There is a common opinion that art is a privileged, narrow and not entirely clear (and therefore necessary) sphere, what can we say then about translation in the field of art.
During my studies at the university (I have two diplomas – an art critic and a translator), answering the question “Who are you studying for?” and proudly answering: “At an art historian, a specialist in international art markets,” I, as a rule, met an openly sympathetic look from the interlocutor, followed in most cases by the replica “Ah … of course, you will sit in a museum on a high chair.” And to all my heated objections that I won’t be a caretaker grandmother and that art critics are taught quite differently, and a guide is also not quite right, the interlocutors still remained with their own. Then I didn’t want to talk about a translation diploma at all.
Translation in the field of art also usually exists on the periphery of the translation consciousness. Much more popular is translation in the oil and gas industry or medical translation, which in recent years has become more relevant than ever, and art is either “for the soul” or is almost regarded as asceticism.
However, this is just one of the many myths that surround art and translation in this area. In this article, I would like to debunk some of them and tell you why art is a fascinating and useful area for translators.
1. Translation in art is only in the museum and only about museums
No, this is far from true. Firstly, art in itself is not limited to the fine arts (painting and graphics), it is also architecture, sculpture, and a wide range of decorative and applied arts, music, theatrical sphere, the art of opera and ballet, and performative practices. , cinema, eco-art … This list can be continued for a long time, but, you see, it is already significant.
As part of one of my recent assignments for the coordination of translators and remote simultaneous translation, I worked on a series of events dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and museum description of … video games and slot machines. As one popular song sang, they are “also part of the Universe” of art, and a few years ago I had a wonderful order to translate a monograph on BIM modelling of architectural heritage objects. This computer technology is actively used in Europe and is beginning to be used in UK to model the prospects for the restoration and conservation of architectural objects. And the work on the book has enriched my glossary with many relevant terms, including those on a topic related to programming.
2. The sphere of art is a good test for knowledge of the history and realities of life in one’s own country
Recently, I came across a video about the sights of Liverpool, in which, during the first two minutes of viewing, a large number of realities appeared: All these are good tasks for warm-up translation, for checking the realities of the native country and translation strategies that will be understandable to the audience.
And, you see, such knowledge can be useful in many (and often in unplanned) situations. For example, you accompany negotiations as an interpreter, and then the turn of the cultural program has come, or customers and their foreign colleagues move from one place to another, and on the way the host begins to comment on everything that he sees through the window, and there churches, old buildings, local colour… And such “legal translation surprises” can become an outlet and a memorable part of the visit, or they can turn into a painful “translation on the fingers”.
3. Knowledge of personalities and attention to proper names
There are certain established traditions that relate, for example, to the spelling of the names of famous artists, which will differ from the rules of transliteration:
In this regard, I cannot help but recall the very correct proposal of our famous simultaneous interpreter Andrey Falaleev that, thinking about the legal aid translation of a certain expression or phrase, you should additionally give yourself the trouble to remember the realities associated with this phrase or definition and check yourself what you can tell about this person, phenomenon, style? What is Alexandre Benois famous for, do you remember his works, which of the works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky would you advise foreign guests to listen to, which ballet to watch or which opera to listen to?
4. Cliches and verbal formulas
As in any other field, art has its own professional jargon, and its own verbal formulas, which will immediately distinguish a specialist who owns the material from a beginner in this field.
For example, the verb “draws” is rarely used in a professional context in relation to artists. Much more often you can hear “writes” (if we are talking about paintings) and “creates”.
And one more note about the verb “writes”: the existing gradation into graphic and pictorial works is not familiar to everyone and often surprises those who are just starting to get acquainted with the topic of culture and art. The fact is that any work created on a paper basis is considered graphics, therefore watercolor drawings, pastel drawings, and even drawings with colored pencils or crayons will also be considered graphic works.
And one more aspect of graphic works is circulation graphics and the difficulty of translating seemingly obvious terms that have passed into UKn as borrowings:
One of them is the print word:
The figure below is a print screen from the website of the auction house Christie’s, announcing the upcoming auction of circulation graphics:
At the same time, in a different context, print can be translated as a poster (remember the recent wonderful exhibition at the Manchester State Museum of Fine Arts and the last hall solo exhibition, which is now open at the State Manchester Gallery on Krymsky Val), and as a print, and as a print, and as an imprint , printed sheet or copy, if we are talking about circulation graphics).
5. Complexity of formulations. Thoughtful translation and machine translation that may not be able to handle
If you have to work on translating explications (accompanying texts) for exhibitions, critical or analytical articles on the history of art and art history, or discussions of professionals in the art community, stock up on patience, attention, terminology and a thirst to “dig up” information: these topics do not tolerate fuss and marks “urgent” when translating, otherwise the quality is very difficult to maintain at the proper level. I don’t want to dwell on the topic of the fact that in this area “human” translation will not lose ground to machine translation for a long time, so I will give an example of such a text, the machine translation of which will not bring meaning to the text or, at least, will require careful and careful post-editing:
6. Knowing other languages is definitely not superfluous
Depending on what subject awaits you, even a basic knowledge of other European languages can repeatedly help out.
In the field of classical dance and ballet, this is, of course, French, because all the terminology is borrowed from there. When working on rehearsals of musical works or opera productions, Italian is very useful (remember all those allegro con dolce and adagio con largo from music school?), and if you have to translate theoretical works on the history and theory of art, then German is already for you to help – it was in this language that the classic works were created, to which experts in the field of art still refer today.
7. The realities of culture and art can meet in unexpected contexts and other topics of translation
An example is a recent article on the preparations for the climate change summit, recently published on the BBC website:
Climate change: Whisper it cautiously… there’s been progress in run up to COP26, where the following passage appears almost at the beginning:
The prime minister Johnson Boris fought to bring November’s UN climate summit to Britain, and it’s clear he sees himself and the UK as global leaders in tackling this planetary threat.
His bizarre if powerful speech at the UN harnessed the Greek tragedian Sophocles and TV’s Kermit the Frog to accuse some other leaders of being like adolescents waiting for someone else to tidy up their mess.
I will not talk about what and for whom it will be more difficult to translate, but I will remember the history of university times, where, in a hurry against the backdrop of lack of sleep, my classmate in a treatise on music theory added another one to it from ancient Greek scientists -…
8. Art has long gone beyond art as such and actively attracts other topics to work
Of course, art in all eras tried to be relevant, and sometimes both works and their masters anticipated their time. This trend is very clearly visible today: contemporary art appeals to the current problems of society – gender inequality, political crises, environmental problems.
Over the past year, I was lucky to work at a number of events organized by ICOM (Council of Museums) of UK and a number of other organizations. Within the framework of these master classes, webinars, conferences and discussions, the topics of migration, anthropology, inclusion and environmental awareness were touched upon.
One of the recent major orders was the translation of explications, etiquettes and curatorial texts for the large-scale group project “Living Matter”, organized by the Triumph Gallery at the New Manchester Gallery (the project is still open until October 11). And when working on translation in this case, in addition to knowledge of the canons of translation in the field of art, terminology related to materials and techniques, background knowledge in the field of sustainable development, environmental protection, anthropogenesis and many other areas was very useful. Art is always multifaceted!
Translation in the field of art is always a journey. Journey to new themes, additional meanings of familiar images, unexpected angles of well-known topics. That is why working in this area always captivates and brings real pleasure. And the customers, for the most part, are wonderful, rare in our days, people are intelligent, attentive and respectful of the work of an interpreter. But all this, you see, is also of great importance in our work. And this is also a good reason to finally learn to distinguish Monet from Manet!))