有一种重要且有影响力的公共写作类型,学者们称之为“经典风格”。教授这种风格的经典教科书名为“清晰简单如真理”,作者是弗朗西斯-诺埃尔·托马斯 (Francis-Noël Thomas) 和马克·特纳 (Mark Turner)。


For more than a decade, Clear and Simple as the Truth has guided readers to consider style not as an elegant accessory of effective prose but as its very heart. (The authors) present writing as an intellectual activity, not a passive application of verbal skills. In classic style, the motive is truth, the purpose is presentation, the reader and writer are intellectual equals, and the occasion is informal. This general style of presentation is at home everywhere, from business memos to personal letters and from magazine articles to student essays.

You would not think that a writing style called “classic” might also be versatile, but it is. For our interests, it often serves as a tool of civic clarity and public understanding. As a test case, I looked for examples of it in a museum, a place usually designed for us to see and observe, but a place that requires the creation of thousands of texts — usually short ones — to fulfill their mission and purpose.

My hometown, St. Petersburg, Florida, has over the past few decades become a city of museums. The Imagine Museum and the Chihuly Museum display an astonishing collection of glass art; the Florida Holocaust Museum is a place that moves the mind and the heart; and the Salvador Dalí Museum, well, what can I say, it’s surreal.

The new kid on the block is the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. When it first opened, it came under fire for the depictions in Western art of Native Americans. That said, large galleries of art created by Indigenous artists stand out for their creativity and authenticity.

The first texts I ran into when I entered the museum were two “Youth Activity Guides.” I am not embarrassed to say that I learned a lot from the guide created for ages 6-plus. Hey, I am old enough to get early doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and to learn from this guide.

The three-page guide offers three lessons on how artists use shape and form, color and line. Here is a taste:



The creators of the guide leave lots of white space for easy reading and add useful illustrations for quicker learning. Even better are creative activities, beginning with the image of a red and yellow stagecoach: “Find this stagecoach in the Frontier Gallery. What shapes do you see? Design your own unique stagecoach. Try using geometric and organic shapes.” That would be an ambitious project for a 7-year-old, not to mention a 73-year-old.

第二个指南适用于 11 岁以上的儿童,介绍更具挑战性的概念,例如透视:




Illustrations and diagrams are essential for learning. But let’s not ignore the way that the authors translate the technical jargon of the visual arts for a multi-generational audience.

If you were to follow me through a museum gallery, you would be amused. While others stand back to take in the visual experience of art, my nose is pretty close to the accompanying text block. My style is to glance at the image, read the text, then stand back and enter into the picture.

Take, for example, this text accompanying a painting called “Bronco Break” by American artist Thomas Blackshear II:


在 1800 年代后期养牛业的鼎盛时期,历史学家估计非裔美国人约占工作牛仔的 25%。数千人最初是得克萨斯州牧场的奴隶,在那里他们培养了养牛技能,这些技能后来使他们对蓬勃发展的畜牧业经济产生了无可估量的价值。南北战争(1861-1865 年)之后,自由的有色人种几乎没有就业机会,许多人找到了牛仔工作。这个角色并不能逃避种族主义,因为黑人牛仔经常被赋予最艰巨的工作,但他们通常比其他职业的前奴隶有更大的自主权。


Blackshear 自 20 世纪 80 年代初开始作为一名成功的插画师,以富有表现力的灯光和对情绪的敏感度来描绘西方主题。在这里,他向黑人牛仔在西部成功中发挥的内在作用致敬。2020 年,Blackshear 入选了著名的插画家协会名人堂。过去的入选者包括 NC Wyeth、John James Audubon、Frederic Remington 和 Charles Russell。


让学者 Thomas 和 Turner 描述所谓“经典风格”的特征和效果会有所帮助:

经典风格的成语是谈话的声音。作者摆出了一个效率近乎完美的演讲者的姿态,他的句子是声音的产物,而不是某种写作工具。… 经典风格以语音为模型,第一次就可以正确地大声朗读。