Communication must be the most complicated topic on the planet to master. Have you ever said anything to your wife, husband, or friend that they totally misunderstood? It happens to my wife and myself all too often. In school I had a statistics teacher who said if a class is given instructions half of them will misunderstand. I found this difficult to believe but as I get older I wonder… or did I misunderstand?!
According to Merriam-Webster there are many definitions for communication(s) but it boils down to information communicated or transmitted and a technique for expressing ideas effectively.
I deal in communication every week through my Missives where I try to tell my readers about an event I have seen or an experience I had. Some relate to these on a personal level in that they had a similar reaction or experience. Some give me the great compliment of saying that they are learning from what I write. On the other side of the coin I have to gather information that has to be communicated to me. I remember that often when I would ask a question at the dinner table my father would tell me to look it up in the encyclopedia and to my shame I usually was not that curious!
Later, I learned how to use a library but mostly used it just to complete assignments. Then we were blessed, or cursed as some people think, by the Internet. For me it is the greatest invention of our time. I have learned so much just sitting at the dinner table when my wife or I bring up a question that we can look up instantly. Yesterday, we were looking up the dates of the composers Mozart, Wagner and Dvorak and their lives. Often, however, it’s far more complicated issues.
If, however, I want to write about an exhibition it can be far more difficult, particularly, if I am writing about an exhibition or an event that has not yet occurred such as the Turner exhibition I reported on recently. I try not to read other reviews before writing but sometimes it is irresistible. Occasionally, it is the article itself that gives me the idea for my blog. Also, I sometimes look to learn what important point I may have missed, not for the opinion of the critic.
What used to be called the Public Relations Department at a museum is now called, almost universally, the Communications Department. Unfortunately, there are Communications Departments that do not communicate. For instance, I wanted to write about an exhibition that I had seen at the Los Angeles County Museum and about another that would open after I had left town. I phoned and followed up with two emails to the address I found on line and never heard. I did write about the show I saw but obviously could not write about a show in the future without more information. The same was true with a phenomenon in Santa Fe called Meow Wolf. It is an art collective creating installations and a loose story which you can wend you way through having very different experiences and results. Without some inside information it was not possible to write and after emails to different people, I gave up… though I will try again.
Of course, the best way to learn is if you can have direct communication with an individual you can speak with and has access to the material you are looking for. That was true for the Lyman Allen Museum, which I also wrote about recently. I had met the curator beforehand and could get first hand information and images.
With larger institutions and where I might not have connections or do not wish to impose I must rely on the Communications Department and each handles these matters differently. When I started these Missives I could get in touch with one person at the Metropolitan and that person supplied me with what information and photos I needed. As there were more and more outlets to satisfy and more an more going on at the museum I was referred to specific individuals who were “in charge” of a specific shows at the Museum. Now there is another layer on top of that which I believe to be an improvement. For the last couple of pieces I wrote on the Met I was given a name in the department and a code to get to the press material and press images pertinent to the exhibition.
The Frick Collection, which is far smaller has done me the honor of sending me Press packages in advance of a show which I take as a compliment presuming they want me to write. Once in a while I don’t comply but feel really badly about it since they certainly make it easy with a great deal of information including the press release and an illustrated check list from which I can ask for specific images.
As I tell every young person who asks the key to accomplishment is always who you know and that is also true for gathering information. The person you know is more apt to put in time and effort to go beyond the basics and in that manner communicate the best.