyphens, and apostrophes are used inconsistently or incorrectly, it shows that nobody cared enough to make the text correct.
For ease of understanding, I’ve underlined the sections in the original texts that need to be fixed:
“The 404 Dinner is a collaboration between Elevate, Living Walls and the residents of Broad St. that aims to create a conversation within residents of South Downtown and other Atlanta residents. Via the act of dining we will conduct a research project that hopes to find out what it is that the residents of South Downtown wish to see in their community in the coming years.”
One of my biggest pet peeves in writing is the verb-infinitive combo. Here we have “aims to create,” “hopes to find out,” and “wish to see” all in one paragraph! My beef with these constructions is twofold: first, I think they create weak, uninspiring rhetoric; second, they are wordy. Are the artists not doing anything? Are they only “aiming, hoping, and wishing” rather than “creating, finding out, and seeing?” These verb-infinitive combos make the artists seem unsure or unconfident of their work. These examples all use three words when one will do. They are word trash.
Also, the prepositional phrase “within residents of South Downtown and other Atlanta residents” only vaguely conveys an idea. The construction implies the conversation is taking place inside (“within”) each of these separate individuals who live in different areas. Are they talking to themselves? The writer means to say that conversation is being created among people, but they get that idea completely wrong.
Consistency is extremely important in editing. This text uses the abbreviation “Broad St.,” but in other places in the Elevate: Microcosm program, “Broad Street” is spelled out. Agencies, publications, and other organizations typically have a house style for these details. The idea is to pick one and be consistent. This text does not use a serial (aka Oxford) comma in the list “Elevate, Living Walls and the residents of Broad St.” There are other places in the Elevate program where the serial comma is used. For example, the artist list for “Truth Booth,” the subtitle for “Panel: Who Will Survive in Atlanta,” and the description for the “Digital Good Times Experience” all use the serial comma. Again, pick a style and be consistent! Finally, the event is referred to as both “ELEVATE” and “Elevate” throughout the program. For the sake of consistent branding, pick one and be consistent!
Any of the above options are acceptable. The text could use or not use the serial comma (I prefer it for the sake of clarity), and either choice would be okay. Both “Broad St.” and “Broad Street” are fine. “Elevate” and “ELEVATE” are equally acceptable. The trick is picking an option and sticking with it throughout the entire schedule.
An edited version:
The 404 Dinner is a collaboration between Elevate and Living Walls that offers an opportunity for conversation among residents of South Downtown and other Atlanta neighborhoods. Via the act of dining, we will conduct a research project to find out what the residents of South Downtown desire in their community in the coming years.
FRKO – Murmur Gallery
“The installation is about bringing a true identity to the women who embody the art form of exotic dancing, and highlighting the cultural and economic impact they have on our City. To the average individual the identity of an exotic dancer is often separate from that of the woman, and made into an objectified, sexualized image we see in the media. This installation aims to highlight the women who bring these clubs to life. Through creating a visceral experience of lighting, sound and effects, the installation will show performers reciting monologues that give an identity beyond the club to the women who make exotic dancing their profession.”
The first sentence does not need a comma. This comma is a dog turd the reader steps in mid-sentence, and it completely ruins the grammatical integrity of the text. The ending of this sentence, “and highlighting the cultural and economic impact they have on our City,” is not an independent clause and does not need a comma preceding “and.” (If the two parts of the sentence can stand alone as complete sentences, they need to be joined by a comma and a conjunction.) Examine the structure of the sentence. The word “about” begins a prepositional phrase that is the direct object of the sentence. The words “bringing” and “highlighting” both belong to this prepositional phrase. This is not a list. These are not two independent clauses (even though the writer tries to make it that), and the comma in this sentence does not belong.
There are more comma mistakes in the second sentence as well. The nonessential clause “To the average individual” needs a comma after it. The clause “and made into an objectified, sexualized image we see in the media” needs to be rewritten as an independent clause to justify the use of the comma preceding “and.” The comma could also be deleted, but I think creating two independent clauses would be more clear in this case.
The word “City” should not be capitalized in the opening sentence because it generically refers to “Atlanta.” If the text refers to the formal agency “City of Atlanta,” then “City” should be capitalized.
The phrase “aims to highlight” can certainly be shortened to just “highlights.”
The installation is about bringing a true identity to the women who embody the art form of exotic dancing and about highlighting the cultural and economic impact they have on our city. To the average individual, the identity of an exotic dancer is often separate from that of the woman, and she becomes the objectified, sexualized image we see in the media. This installation highlights the women who bring these clubs to life. In an installation including light, sound, and special effects, performers will recite monologues that give exotic dancers an identity beyond the club.
Tiona McClodden “Sweet Atlanta Black Simulacrum” – Broad Street Visitor’s Center
“Sweet Atlanta Black Simulacrum will be a multi-media installation situated with Atlanta’s Broad Street Visitor’s Center consisting of rear projections, images, and sound set within a real estate style display system that is set to subvert and challenge the current state of the city’s relationship to gentrification as a complicit and non-complicit act of cultural erasure and re-appropriation of the real.”
Huh? This is a three-part run-on sentence! The writer has crammed several verbs, a list, and a grab-bag full of jargon into one single Franken-sentence. This should be two or three sentences.
Artists often write descriptions that say their work is something, as well as that something’s polar opposite. If something is both “complicit and non-complicit” … then it’s everything! Artists write these descriptions because they think they sound creative and complex, but in reality they sound confused.
The preposition “with” here is also incorrect. It should be “within” or “inside.”
What does “the real” even mean in this sentence? There is no context to explain it. This phrase becomes meaningless jargon. And in their sentence, it should have quotes.
“Real estate style” all modify “display” and should be hyphenated. When multiple adjectives are describing the same noun (but is not a list of adjectives like “big, red, and expensive convertible”), this is called a compound-adjective. Hyphens should join the adjectives together accordingly.
Sweet Atlanta Black Simulacrum will be a multimedia installation situated within the Broad Street Visitor’s Center and will consist of rear projections, images, and sound. This piece is composed of a real-estate-style display system that subverts and challenges the current state of the city’s relationship to gentrification as an act of cultural erasure.
Public Art & Spaces: Pedro Alonzo, Anne Dennington, Ryan Gravel, Camille Love, Moderator: Victoria Camblin
“Our city as a gallery – how can we use public space to push the boundaries of where stories and information are experienced. How might people engage with content and each other in new and different ways? How can Atlanta use art to interact with it’s citizens?”
“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is always a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” When used as a possessive (as in this case) “its” does not have an apostrophe. Here, “its” functions like the words “his” or “her” — a possessive pronoun. Many people make this error. Still, glaring errors like this should not be in official, professional materials.
The opening, “Our city as a gallery,” should probably be set in quotes since it is a sentence fragment acting as a title for the event. The following sentence is actually a question, and should have a question mark at the end of it.
“Our city as a gallery” — How can we use public space to push the boundaries of where stories and information are experienced? How might people engage with content and each other in new and different ways? How can the City of Atlanta use art to interact with its citizens?
Elysia Crampton Performance
“Dissolution of the Sovereign: A Time Slide into the Future”
A play that unfolds as a DJ production and performance that works alongside Demon City (Crampton’s sophomore album). The narrative follows Aymara Revolutionary, Bartolina Sisa’s limbs after they were severed, continuing from the perspective of the entrails as they turn into stone, petrified on a time slide into a distant future where the sun has gone out and trans humanoid arachnids have inherited a world free of the prison industrial complex. The work is Elysia’s attempt to bridge the Aymara oral history tradition/theater legacy with her own trans femme abolitionist grasp of futurity, always amidst the cataclysmic, irreducible horizon of coloniality.
This entire text is a train wreck and needs to be completely rewritten. Let me just start by saying the opening sentence is a fragment. The word “that” precedes a verb twice, with both occurrences turning the sentence into a garbled, grammatically incorrect mess. Had either one of these instances been eliminated, this could have been a complete sentence.
The rest of the text needs major revision. The writer tries to fit as many flashy concepts in there as possible but never stops to give the ideas any context. The text could use some basic factual information: The Aymara are indigenous (and repressed) society in the Andes, and Bartolina Sisa was a noted freedom fighter killed by the Spanish in 1782. The topics brought up in this text are so incredibly particular that the writer should definitely assume the average Atlanta-based reader is unfamiliar with them.
The ending words of this text “trans femme abolitionist grasp of futurity, always amidst the cataclysmic, irreducible horizon of coloniality” needs simplification. In particular, the phrase “always amidst the cataclysmic, irreducible horizon” add unneeded words to the text.
What is a “time slide” and how are these body parts “petrified” on it? Unless the artist can provide more clarity about what this means, these words should also be eliminated from the text.
An edited version:
A play unfolds as a DJ production and performance works alongside Demon City (Crampton’s sophomore album). The narrative follows Bartolina Sisa, an indigenous Bolivian revolutionary, as she fights for freedom of the Aymara people. Her limbs were severed, and the story takes the perspective of her entrails as they turn into stone. Viewers will glimpse into a distant future where the sun has gone out and transhumanoid arachnids have inherited a world free of the prison-industrial complex. The work is Crampton’s attempt to bridge the Aymara oral history tradition/theater legacy with her own post-colonialist and feminist worldview.
These examples are illustrations of bad writing and nonexistent editing, and the end product reflects poorly on everyone involved. The individual programming for Elevate may be incredible, but the shoddy writing in the schedule does a disservice to the artists and the community Elevate serves. The quality of the writing should match the quality of the art. We can do better than this.