Thoughts on The Double Negative Fellowship – Denise Courcoux

The Double Negative Fellowship 2018 (L-R): Ellie Wiseman, Jacob Bolton and Denise Courcoux

“I wanted critical feedback that would challenge me to produce the best writing I can.” Denise Courcoux on her time on The Double Negative’s inaugural Fellowship, how it has affected her writing and raised her sights…

Being selected for The Double Negative’s inaugural Fellowship last summer was hugely exciting for me. I had been writing about art for five years, on and off. I spend a lot of my free time visiting exhibitions. Going away and researching them further, and reflecting on them critically, enriches the whole experience for me. My reviews had previously been published on a few cultural websites; I valued my writing being given a platform, and the thought that it might be useful to or appreciated by readers. Looking back over my application for the Fellowship, I wrote that I was ready to take my writing ‘to the next level’. I definitely wanted to try and professionalise my practice, and broaden the outlets I write for – but most of all, I wanted critical feedback that would challenge me to produce the best writing I can.

The calibre of mentors in the Fellowship was brilliant, and a little daunting: a set of internationally renowned writers for publications like Frieze, ArtReview and Ocula. I was delighted to be paired with writer and curator Ellen Mara De Wachter. We share a background in galleries and museums, and I admire her writing. I’d also quoted her in my dissertation – something I was too shy to mention! We agreed a schedule of monthly catch-ups; ahead of each I would email her some new writing for feedback. Ellen’s comments were always useful and thorough, from the nitty gritty of grammar to the overarching aims of a piece.

“Ellen shared practical advice on things like payment rates and how to pitch to publications”

Receiving regular, detailed feedback was incredibly useful, and something I’d not had before. Ellen pulled no punches in her critiques, but was always constructive and encouraging. Of the many useful tips I received, my main takeaways were to make my descriptions as accurate as possible, and to get to the heart of what is interesting about the subject; why should the reader care? These might sound obvious, but they are difficult to achieve well and take a lot of work – which means editing and re-editing. Ellen encouraged me not to be afraid of putting my feelings into my writing, and we talked about confidence. She also shared practical advice on things like payment rates and how to pitch to publications, as well as offering some wonderful reading recommendations.

Most of our discussions were conducted over the phone, and I looked forward to settling down with a brew and my laptop every month to talk writing. We also had an introductory meeting in Liverpool with TDN’s founders, Laura and Mike, and I paid a return visit to Ellen in London last September. We spent a great afternoon gallery-hopping in East London, including viewing the stunning Earwitness Theatre at Chisenhale Gallery, for which Lawrence Abu Hamdan has recently been nominated for the Turner Prize. Our monthly conversations meant I kept producing new writing, something I’d often found difficult to balance alongside a full-time job. During the Fellowship I wrote three exhibition reviews, edited an existing article on social class in the arts, and experimented with some creative memoir-style writing.

Applications Now Open! The Double Negative Fellowship // Deadline Sunday 8 July 2018

Most significantly for me, I also produced an essay for Present Tense, the forthcoming book from The Double Negative, featuring new writing by mentors and mentees involved in the Fellowship. We were asked to reflect on Liverpool a decade on from its year as European Capital of Culture; I chose to examine two of the city’s public artworks, by Barbara Hepworth and Richard Wilson. I loved the process of researching the piece and writing to a brief, and having critical feedback from both Ellen and TDN helped me to hone a piece of writing that I’m really proud of. Having my work published in a physical book will be an amazing outcome, and the designs I’ve seen look fantastic. A Kickstarter was launched to support the production costs,  and I was overwhelmed by the support shown to the project, especially by other emerging writers.

“It really helped demystify the world of art publications and what they are looking for”

Each of the writers who applied to the Fellowship also had the opportunity to attend a writing ‘boot camp’ with Jennifer Higgie, Editorial Director of Frieze. This was an inspiring and focused day on the technicalities of writing about art, and professional tips which really helped demystify the world of art publications and what they are looking for. The Fellowship exceeded my expectations in offering an array of unique and valuable opportunities to progress my writing. If I could change anything, I would have liked to have met up with the other Fellows [Ellie Wiseman and Jacob Bolton, pictured with Denise, above] more to share our experiences – it was great to see their new writing appearing throughout the process.

Since completing the Fellowship in January, I have already had a couple of paid writing commissions. I have written about Liverpool Biennial’s touring programme, and I was approached by artist Rebecca Chesney to report on an event about art and class, a great opportunity to delve further into an issue that is important to me. I have also made my first pitches to a national print publication – something I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before starting the programme. I am determined to keep up the momentum I have gained from the Fellowship and, above all, keep writing.

Denise Courcoux

Denise’s essay, Finding Richard and Barbara: A Sculpture Walk, features in Present Tense, a forthcoming book from The Double Negative

Main image: The Double Negative Fellows 2018/19 (l-r: Ellie Wiseman, Jacob Bolton, Denise Courcoux)

Posted on 17/05/2019 by thedoublenegative