Writing About Contemporary Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities

University of Surrey, UK, 20–22 October 2017

An international, multi-disciplinary three-day conference to be hosted at the University of Surrey, UK

Writing about living or recently deceased figures presents unique challenges for scholars, journalists, and creative practitioners alike. This conference seeks to nurture dialogue between a range of different artistic fields concerning writing about contemporary artists. It encompasses disciplines including music, dance, theatre, film, digital arts, and creative writing as well as biographical, analytical, socio-contextual, promotional, ethnographic, and other types of discourse. It will focus upon the act of writing and the strategies, ideologies, and assumptions contained therein, as well as the boundaries as to what constitutes “writing” about contemporary artists in its multifarious forms, considering creative practice approaches alongside more conventional representations.

All types of artists, from all styles, genres, and cultures, may be considered under the aegis of the conference, including (but not limited to): classical, popular and world musics, contemporary dance and theatre, musical theatre, biopics and documentary film, digital media, and creative writing. The conference views writing about all artists – performers, directors, composers, choreographers, conductors, etc. – as being of equal importance. The expectation is that the majority of papers will address innovative, distinctive, or otherwise leading work by living or recently deceased artists active within the last c.25 years.

20-minute papers (plus 10 minutes for questions) are invited on any aspect of writing about contemporary artists, including (although not limited to) the following broad areas whether singly or in combination:

  • Strategies for meaningful writing (in all its forms) about ‘life and works’
  • Interactions of biography, analysis, and cultural context, and the legitimising function of discourse
  • Artists writing about (and influencing writing about) their work; writing about artist processes
  • Theoreticians and critics writing from the perspective of artists and/or writing about artists’ processes
  • The development of journalism and criticism concerning contemporary artists; biographical writing beyond the academic disciplines
  • Analysing promotional discourse on contemporary artists; the influence of celebrity culture
  • Perceived or potential conflicts of interest, ethical and legal sensitivities in relation to writing about living or recently-deceased figures
  • Writing about subjects who are representatives of minority groups on grounds of gender, sexuality, race, etc.
  • Contemporary artists explored through documentary film-making or biopics
  • Non-conventional forms of biographical writing e.g. music composition, dance, theatre, digital media arts, creative writing

Proposals for panels of 3–4 papers (1.5–2 hours) on a closely related topic are also warmly welcomed, as are proposals for roundtables (3–5 participants, 1 hour duration).

Proposals adopting alternative formats will be favourably considered. The organisers would particularly invite papers that incorporate a practice as research dimension, or other creative work relating to the theme of the conference. We are also proposing a roundtable exploring questions around the status of creative practice as a form of research in different arts disciplines.

The conference will not merely confine itself to academic perspectives; to this end, we hope to include a roundtable between a variety of individuals from scholarly, journalistic, promotional and other backgrounds. The language of the conference will be English. Keynote speakers and details of roundtables and performances associated with the conference will be announced shortly, on the conference webpage.

We envisage that an edited volume, to be submitted to a major academic publisher of arts research, will be developed from papers presented at the conference.


Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent by 29 May 2017 to Dr Christopher Wiley (c.wiley@surrey.ac.uk).


  • Submission deadline: 29 May 2017
  • Submission notification: 30 June 2017
  • Registration deadline: 1 September 2017


The conference fee will be £90 per delegate (reduced rates available for students/the unwaged), including refreshments throughout the day but excluding the conference dinner, for which there will be a supplementary charge of £35. Entry to events planned as part of the conference will be included in the registration fee. Online registration will open in June.

The University of Surrey is located in Guildford, 40 minutes away from London by train, and within easy reach of Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Travel information can be found here. Information on local hotels is available on the Accommodation page.


Enquiries may be directed to the Chair of the Conference Committee, Dr Christopher Wiley (c.wiley@surrey.ac.uk)


Dr Christopher Wiley (University of Surrey, Chair), Ian Pace (City University of London, Deputy Chair), Dr Patrick Duggan (University of Surrey), Dr Shantel Ehrenberg (University of Surrey), Dr Bella Honess Roe (University of Surrey), Kirk Woolford (University of Surrey), Dr Lucy Ella Rose (University of Surrey).

This conference is organised in association with the Department of Music and Media, Guildford School of Acting, and the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey. The conference organisers gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Department of Music and Media, and Institute of Performance, University of Surrey.