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Art and Translation: “Anyone can do it!”

Published 30/09/2014

It’s back to work and September has brought with it a goodly pile of translation projects. One of these projects, about the restoration of a work of art, inspired us for this blog…but don’t worry! We’re not going to give you a lecture on technical translation! We’d just like to share a few thoughts with you.

Artists (generally speaking, including graphic designers) and translators have something in common: the idea society has of their work. Let’s take an example:

1) Someone hears about the work you do and asks how much it would cost to translate a document for them / paint their portrait / design a logo / restore a painting they inherited from their grandmother.

2)You give them a quote, rounding down to avoid scaring them off even though you know quite well it could scare them off anyway.

3) The person replies with “ah”, “mm”,“uh-huh”, while what they are really thinking is in fact,“So much for so little work? Talk about the goose that laid the golden eggs… I should have been a translator /artist!

This reaction comes from the idea that anyone with a bit of knowledge of foreign languages or art could do the same thing. Let’s be frank: people think that these aren’t real jobs;they think it’s something done simply “for the love of art”. This reaction is also due to a lack of knowledge of the two professions: the time required for training and the time taken to carry out the work, plus all the risks involved, not easily seen by an outsider who is unfamiliar with the different stages required in order to produce the final product.

Let’s go back to our example. With the wide-eyed person in front of you, you attempt to justify the quote.This could lead to the following scenarios (examples given):


A) The person decides to do the work themselves…

…like in the case* of Cecilia Giménez, a well-meaning lady in her eighties who decided to restore an Ecce Homoby herself. Having seen that the depiction of Christ in the village church had lost a fair amount of its colour and paintwork, Cecilia thought it would just take a couple of paintbrush strokes here and there to restore it to its former glory…

*True story that made the Spanish public cry (with laughter); more information here.


B) The person calls their cousin*, or someone else who could certainly do the same work for a lot cheaper. In the case of a translation they use GoogleTranslate (hilarious examples given in our summer article here)

*Alias the 'artist' of the family (who took online painting classes)

 C) The person uses their common sense and decides to entrust the project to a professional

So that’s it until our next article… always with a smile! Until then, keep up with us on Facebook.


The team at The Home of Translation in Bordeaux, by Peter Hancock and Garry Hutton.



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