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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Thomas Sargeant, Acting Deputy Editor for Art Gallery Society of NSW

26 June, 2024

Today Medianet is joined by Thomas Sargeant, Acting Deputy Editor of Look Magazine. Thomas gives an insight into his role as Editor, how his time at Honi Soit has prepared him for a writing career and just what makes a good piece of art writing.


Hi Thomas! Thanks so much for chatting with me! Firstly, congratulations on your new role as Acting Deputy Editor for Look. What does a typical day as Editor usually entail?

ThomasSargeantThank you! My typical day has been changing all the time depending on which phase of the bimonthly production cycle we’re in, which keeps things exciting.

Right now we’re gearing up for another issue so my days have involved writing short captions, columns and artist introductions as well as clearing images for copyright and setting deadlines with contributors.

At the same time, we’re also putting finishing touches on our outgoing issue, so that has involved sub-editing, organising executive approvals, and working with our publishers to actually fit all of our text on the page.


What would you say is the ratio of commissioned vs pitched content on any given issue of Look? How do you choose which artists/arts writers to commission and what makes for a memorable pitch?

I was surprised to learn that very few of our articles are pitched! Most of our content is commissioned to align with our current exhibition and program schedule. Given that our focus is on the Art Gallery of New South Wales, many articles tend to be written by Art Gallery staff, namely the curators working on a particular show.

Approving pitches isn’t quite my wheelhouse in this role, but I would say that the best pitches offer a unique perspective on a topic that is relevant to our audience: members of the Art Gallery.


What makes for good arts writing and criticism? And what kinds of perspectives/stories do you hope to feature more in your time as Editor at Look

For me, the best arts writing and criticism is accessible. It opens a door for people to enjoy and relate to artworks that they would otherwise find opaque. Even if you’ve studied an art movement in-depth, if you can’t write about it in a way that an enthusiastic layman can understand then you’re only communicating with a very narrow audience.

In my time as Acting Deputy Editor, I’m mostly hoping to keep everything afloat and learn as much as I can! Otherwise, I’m keen to continue Look’s work in uplifting emerging artists and prioritising Indigenous perspectives. A challenge that I’m hoping to take on is how to better engage young people and help them feel like this is an institution for everyone.


AI seems to be on everyone’s mind. What are your thoughts on its potential impacts on creative industries? 

I’m no expert but I think that AI’s impact on creative industries is much overhyped. It’s a powerful tool, but its use is entirely dependent on the hand guiding it. I’m sure it will help people with content creation, but audiences don't want to read something that you couldn’t be bothered writing.

I’m most interested in how it’s going to push artists and writers to innovate, the same way that photography didn’t supersede painting but opened up new avenues for it. There are plenty of great uses for AI in the art world, and I think audiences are smart enough to separate out its innovative uses from laziness.


You mentioned that you’ll only be in this position for a few more months. Do you have any plans to do more arts editorial/writing in the future? 

Most definitely. I don’t see a future for myself that doesn’t involve arts writing. I’m a bit torn between my love for longer-form arts writing and for shorter journalistic pieces, so I am hoping to make room for both. My time at Honi Soit taught me the power and fun of being your own publisher, so if further opportunities don’t materialise I’ll be forging my own path.


And how has your time at Honi Soit impacted your writing/publishing career? Would you recommend that young/emerging writers take opportunities like this?

I really can't overstate the impact that my time at Honi Soit has had on me. It's a year-long crash-course in project management, publication design, budgeting, cold calling, marketing, defamation law, conflict resolution, sub-editing, event planning, anything you can imagine. I was incredibly lucky to have an opportunity like Honi that pays you as an editor and has the budget to fund a weekly print edition.

I'd recommend that emerging writers take every chance they can to get new experience, but making these opportunities your own and pursuing your passions is where you'll have the most fun and learn the most. Beyond experience, the biggest impact Honi Soit made on me was feeling like writing and publishing was within my grasp. That attending arts festivals and reporting on breaking news were skills I had that could actually be honed into a career.

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