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An Interview with Kate Simpson

I discovered Aesthetica magazine long before I was interested in journalism, in mastheads and bylines and figuring out who the people behind the scenes of my favorite magazines were. When I discovered Aesthetica while rifling through the art magazines at my local Barnes & Noble, I had just graduated from reading American Girl Magazine, and all I knew was that the perceptive writing and scintillating imagery collected in Aesthetica was absolutely enchanting.

Aesthetica would serve as my inspiration for the various zines I'd create in elementary/middle school, and later for my high school's student publication. Aesthetica still influences my creative sensibilities today. The internationally-renowned art and culture magazine has been around since 2002, and has undoubtedly inspired numerous creatives like me. The work of Martin Creed, Ernesto Neto, and Steve McQueen have graced the pages of Aesthetica.

Once I did start paying attention to the inside baseball of the industry, I had a new sense of appreciation for Aesthetica and the people behind it. I've wanted to interview someone on staff for years, but, even though most people think of me as a fearless queen of cold emailing, it can be difficult to reach out to someone who had had such a big impact on your life. Luckily, assistant editor of Aesthetica Kate Simpson could not have been more kind, and gave such detailed and meaningful answers to all of my questions.

Kate's writing for Aesthetica is always so rich and poetic in a way I've seldom come across in other publications, and her interviews are so well-researched and substantive-- she manages to both introduce her interview subjects to readers who aren't already familiar and provide new insight for readers who are.

Is your background in writing/journalism? Would you recommend studying journalism/writing or is it best to have knowledge in other fields?

This is a tricky question – and one I get a lot! I don’t generally believe that there’s one best route into anything, especially with the creative industries. My background is in writing, though not strictly journalistic. I studied for a BA in English with Creative Writing, and an MA in Creative Writing, so my knowledge came from the literary world. I have always had an unfailing interest in publishing, and pursued this at any cost, gaining a wealth of experience from a range of publishing houses and organisations whilst studying. These were integral to shaping my goals and ethos – teaching me a lot about the roles that are available and how organisations are set up in terms of their masthead and the work that goes on – both in the public eye and behind the scenes. Personally, I think it’s really about gaining a range of different experiences – as much as physically possible – and really filling your time. Think about what sets you apart from the rest and be passionate about your work. Get in touch with organisations or publications you admire and seek out some placements. Engage with the world around you. Submit to competitions. Write every day. Read as much and as often as you can. If you’re an aspiring journalist / writer, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to read a variety of publications, and really reflect on what the industry looks like today. How do other writers write? What impact is their given piece making? How is it structured? Does is sustain your interest? There’s a lot to learn about concepts, angles and structure, and much of it is freely available. 

What do you think is the most important skill for a young writer to develop? Again – it’s quite difficult to pick just one! I think I would probably narrow it down to three: resilience, attention to detail and self-reflection. It’s incredibly important to stick with it, and to continue to hone your craft. Really write your piece like you're the reader – strip it back and think about whether it makes sense and whether it’s focusing on the most important aspects. Is it intuitive to read? Is there enough context for any given reader to approach the piece and understand it? One of the most common elements of editing involves highlighting the key points and doing away with unnecessary repetition or over-convoluted language. It really is true that writers have to kill their darlings – and learn to live with it, but more importantly, embrace it.

What is the process for putting together an issue of Aesthetica?

This is a HUGE question to answer in just a few lines – sorry! Each issue is incredibly complex and there’s lots of elements involved across editorial, production, design, advertising, marketing and administration, but I’ve listed some of the integral processes below:

Researching for ideas and deciding on key features

Designing and creating visual / textual layouts

Getting in touch with artists / press agents / organisations / galleries

Gaining image and serial rights / permissions as well as press information

Interviews / any further research necessary to complete features

Commissioning writers / writing in-house content

Editing pieces once back from writers – for concept, angle, structure and clarity

Proofreading and fact checking the final manuscript

Production, printing and distribution

Launch and marketing

Aesthetica is a bi-monthly magazine, so this generally fits into a two-month cycle, but my diary / research book is always open for the next issue! There’s of course lots of other aspects and intricate processes which aren’t listed above.

What work are you most proud of?

Although this is a little contrived, the latest issue of Aesthetica. I say this at the start of each magazine cycle. Genuinely, the latest issue is usually the work that I’m the most proud of at any given point. I strive for each edition to be the best it can be, and to constantly improve. I hope it shows!

What changes has Aesthetica gone through since you became editor?

The team is constantly growing and evolving – so too is our content and what we’re achieving as an organisation. Since I joined in 2016, we’ve introduced new editorial members of staff, redesigned magazine features a few times, and have added new types of content – both in digital and print. In terms of specifics, this can be anything from starting an initiative to support new artists through weekly online editorials and social media launches, as well as adding new interview-style content to our magazine (from the 2019 August / September issue!) Our content is developing on a daily basis, and we’re truly learning something new constantly as we think about what direction to go next, and as we’re responding to the current climate. Readers change, journalism changes and politics change. Our editorial output must respond to these changing facets of society, being as up-to-date, creative and innovative as possible, crafting something truly original. 

How do you hope Aesthetica changes in the future?

There’s nothing I’d specifically change! I think it will organically – and with lots of hard work – continue to grow. I hope, and believe, that our readership will continue to expand and that we’ll engage with even more individuals through Aesthetica Magazine, Art Prize, Future Now Symposium, Creative Writing Award and BAFTA-Qualifying Short Film Festival. For us, it’s about supporting talent and being a destination for art and culture.

What do you wish you'd known when you were younger?

That every second counts! It’s amazing what you can achieve in a day – and what can you achieve in general – with focus and even just a smidgen of self-belief. The negative opinions of others are truly unimportant and there’s a certain amount of power in owning your identity and your goals. Perseverance – yet another cliché here – does pay off.


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