How many times have we read that translation is an art? Way too many and, nevertheless, it is still hard to make people understand that translating art is not translating an easy general text, if there is such thing as a general text.
[La traducción al español de esta entrevista se puede leer aquí]
To learn more about this, there is nothing better that to listen to an expert in translating art and the challenges it entails: Joanna Martinez. She translates from Spanish/Catalan into English and will teach a workshop on February 21. I have been lucky enough to ask her some questions for the blog, for those of you that cannot make it to
in time. This workshop is part of a MET event. MET is the
association of Mediterranean Editors and Translators, and at the end of the
post you will have some extra information and the links to the program for the
- You mention that Art is usually considered a general topic in translation. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a general topic but it is true that it rarely received the same status as a legal text or a technical translation. Now that translators of technical architeture documents are fighting to get some recognition, I think it might be the time to explain and let people know why art is not such a general topic. What can you tell the readers about art as an area of expertise?
Yes, strictly speaking you’re right to say there’s no such thing as a general topic, though I think you’d agree that some subjects are certainly considered more “light” than others. Art is a very broad field and embraces painting, sculpture, print-making, architecture, photography and the decorative arts, all of which have their respective technical terminology. On the other hand, art criticism – writing about art – is not so much technical as extremely broad-ranging in its often obscure references and impenetrable discourse, and this can involve endless research and brain-racking. The trend towards art-speak, or what’s been termed “International Art English”, actually makes things a bit easier because it allows for a more literal translation.
- Do you have a specific rate, like, for example, many translators have a rate for general texts and then another for more technical or difficult documents, do you different rates? if so, do the clients and agencies understand the reason why?
I’ve always charged the same rate to the same client, whatever the text type. I would certainly never base the rate on how “difficult” a text is because that’s a highly subjective yardstick: a highly technical text can be easy for a translator who specialises in that subject, and sometimes the most apparently simple texts can be the hardest to get just right. When I tell people I specialise in art and law, they always say “Oh, law must be awfully difficult.” And I always say no, art is actually far more difficult and takes twice or three times as long!
- You talk about "tourism literature" as something different to art translation, could you explain this in detail?
By “tourist literature” I mean general guidebooks, leaflets, etc. that cover town and countryside, monuments, events, customs, food, places to stay – much more general in scope and aimed at the average reader/traveller. However, that’s not to say these texts are easy to translate – in fact when translators have approached me for work, I’ve always given them a bit of tourist literature as a test piece! On the other hand, by “art” I mean basically museum/gallery stuff and coffee-table books.
- Which are the main types of texts / types of formats (video, text, audio files) that an art translator could receive? Which one is your favourite?
The only formats I’ve worked with have been text files (you usually need special equipment for handling audio or video files for dubbing/ subtitling and even for transcribing/translating). The main text types would be books, essays, press articles, reviews, exhibition catalogues, panels, picture captions, etc.
My favourite of all are audio guides – which you translate from a written script – because you’re speaking direct to someone who actually wants to listen; whereas I’m sure a lot of the translations I’ve done for exhibition catalogues, which have involved a huge amount of effort, never ever get read at all.
- Do you work more for direct clients or agencies?
I’ve always worked for direct clients: publishers, galleries and museums. Agencies approach me from time to time but they find my rates too high – which they probably are for them as they’re closer to what the agency would be charging its client.
- What has been the most challenging art-related project that you have accepted? What were the challenges and how do you solve the issues?
Without doubt it was the first book I did for a
publisher, on Marcel Duchamp – not the easiest of artists at the
best of times. Imagine pre-internet days, no art books in English to consult in
UK libraries or bookshops – just my own rather limited reference
books. It was very hard-going indeed. Now, of course, one would have endless
resources at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger. Barcelona
- Are there good research sources (specialised dictionaries, glossaries, websites, forums) or do you create your reference materials? I know you will talk about this on the workshop but gives us just a sneal-peek.
The resources I still rely on a lot are printed books, mainly because I already have them and they don’t date very much; but also because I think a lot more care used to be taken over publishing a reference book than is taken now over producing a website. That said, museum websites can be a mine of information. I also have my own Wordfast glossaries, which simplify and speed up much of the translating process.
- How has the crisis affected this area of the translation market?
Probably as much as in any other sector. Clients are cutting costs, looking for cheaper translators in other countries, sometimes getting short translations done by staff who speak English – and in one instance even using Google Translator and sending it to me to revise!
- Now, focusing on the workshop, what can you tell us about its target audience? Can you give us some spoilers about what are you going to show/teach in the workshop?
It’s basically aimed at translators who’ve already done work in this field and those thinking of entering it. I’ll be pointing out to them what to expect, what problems to be aware of and how to tackle them, particularly when working for Spanish clients, who don’t usually have native English editors, proof-readers, etc.
- Why art? Why not other areas?
Art is what you might call a “universal subject”, like science but unlike law with its different national systems based on Roman law, common law, etc. Spanish-English legal translation can be a minefield, and probably no two legal translators would agree on how to translate any given term.
But that is not all we can learn at the MET worskhops in
. Oliver Shaw will tell us a bit more about what we can expect
from this event: Madrid
- I’d like to know a bit about the “medley” you will be having between the two workshops. What it is about, what can people expect to learn, and what topics will be discussed?
Since this is the first MET workshop day outside of
—where the association is based—we wanted to give participants a
taste of the kind of issues that are relevant to our members. So we decided to
put together a medley consisting of several 10-minute presentations by MET
members and make the session free and open to the public. The medley will
open with a short presentation by MET President Alan Lounds on the
strengths and challenges of a peer-training association like ours. This
will be followed by more industry-specific talks on changes to Google
search algorithms and why it’s important for language professionals to keep
up with these changes, Google alternatives for editors and
translators, the broad scope of today’s medical market for English
language supporters, the expectations placed on in-house English language
supporters, a talk on art and its related markets, and finally MET’s plans
for its 10th annual meeting to be held this fall. I believe participants will come away with innovative approaches that can
add value to their daily work and also gain a fuller picture of the niche
markets open to professionals working into or with the English language. Barcelona
- Is there anything else readers should know about the event on February 21 or the organization itself?
Yes, we would be delighted to see many new faces on hand at the International Institute, but spots for Joanna’s workshop are limited and people must register beforehand through the workshop page. And although the medley is open to everyone, we ask that people use the online sign-up form so we can organize the event. People who are interested in what we do should check out our website, our Twitter feed, and our Facebook page.