Translation is a work of art

Translation is a work of art

by Ela Hoffman @elemele

Translators are the unsung clandestine heroes working on the fringes, the conduits of information from one language and culture to the next. They work alone, unnoticed, that is until they make a mistake. Artists combine creativity and showmanship, elevating themselves, craving attention. Artists cease to exist without an audience. On the surface, it would appear that these two sets of people could not be further apart, but there are far more similarities between translators and artists than you might expect.

Most translators do not feel appreciated, underestimate their abilities and put themselves down. Maybe this is because translation is often seen as a derivative work, not the creation of anything new, just the recreation of another’s work. As true as this may be it does not mean that translation is devoid of creativity, quite the contrary! Translation is a fusion of the original, interpreted and moulded on every level by the translator’s own personality and experiences, producing recreations every bit as good as the source text or sometimes even surpassing it.

Translators are creators: they recreate ideas in another language. Creators are translators: they translate thoughts and emotions into artworks. 

With the launch of this project, there are several different objectives that we would like to achieve.

Firstly, we would like to crack the enigma that has been plaguing us for so long, why it is that translators are so versatile? Is it their open-mindedness, cultural awareness and sensitivity, always being on the brink between different cultures, or could it be their linguistic competences, their ability to recognise and inherently internalise the structure of languages?

All artists use the vocabulary and syntax of the language belonging to their chosen domain. Visual artists have their own language of line, shape and colour, just as a musician thinks in sounds and rhythms, and a mathematician thinks in numbers. An artist’s style is the combination of the unique embodiment of these elements of their own language.

There are many translators out there creating art, art that in itself can be of a very high level. It is part of their nature to be open-minded, imaginative, playful and knowledgeable and unbeknownst to many it is part of their nature to create art.

This brings us to our second objective – we would like to showcase translators’ own creative styles and ask what does it mean for them to be creative. Why do they have this need to create? Does it satisfy a need in another part of their personality? What similarities do they see between self expression through words as opposed to visuals or sounds? Do these different types of language influence each other and in what ways?

And, last but not least, we want to say it out loud to the world: Translators and not only working on other people’s works, they are creators themselves. Like Lawrence Weiner’s Amsterdam multi-lingual sculpture “A translation from one language to another”, translation is a work of art. We want translators to stand up and be proud of their chosen profession and to create more art!


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