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January 2008

Vol. 150 / No. 1258

Notes for contributors

EVEN SOME OF our best-placed readers – in museums and university departments, for example – seem to labour under certain misapprehensions as to how this Magazine is edited and what the procedure is for the publication of articles. It is sometimes assumed that most of the articles we publish are commissioned rather than submitted (the reverse is true); that we do not consider submissions in languages other than English (we are polyglot); that our Consultative Committee plays a directive role in what is published (it does not – but see below). The purpose of this Editorial is to explain how things work in the hope that potential contributors will not be put off from contacting us or from sending submissions through any misunderstanding of the editorial process.

The majority of articles we publish are sent to us voluntarily by authors from all over the world. Each year we receive an average of about 150; most are sent from Western Europe, the United States and Canada. Of these we accept about a third. An initial glance invariably tells us whether an article is or is not Burlington material. Potted biographies of artists; general articles on styles or periods in art; puffs of works already or about to be on the market; pieces based entirely on secondary sources – these are almost immediately disqualified. If an article looks promising it is then more carefully assessed, usually in house; at other times particular expertise is needed. It is then that our Consultative Committee as well as other scholars come to our aid and offer invaluable and often decisive advice, freely given. This can sometimes take several months. On first submission, articles should always be accompanied by their proposed illustrations in some form or another and should conform to our house style (set out in our ‘Notes for Contributors’ on our website under ‘Magazine’). Once accepted, we request illustrations at a publishable standard, in colour wherever possible, and the article joins others in the bank from which we draw for each issue. Some authors unhappily think that once their submission has been approved, it will soon make its appearance. Unfortunately this is not the case with the majority. Readers familiar with the Magazine’s annual cycle will know that we have some fixed special issues – February is devoted to Dutch and Flemish art, June to the decorative arts, December to sculpture. An accepted article often has to wait several months before it can be planted out in the most suitable company. We also have even more specific special issues from time to time, such as that devoted to Paul Mellon and British art last October; to Cézanne in 2006; to Raphael in 2004. It is with these that commissioning comes into play. This can be a perilous business as one missed deadline or an unavoidable drop-out at a late stage can seriously damage the desired result. In between these groups is the encouraged submission when we suggest that such-and-such a piece of research – a curator’s catalogue entry, for example, or the overflow from a book already undertaken or published – might make a suitable article. These nearly always prove worthwhile.

It is rare that we can publish an article or review in the state in which it is sent to us. We edit – for house style, concision, clarity, logic, accuracy. We have our preferences and hobby horses. Most contributors accept our efforts when sent a proof and, if disagreement arises, the card of happy compromise is not too far up our sleeve.

A frequent complaint from readers is that our book reviews often appear long after the book in question has been published. There are a variety of reasons for this – slow authors, slow editors, waiting for the right issue, review copies sometimes taking months to arrive in the office, complex books that need considerable research if they are to be expertly assessed. The question of reviews of exhibitions appearing after the shows have closed is more simply answered. Exhibitions are sometimes on view for a month or six weeks only (especially dealers’ shows). The editing and printing process of a monthly magazine cannot accommodate the instant review. Moreover, we are concerned with lasting comment rather than headlined topicality. On the subject of reviews, no author should hesitate to contact the Editor if he or she would like to write on a particular book or exhibition. The keen, appropriate volunteer can often save us any amount of indecision or drawing of blanks. We do ask, however, that requests should be disinterested.

A word or two is needed perhaps on letters to the Editor. These should preferably add further knowledge to the article, review or Editorial to which they are a response; they can also embrace more general topics (appeals; institutional news); or announce an interesting discovery that does not need the full contextual discussion of an article. Carping criticism of a valid point of view expressed by a contributor is less likely to be published.

As to what we wish to be submitted, we cannot stress too often how broad a range we have long encompassed – documentary and interpretative articles on painting, drawing, sculpture, the graphic arts, architecture, the applied and decorative arts; the history of collecting and dealing; frames and installation; letters and memoirs of (and by) artists, art historians and collectors. However, there are certain areas where we feel undernourished. These include submissions on the arts of the classical world; on German art; the arts of India and the Far East; Latin American art; photography; and on twentieth-century art, particularly from the post-1945 period, incorporating new intellectual currents in art history.

The Burlington has been published monthly since 1903. The variety of its content is one reason for its survival. A second is that many writers on art have taken their first steps in print in its pages, alongside pre-eminent names, to provide fresh points of view. These two conditions are vital to its future.