It’s not an obvious trajectory for an arts writer to get her start by writing about dogs, thrift stores, and labor hiring sites. For VCS grad Vicky Gannon, however, it worked quite well. After years of perseverance she has found herself where she aspired to be professionally. Sitting down with her over coffee, Gannon’s constant smile made this clear. Just before the new year Gannon recounted the story of how she became an editorial associate at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in September 2011.
It begins with an art exhibition that Gannon saw as an undergraduate student. Where many museum-goers are moved by the artworks in an exhibition, Gannon was moved by the text. Her realization was not that she wanted to make art, rather she wanted to write the interpretive labels. With a background in journalism and only a minor in art history she lacked confidence. “For a while I didn’t feel super qualified to write about art. I don’t think I had developed my own language for talking about it. I was intimidated by all of the rhetoric and academic references.”
Six years after finishing her undergraduate degree, Gannon applied to the Visual and Critical Studies program to develop this aspect of her writing and combine reporting with first person essays. “When I was in college I took a drawing class and a writing class. Both my projects were really autobiographical, but I found that when I was drawing I was experiencing things one way and when I was writing it was a totally different type of process. I started thinking about how to combine the two.”
At CCA Gannon wrote on a variety of topics but despite the diversity of the subject matter she maintained an unfailing connection to her own interests. “Everything I wrote about was tied to my life in some way or had its origins there.” This strong sense of self helped to overcome harbored insecurities about writing art criticism. “In art school I got over my intimidation of the art world. The ideas are more important than knowing the names of particular theorists.”
After graduation Gannon began writing two art reviews a month for KQED. Though the job was not financially lucrative it paid in other ways, introducing Gannon to the greater Bay Area art scene. But as writer, Gannon still felt isolated. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to about writing about art.” In 2009 Gannon saw Patricia Maloney of Art Practical speak and knew immediately that she wanted to be a part of the project. Shortly thereafter she became the Copy Chief for Art Practical and began periodically contributing reviews. Financial stability was still nowhere in sight, yet Gannon was determined to find both a platform for her writing and a community. She continued to cultivate relationships with various art institutions and galleries throughout the city. These connections pushed and fostered her writing in unforeseeable ways, introducing her to subjects and artists she would not have pursued independently. Sitting with Gannon it’s clear that nurturing a sense of community was as paramount as her determination to build professional connections. Developing a network “can be fruitful” she says, “but it’s nice to make connections with people, to acknowledge we are all doing the same thing.”
In 2010 Gannon finally landed fulltime employment. But the job of copy editor at at woman’s beauty website was less than ideal. (Gannon noted her family’s shock when she painted her nails for the first time in a decade.) A far cry from her professional goals, this work motivated Gannon to pursue her true interests. She took on numerous freelance writing and editing jobs related to art, spending her time away from her full-time job working at home. It was during this time that she wrote a guest column for the Art21 Blog. In time Gannon became a regular monthly columnist, which provided her with a national audience.
Having established roots in writing art criticism in 2009 Gannon interviewed for a position at SFMOMA. She was turned down. Several months later the position was open again. Gannon applied. Rejected again. “In college my dream became to work in publications in a museum. In 2010 I gave up.” Understandably Gannon was dubious when a friend encouraged her to apply again for the same position at an institution that had twice rejected her.
After carefully reading over the job description she realized it was a different job than the one that she applied for previously. While the earlier position was in the Marketing and Communications department, this open position was in Publications. She applied. Gannon described a sinking feeling after her first interview. Unwavering, Gannon went into the second one prepared. “I was really aggressive which is not really like me and I mentioned an SFMOMA exhibit I’d seen in 1998. I tried so hard.”
Gannon seems truly content in her new position at SFMOMA where she is responsible for editing text written by curators for both exhibitions and catalogues. “The words that accompany an exhibition have a lot of power. It’s incredible to be a part of the process.” The writing she edits isn’t her own, so true to her nature, she has found an outlet within the institution to write in her voice, contributing to SFMOMA’s Open Space blog. “I spent the last two days working on an article for the blog. It was awesome to be at work writing about an artist that I really liked and writing in my own voice. It is what I used to do at home at six in the morning before going to work! It’s amazing.”
Article Credit: Morgan Levy