Monica Westin

Rhetoric, Aesthetics, Arts Writing

A regular contributor to Artforum, Monica’s criticism, essays, and interviews related to art and aesthetics have most recently appeared in PBS’s Art21, The Believer, BOMBlog, The Brooklyn Rail, VICE art and technology blog Motherboard, and 3 Quarks Daily.

She has written locally in Chicago about visual art, theater, and popular culture for ArtSlant, The Onion A.V. Club, Time Out Chicago, The Huffington Post, Chicago Magazine, and the alt-weekly newspaper New City, where she also contributes nonfiction book reviews.

She is the former Deputy Editor in Chicago for Flavorpill, a national culture guide and critics’ list. She is a regular contributor to the the contemporary art blog Bad at Sports and has also contributed to the cultural blog Flavorwire and No Caption Needed, a blog dedicated to visual rhetoric and democracy.

She has written catalog essays for the DePaul Art Museum, Columbia College’s A+D Gallery, and Andrew Rafacz Gallery, among other places. She also regularly collaborates with visual artists on creative and critical projects.

Monica was the scholar in residence during the fall of 2012 at High Concept Laboratories, an arts service organization dedicated to supporting artists from the performing and visual arts and engaging the Chicago community.

A passionate advocate for self-taught artists, Monica has presented at several panels in Chicago on the place of outsider art in local art scenes as well as academic art theory and criticism. She currently serves as a non-board member of Intuit Museum’s Collections and Acquisitions Committee. Her writing on outsider art has appeared in New City and The Outsider Magazine and is forthcoming in Raw Vision.


Currently a visiting student researcher at Berkeley's Department of Rhetoric, Monica is a PhD candidate and University Fellow at the University of Illinois in Chicago’s English Studies Department and a founding member of UIC’s Rhetoric Society of America chapter.

Her academic work is always engaged in some way with the role of aesthetics in persuasion and generally focuses historically on the Hellenistic rhetorical tradition & its convergences with histories of aesthetics. Her dissertation-in-progress (“Presence as Evidence: An Alternate History of Visual Rhetoric”) traces the concept of “rhetorical presence” in theory and practice from Aristotle through the Second Sophistic and argues for its importance in contemporary theories of visual rhetoric. (James Elkins has written about her doctoral work in Writing With Images.) She is also particularly interested in histories of art criticism—broadly defined— considered from the perspective of rhetoric rather than art history.

Other academic work is centered around rhetorics of contemporary art. Her essay “Too Too Much Much: Presence and Catastrophe in Contemporary Art” is forthcoming in the anthology Rhetoric Culture and Politics (Berghan Books). She has also written about environmental art and relational aesthetics for (and served on the editorial board of) the media and culture journal Transformations.

Monica received her MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago on a University Fellowship, where she was later awarded a teaching fellowship in the college's writing program; and her BA, magna cum laude, in English from Amherst College, where her undergraduate thesis on post-dramatic theater and the avant-garde won the department’s Elizabeth Bruss Prize for depth and breadth of imagination.


I am currently working on a few longer writing projects in addition to my dissertation.

In Buried Experiments, a collaborative book project with photographer Jeremy Bolen, we hope to create a new kind of archive that documents unidentified, obscure or deliberately concealed American sites that act as repositories for the remnants of knowledge-building projects in scientific disciplines and institutions, the detritus from man-made disasters, or combinations of both. We are both interested in experimenting with new forms of documentation in our respective fields of photography and writing, and the final book will thus combine both empirical elements—attempting to make present forces otherwise latent in our common environments and spaces that are otherwise inaccessible—and idiosyncratic impulses and interventions that challenge us to create new and radical modes of observation.

I also am at the beginning stages of a book on the history of art criticism that considers the genre not from the usual perspective of art history, but from the history of rhetoric. The study takes as its inspiration the practice of ekphrasis in the ancient world as a rhetorical exercise designed to show off the powers of the sophist to bring images before the eyes (and not in our modern understanding of ekphrasis as descriptions of art images). I am currently gathering bibliographic materials in rhetoric and making my way through existing books histories of art criticism in art history and related disciplines.

Finally, I am writing what looks to be a very strange creative piece about the god Proteus and the earliest histories of rhetoric, magic, and religion in historical consciousness.

Last update: Feb 2014