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January 29, 2013 11:42 PM   Subscribe

International Art English (IAE) with its pompous paradoxes and plagues of adverbs is not to be confused with actual English.
posted by philip-random (64 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
The connection this article makes between pretentious art drivel and French Deconstructionists just lead me to an epiphany:

It is no wonder Anarchist drivel and Art drivel are so strikingly similar. In a quest to sound smarter than other people, two sets of pretentious schmucks picked the same very convenient source of incomprehensible writing to mimic!
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:10 AM on January 30, 2013


I get it - this is sort of in the same area as Agency Wank.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:49 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


"We'd find some super-outrageous sentence and crack up about it. Then we'd try to understand the reality conveyed by that sentence."

Ugh, when I worked for an artist I read through plenty of these statements off of gallery show listings and other artist websites. Much of it is driven by submission requirements.
posted by Shit Parade at 1:00 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of this terrible, off-putting word salad is motivated by the need to get grants.
posted by empath at 1:01 AM on January 30, 2013


Another thing I noticed since I've been trying to learn abstract algebra recently, and a lot of the language seems to have been borrowed from math without understanding exactly what the terms mean (the idiosyncratic use of the word 'space', and other terms like 'embedded' and so on).
posted by empath at 1:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Much of it is driven by submission requirements.

+

I wonder how much of this terrible, off-putting word salad is motivated by the need to get grants.

=

the probable truth.

IAE is the bureaucratization of art, and damned successful at that.
posted by philip-random at 1:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dunno. It's also "We've got a big Rothko, how do we talk about it?" Perhaps partly?

Their findings were published last year as an essay in the voguish American art journal Triple Canopy
http://canopycanopycanopy.com/16/international_art_english
(Trigger Warning: Extra fun sexy layout format)

Another thing I noticed since I've been trying to learn abstract algebra recently, and a lot of the language seems to have been borrowed from math without understanding exactly what the terms mean (the idiosyncratic use of the word 'space', and other terms like 'embedded' and so on).

Eh. If some words are used consistently by a bunch of folk in an in-group, like IAE, those words probably mean what the artists say it means, even if it is jargon.

Where IAE gets me is when you take phrases and simplify them into non-opaque english, and you realize that what the artist is saying is a bunch of hooey. I'm currently flagging artist's statments as "what the artist failed to say in the piece and has been forced to write down" but this may be too cynical to be useful.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:11 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't understand why the French had a major influence on Americans intellectually (although in a shallow copy-cat sort of way through English and Humanities departments) until very recently when I learned that in France most people with a liberal arts degree are basically given a government subsidy or job that tends the culture in one way or another. My informants were such people. If true, this has obviously created, as these guys just wrote, a power structure of insiders, because there would be a hierarchy of intellectual talent with no productivity to measure except pure intellectualizing within the language itself. It's probably been going on for centuries there. In America we have the same system of leisure and liberal arts study, but without getting a related job. It's merely human that we copy in vain their system from the bottom up, seeming to work from afar, but not realizing it was an artificial top down bubble. I can't even tell if we're fortunate or not.
posted by Brian B. at 1:17 AM on January 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I had thought that IAE was what happened when art historians in Universities and art schools stopped teaching art practice and started teaching second-hand and outdated literary theory. (And badly.) This article (the Triple Canopy one) has acted to imbricate my initial projections within the broader conceptual spaces of the contemporary art market and its convergent modalities.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:22 AM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


f some words are used consistently by a bunch of folk in an in-group, like IAE, those words probably mean what the artists say it means, even if it is jargon.

Yeah, I was more just talking about where they originated from-- 18th and 19th century French mathematicians most likely (Since Galois, Poincare, etc were all French)
posted by empath at 1:37 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dunno. It's also "We've got a big Rothko, how do we talk about it?" Perhaps partly?

Just put a sign out front:
We've got a big
fucking Rothko.

Come see our
fucking big Rothko.

Be seen seeing fucking
big Rothko.
posted by pracowity at 1:42 AM on January 30, 2013 [38 favorites]


IAE is the bureaucratization of art, and damned successful at that.

Successful like a algal bloom is successful; I think IAE alienates laypeople and skilled artists, both artists that are self-taught and artists educated by teachers that teach artmaking well but ignore contemporary theory and art-speak. And this alienation divies the art world up into two camps that mildly disdain each other.

I think it also contributes to teaching Fine Arts students to make work that elicits the "gee, that's kind of clever" feeling as opposed to the "that's a striking painting" feeling. And this is unfortunate, because the first is more like improv, whereas the latter, to some extent, just involves the mechanics of teaching the classical painting tradition (or other art traditions).

Yeah, I was more just talking about where they originated from-- 18th and 19th century French mathematicians most likely (Since Galois, Poincare, etc were all French)

Yes, I think a contemporary Sokal hoax wouldn't work in the IAE world, because if an artist's statement is a bunch of hooey, no one cares.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:44 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


sebastienbailard, something similar to the Sokal hoax, namely the "Nat Tate" hoax was already perpetrated on the art world. And the pranksters were nobody less than William Boyd and David Bowie. Clever use of IAE certainly helped in their conspiracy.
posted by Skeptic at 2:49 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think Bill Watterson had this one pretty much covered back in the 1990s.
posted by valkyryn at 3:05 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


ugh. I love making art, and I was really serious about it growing up - until I started taking Fine Arts at university. Some of the classes were really amazing, and I had some really good teachers, but the vast lake of bullshit that some people floated their works on really put me off the whole thing. There was even one class that we had to take, named something like Art and Society, that basically required you to barf up a short essay of this stuff once a week. I was lousy at it, and realized that though I did really well in all the studio classes, my inability/unwillingness to talk crap about my own work would make it pretty much impossible to get anywhere in the art world. I switched majors.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:06 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


in France most people with a liberal arts degree are basically given a government subsidy or job that tends the culture in one way or another... In America we have the same system of leisure and liberal arts study, but without getting a related job. It's merely human that we copy in vain their system from the bottom up, seeming to work from afar, but not realizing it was an artificial top down bubble. I can't even tell if we're fortunate or not.

So IAE is a poststructuralist cargo cult of sorts? If you build wooden control towers and stand in the middle of the runway waving sticks pepper your prose with indefinite articles and words ending in -ality, perhaps the gods will deign to bestow their largesse upon you?
posted by acb at 3:40 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


...realized that though I did really well in all the studio classes, my inability/unwillingness to talk crap about my own work would make it pretty much impossible to get anywhere in the art world.

There are vast sectors of humanity that produce art but refuse to call themselves artists because, I think, of a widely understood but unspoken definition. Humans produce art, artists produce bullshit.
posted by DU at 4:00 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think I'd like to see more art video and less art writing. Use visual art to describe visual art. Make a video (or several videos, one by the artist, one by the curator, maybe some guest videos) about each piece in a show. Try not to say anything in the videos; just show what you mean. Draw the observer's attention to certain aspects of the piece. Show influences. Show similar pieces, pieces in the same style, same school. Show the piece being made if that's possible. Show the raw components apart and together. Show the tools.

Maybe a lot of pieces that sound good on paper (when that paper is covered with IAE) wouldn't hold up to such visual scrutiny, but I think many pieces would.

Alternatively, show nothing. No cards, no names, just a gallery full of unnamed anonymous pieces.
posted by pracowity at 4:04 AM on January 30, 2013


I really don't understand the appeal of art museums, to be honest. Just throwing a bunch of barely related works together into a white room divorced of context except for a little card next to them that classifies them as if they were pinned butterflies in a science exhibit. I don't really get what I'm supposed to do there.
posted by empath at 4:19 AM on January 30, 2013


Look at interesting things.
posted by pracowity at 4:28 AM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I really don't understand the appeal of art museums, to be honest.

The best ones are the small quirky ones (like The Isabella Stewart Gardner), not the big institutions.

On the gallery blasts; I don't know ANYONE who reads those things. If they were important, more thought and care would be put into them.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:33 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I like the Outsider Art Museum in Baltimore, too. I'm talking about Fine Arts Museums in general. So dull.
posted by empath at 4:35 AM on January 30, 2013


I like 'em, but I ignore the placards if they're written this way.

And yeah, the Gardner is at least as awesome for the building itself as for the art it exhibits.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:09 AM on January 30, 2013


Self-link Artist's Statement via Markov text generation. With physics and computery goodness in the source drivel.
posted by hexatron at 6:02 AM on January 30, 2013


Art museums aren't dull. Art museums are filled with works of art, which tend to be beautiful and startling. What you're supposed to do there is walk around and look at works of art. Millions of people do this every year so it's probably not actually that dull.

Re the writing: the problem, I guess, is that when you're in a room with white walls and most of what's affixed to the white walls is beautiful and startling, you start to apply artistic standards to the rest of what's affixed to the walls, whether you mean to or not, and on this metric the gallery copy typically falls short.

On the other hand, I've often found myself inadvertently admiring the fire extinguisher.
posted by escabeche at 6:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


> On the other hand, I've often found myself inadvertently admiring the fire extinguisher.

But that's one of the greatest knock-on effects art has. When I've been staring at and drooling over something wonderful and finally have to tear my eyes away and go home, my seeing mind goes with me and is still set to see and marvel and appreciate. Holy fuck, look at this fantastic floor!
posted by jfuller at 6:27 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Millions of people do this every year so it's probably not actually that dull.

You've watched TV, right?
posted by DU at 6:33 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand the appeal of art museums, to be honest.

If you're bored in a museum like the National Gallery in DC, or the Met or MoMA in NY, or the Art Institute in Chicago, you just don't like art.
posted by pracowity at 6:38 AM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I had a really good time writing the nonsense boilerplate for my new band's website, based on artspeak:

Music is an outward expression, a manifestation, of the universal truths of the harmonic vibrations of the cosmos -- from the atomic to the galactic.
Carbon 7 is three musicians collaborating to produce cooperative music in real time. Carbon 7 is two more than Maroon 5. Carbon 7 is a transitory element, a molecule of change, a signifier of the ever constant evolution of the cosmos from then to now and beyond. Carbon 7 is a spectral construct, concocted spontaneously in our fevered imaginations, and set down here as a marker in time, a salute to the infinite, an auditory marker of our blinking nodes of existence, flashing against the pale darkness of our momentary physical substance, and flickering out against the backdrop of eternity.


Unfortunatley, I didn't manage to wrench in the bonus phrase "speaks to the human condition," which is de rigeur in the visual arts boilerplate.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:39 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Millions of people do this every year so it's probably not actually that dull.

I mostly agree with you, escabeche, and have sometimes examined, without recognition, the EXIT sign hanging over a door, but people are within their rights to feel bored in art museums.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:40 AM on January 30, 2013


If you're bored in a museum like the National Gallery in DC, or the Met or MoMA in NY, or the Art Institute in Chicago, you just don't like art.

Except I do. I spend quite a bit of time looking at art, thinking about it and reading about it on the internet. I have access to a lot more of it, I can read a lot more detailed analyses of it, than I can in a museum etc. I just feel like I'm looking at someone's baseball card collection when I'm going to an actual gallery.
posted by empath at 6:51 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of the classes were really amazing, and I had some really good teachers, but the vast lake of bullshit that some people floated their works on really put me off the whole thing. There was even one class that we had to take, named something like Art and Society, that basically required you to barf up a short essay of this stuff once a week. I was lousy at it, and realized that though I did really well in all the studio classes, my inability/unwillingness to talk crap about my own work would make it pretty much impossible to get anywhere in the art world.

I know a really good sculptor who went through essentially the same thing last year. She was trying to get into graduate school here at UT, & just got sick of it all in face of the bullshit. She said she was at an event full of art grad students, and realized after talking to people for 3 hours that nobody was saying anything. She's now working at the local no-kill animal shelter amongst the kittens, and is quite happy about her purposeful turn of career paths.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:53 AM on January 30, 2013


Some day, I'm going to do an installation piece of a table with a plate of beans on it. Just so I can totally overthink (and overwrite about) them.
posted by jb at 7:23 AM on January 30, 2013


I would like someone to do a series consisting of several giant 3'x4' nonsensical artists' statements of many thousands of words in large font, each accompanied by a tiny but beautiful painting just off to the side by way of explanation.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:29 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Except I do. I spend quite a bit of time looking at art, thinking about it and reading about it on the internet. I have access to a lot more of it, I can read a lot more detailed analyses of it, than I can in a museum etc.

Haven't you ever had a different impression of a piece of art when seeing it digitally compared to seeing it in person? It happens to me all the time, which is why I try to go see things and use the internet for reference.
posted by ersatz at 7:32 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was familiar with Pollack's paintings through books and the internet, but wasn't prepared for how 3-dimensional they were when I saw some in person finally. It's a whole different experience. So was walking into Keith Haring's re-produced room at SFMOMA back in the 90's. Pictures are fine, but in person, it was overwhelming.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:43 AM on January 30, 2013


Yeah, I was familiar with Pollack's paintings through books and the internet, but wasn't prepared for how 3-dimensional they were when I saw some in person finally.

Exactly. I found van Gogh rather meh until I saw his paintings in the flesh (or rather, paint and canvas). A painting isn't just a flat surface.
posted by Skeptic at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The artist brings the viewer face to face with their own preconceived hierarchy of cultural values and assumptions of artistic worth,"

Artsplaining.
posted by bongo_x at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was familiar with Pollack's paintings through books and the internet, but wasn't prepared for how 3-dimensional they were when I saw some in person finally.

Or, to go literally three-dimensional, compare the experience of a photograph of Cai Guoqiang's "Inopportune: Stage One" to having an actual arc of incandescent Ford Tauruses dangling overhead.

As an aside, I maintain that anyone who thinks they don't like art just hasn't seen "Inopportune: Stage One" yet. Less crazy about stages two+.
posted by zjacreman at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2013


After this thread is over I'm going to read what a bunch of artists have to say about sysadmins and php and stuff and it will probably be exactly the same.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:38 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much of this terrible, off-putting word salad is motivated by the need to get grants.

It's fucking tedious as hell to have to weed through a dozen pages of this stultifying bullshit, I tell you what. It's even worse when you have to speak to them in person and ask them to clarify what they're trying to say and they just repeat themselves or dig the hole of incomprehensibility even deeper. I've actually had an artist huffily tell me that the actual meaning of the words doesn't matter, what matters is what he felt that it meant.

We passed on that grant, but for sadly unrelated reasons. I fucking hate making art-related grants.

socked for the illusion of plausible deniability.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:53 AM on January 30, 2013


After this thread is over I'm going to read what a bunch of artists have to say about sysadmins and php and stuff and it will probably be exactly the same.

As a non-ICT specialist, such stuff is just as impenetrable to me, and yet I reckon that it has a meaning. There is jargon and meaningless jargon.

In some very specialised human endeavours, like ICT, medicine, or quantum mechanics, the specialists have had to create a whole new vocabulary to convey concepts that are unknown to the non-specialists.

In other fields, however, the obscure jargon is quite often entirely meaningless, created purely as a means of obfuscation, to create an unwarranted aura, as the Sokal hoax very effectively proved.

This is not to say that ICT people don't occasionally use jargon in order to disguise the obvious, or that sometimes art graduates (as opposed to "artists") don't need to use a specialised vocabulary to convey a very specific meaning. But, in general, the difference is quite clear.
posted by Skeptic at 8:53 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I've often found myself inadvertently admiring the fire extinguisher.

Many years ago at the Oakland Museum. A friend of mine and I stood posed and staring at a beautiful fire hose with a shiny brass nozzle. We got people to gather behind us and stare too.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:56 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really don't understand the appeal of art museums, to be honest. Just throwing a bunch of barely related works together into a white room divorced of context except for a little card next to them that classifies them as if they were pinned butterflies in a science exhibit. I don't really get what I'm supposed to do there.

Why would they be barely related? I mean, in some museum spaces things might be hung chronologically, so they are related by time period and nothing else, but in most exhibitions there's a theme of some sort that usually helps you understand the variety of a particular artist, or a time period, or a movement. Sometimes it's even more broad - I've seen shows based on color, shape, texture - but somebody thought, "Hmm, these would look good next to each other." You may violently disagree with that person, but there's usually some relationship being explored.

It's funny - a few years ago, our permanent collection galleries were hung for a year, but halfway through we made some small adjustments because some work was too fragile to be up for longer than that. I loved the galleries when they first went up - they seemed to flow really well, the whole room worked, and when you went from gallery to gallery it continued to flow nicely. When we made the changes at the six month mark, replacing only a handful of works, some of that flow was disrupted, and I noticed it really keenly. I also remember first making the connection that when you go to see the Da Vinci at the National Gallery, they've placed her, a portrait of a beautiful women, in a room surrounded by portraits and sculptures of beautiful young men. She's in the center of a garden of admirers. It's a subtle touch, but contextually was really cool.
posted by PussKillian at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being a good artist does not equal being a good writer (or giver of presentations, despite the amazing amount of money spent on this in certain places). Much of the horrible is people just doing their best to make the appropriate motions in a medium they never studied. There are good examples of this kind of writing- Cabinet Magazine features work by artists who stay away from the vague and hand-wavy.
Anyway, here are some artist's statements on artist's statements: Charlotte Young, Hennessy Youngman
posted by velebita at 9:36 AM on January 30, 2013


What's terrible about this pretentious art language is that it becomes a barrier to ordinary folks enjoying art. I get that it's hard to talk about a Rothko, but when you invent some self-referencing meaningless babble about the Rothko and then pass that off as how Serious People talk about art, it just intimidates ordinary folks. Or else they laugh off the pretention and then make the error of ignoring Rothko entirely. It's OK to not have anything to say. Just show the art, if it's any good it speaks for itself.

It's kind of the same problem with wine descriptions, all this ridiculousness about "musky ox, chocolate, with juniper undertones". I know a lot of folks who don't take wine seriously because they think they're failures because they can't taste those things themselves. Here's the secret: there are no juniper undertones and most wine professionals can't retaste things reliably on a second showing.

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.
posted by Nelson at 9:47 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do think that creators as a whole are usually better served by only exposing their works, or risk making it harder to respect their art. Just like you won't see the masterpiece movie the same way after seeing the Making Of DVD bonus feature, and you try to put Larkin's letters out of your mind when you're reading The Whitsun Weddings, artist's texts can only really be offputting.

The work itself is the apex, the ideal intersection of your personal expression with all the rest of us humans - why distract from the focus?

There are exceptions - just like Joyce's fart letters kindle a little extra love in my heart for his literature, and Tarantino talks with such emotion about his love of cinema, some artists write illuminating and very fine words that expand the effect of their artistic output. But it really should not be the default expectation imprinted onto a whole generation of artists, in a time when arts (in the broad sense) are already being looked upon with protestant suspicion.
posted by forgetful snow at 10:18 AM on January 30, 2013


What's terrible about this pretentious art language is that it becomes a barrier to ordinary folks enjoying art.

I've got it written down somewhere, a quote from somebody or other. It basically says, "Your duty as an artist is to produce work that is as simple to comprehend as you can make it. But not one bit simpler."

So yeah, that's the nut of it for me. Complexity, density, convolution -- all of this is is good, essential even, if it's the only way to accurately make the complex, dense, convoluted point you're trying to make. But if you're just being lazy, or worse, willfully obtuse, f*** you. Because this is art you're messing with, the best thing humans do.

Shame on you.
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on January 30, 2013


Another self-link, but I think you'll find it amusing. I thought I was the only one to find these things annoying - all art having to be a cultural critique of some kind and make us question this or that. So, I set out to create a statement that would both parody the genre and make some actual points, as well as just have fun with big words, as I have always liked to do.

In the original article the authors reformat some statements as a sort of found poetry.

Glad to see this issue is getting some critical attention!
posted by zymoglyphic at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2013


Museums (to me) are kind of like movie theaters or going somewhere expressly to hear music (live or not). There is something about being there expressly to see art. The idea that, no you are not going to pause and go get a cookie, you're going to experience this now. I generally walk past a lot in art museums, but the atmosphere will eventually cause me to linger on pieces that speak to me. And then I get a cookie from the Cafe' at the end.
posted by smidgen at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2013


The authors' critique of institutional art language is different than the pile-on here regarding artist's statements. I understand the relationship, but jumping straight to how artists write preempts any discussion regarding the actual content of the post.

No one enjoys reading gibberish without some reward and, yes, many visual artists are poor writers. The visual artist that also writes well is rare; the artist that can ably describe her own intentions is rarer still. So it goes.

Some art is complicated; some is intricate; some isn't. If the criterion of art is all people are able to understand it, then be prepared to remove abstract expressionism and surrealism and virtually everything else from the beginning of the 20th century to now from the culture. If the criterion of art is the maker articulate their intention in plain language, then be prepared to remove Mondrian for his arcane engagement with Schoenmaeker's mathematics, Malevich for his inchoate mysticism, Magritte for his oblique appropriation of linguistics and Miro for being just incomprehensibly strange.

As the authors point out, the institutional language used at mid-century to describe Rothko is also self-serving. In both cases, the art institution is mimicking criticism. I would add that it is also easy art, entertaining, neutered, harmless, easy on the eyes, easy to understand art, that should worry us at least as much as a gallery providing its own pseudo criticism via press release.
posted by xod at 12:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow ... I'm having bad flashbacks now to being in college in the mid-'90s and the crippling (but mostly unjustified) feelings of inadequacy that resulted from not being able to understand Judith Butler or French critical theory. The parallels between that kind of Sokal-stylee academic jargon and IAE as described by the authors are striking -- I guess there's a case to be made that they both came from the same place. "Elucidating the specificity of artistic research practice and the conditions of its possibility, rather than again and again spelling out the dialectics (or synthesis) of 'art' and 'science,'" eh? *shudder*
posted by speedlime at 12:50 PM on January 30, 2013


Yeah, I like the Outsider Art Museum in Baltimore, too. I'm talking about Fine Arts Museums in general. So dull.

Tate Modern?

D'Orsay?

Two very different "fine arts" museums. Hardly dull, imo.

"The artist brings the viewer face to face with their own preconceived hierarchy of cultural values and assumptions of artistic worth," it says. "Each mirror imaginatively propels its viewer forward into the seemingly infinite progression of possible reproductions that the artist's practice engenders, whilst simultaneously pulling them backwards in a quest for the 'original' source or referent that underlines Levine's oeuvre."

I don't have much problem with that sort of language. I just consider it "formal English," i.e. complexity for complexity's sake. It still makes a point fairly effectively. It's an aesthetic choice, vs. "The artists turns viewers' concept of cultural values on its head" etc. The mirrors go in two directions, indicating multiple interpretations and variations while also referring back to the original inspiration for the piece, etc.

It's just jargon. Do people hate it because of the subject, i.e. Art?

Also, I'd wager that the majority of people actually don't know pornography when they see it.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on January 30, 2013


It's just jargon. Do people hate it because of the subject, i.e. Art?

No, I don't think so, as most of the people I know who share this "hate" have a love for art. This jargon frustrates the hell out of them.

I just consider it "formal English," i.e. complexity for complexity's sake. It still makes a point fairly effectively.

I find this statement contradictory. If it's complexity for complexity's sake, it's certainly not making its point as effectively as it could. Not that I'm demanding perfection here -- just an honest effort from those in the capital "A" Art World to communicate with me; not hide behind jargon because either A. they don't want to include me in the discussion until I can prove I'm a member of their Club, or B. they're talking out of their asses and thus wasting my time.
posted by philip-random at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was taking art classes back in college, a teacher brought in an installation artist to talk to us. His work was a cross between the bullet-point message and the intentionally obscure, and not unreasonably, a student asked him if he could, in a simple sentence, explain what one particular work was ABOUT.

He gave her a somewhat startled look, said three 'um's in a row, and started ladling out ART-SPEAK (TM) without a pause for breath between sentences. Five minutes later, he was still going and hadn't begun to reach a point. And he hadn't quite noticed.

There's a lot of that around - it's not jargon, it's not formal speech - but something that can often become, for certain personalities and persons, an inadvertent crutch, or substitute for genuine introspection on the part of the artist.
There's an art to self-expression, and if you're not taught that art (or are preternaturally good at it all on your own) and there seems to be a fabulous fall-back system out there...
All hell can break loose without you even noticing it.

In the architecture world, "It's just jargon" become an inadvertent art form all of its own -a glorious mad-lib competition where polysyllabic beats comprehensible any time, any where.
Back in Architecture School at UofT, I used to carry a notebook around, writing down the very best blurbs on presentation posters, and quoting the professors, just for my personal pleasure and bemusement. (warning, self-link)

There's a gem that i've been hoarding for years - i found it on a poster-board for a senior thesis project my very first week at grad school, when i was still wet behind the ears and hadn't yet learned that ART SPEAK was a competitive sport:

"The use of high fidelity digital representation sampling and architectonic mixing supports the exploration of ideas about programmatic mixing and hybridization and its interface with material and phenomenal transparency and layering. Each project investigates how the specific conceptual emphasis effects the whole architectonic mix and its feedback upon sampling methodologies."


On the other hand, the author had probably been awake for more than 4 days straight at that point, finishing the presentation boards, so there's that.
posted by tabubilgirl at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aw shucks. Some of this anti-art-gallery gripe-snark sounds kinda like that vague rural small-town snipe what I had came from back when. Where difference is suspect.

C'mon, you only go into an Art-Gallery to look at the Art, and you don't have to like everything. What you like and don't like in the gallery is the topic of conversation. If you hate everything you've ever seen in an Art-Gallery, then I can't really reply.

You don't go into an Art-Gallery just to read those little cards. "Artist Statements" are like press-releases with academic jargon. Nobody cares about them, except the people in the original article, and they think it's kinda funny.
posted by ovvl at 6:20 PM on January 30, 2013


(actually, I really care about those little cards. Often they have a lot of care and sensitivity put into them).
posted by ovvl at 6:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nobody cares about them, except the people in the original article, and they think it's kinda funny.

It means students are forced to speak of their work in a way they find hypocritical or insincere. I think that's rather sad.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's as well to learn how to make that language mean what you want to say.
posted by glasseyes at 7:34 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


not unreasonably, a student asked him if he could, in a simple sentence, explain what one particular work was ABOUT.

I actually think this is totally unreasonable! If you could explain what it was about in a simple sentence, what would the point of making the art have been? He could just have made the sentence in the first place. Sentences are way cheaper and more portable.
posted by escabeche at 8:08 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


... but shouldn't the answer then be, "If it could be said it in a simple sentence, then the work of art wouldn't be necessary" ... as opposed a descent into a wormhole of pompous paradoxes and plagues of adverbs.

My grievance in all of this isn't that I want art to be simpler. Anything but. What I don't need want is obfuscation, jargon, utter failure to communicate. I'm an MFA, for Christ's sake. I should at least be able to get a sense of what's being talked about, and way too often, I can't. It's genuinely absurd.

One friend, a video artist, used to circumvent much of this by simply making shockingly beautiful montages of abstract color, and then saying, "My aesthetic is beauty. Let's talk about beauty." And then there'd be a fascination discussion about life, beauty, politics, history, art, everything, all of which I could easily track.
posted by philip-random at 8:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The academy is back. The wizened old edifice that used to govern art in the centuries before the advent of the auto destruct modernist enterprise. Only now, instead of a set of specific focuses on technique we get a focus on theory. And with that comes a shift to art that's all about critical theory.
Remember those vapid paintings from the academy whose sheer technical mastery obfuscated what was in fact dreadful art?
Same thing now only the theoretical context does the obfuscating work.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:59 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know anyone can pick and choose examples to illustrate anything, but ...

I still don't think this is a problem of any order. Perhaps it is to art professionals, but to casual critics, I don't get it. Take an example from a known local gallery on an exhibit from artist Bovey Lee.

Here is the press release from the Rena Bransten Gallery:

"In Bovey Lee’s new works for Conundrums, she continues to cut paper in narratives that explore the tension between man and the environment in the context of power, sacrifice, and survival. Where natural and man-made disasters, like the tsunami that ruptured the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, intermingled in past works, new works show examples of hopeful cooperation between technology and the landscape. In one series, depictions of village life appear as detailed decorations on large vase forms. Mountains, rivers, and trees rendered in the style of ancient landscape paintings are encroached upon by up-dated examples of infrastructure; a high-speed transportation hub, which finds its parking lot of cars nestled in hills like the rows of crops they have replaced, or a business park perched on a hillside beside a steep scenic trail once traipsed by humble travelers or spiritual seekers going to the mountain shrine. In another series, the four seasons are each represented by densely cut images framed within an open business briefcase. Lee’s up-dating of the landscape painting to a techno-forward version - where machines perform not only human labors but feats that mimic the forces of nature - becomes even more mind boggling when one remembers the intricate details of her vision are cut by hand, a craft not yet turned over to mechanical device."

Artist statement:

"Power, sacrifice, and survival engender the complexity and tension in my cut paper works that explore the human and environmental impact of urbanization. These interrelated motivators drive all of our desires and impulses. They are cause and effect in human interactions and explain our behaviors towards the environment.

I hand cut each work on a single sheet of Chinese xuan (rice) paper mounted on silk and both are renewable materials. My work is like drawing with a knife and is rooted in my study of Chinese calligraphy and pencil drawing. Cutting paper is a visceral reaction and natural response to my affection for immediacy, detail, and subtlety. The physical and mental demand from cutting is extreme and thrilling, slows me down and allows me to think clearly and decisively.

My creative process is three-fold – drawing, digital rendering, and hand cutting. I form ideas by sketching before creating a digital template. The template is a visual guide that consists of downloaded images, my own photographs, scans from magazines and books, and vector graphics. The final step is for me to hand cut the image with an X-Acto knife.

Employing the natural, off-white color of the rice paper, light play and shadow are essential to the overall impact of an image. Shadow gives life and dimension to the cut paper works. It offers a sense of reality contradicting the fictional scenarios within each image.

The thin strips of paper that remain form a larger picture; the deep paradoxes in my work contrast starkly with the airy, fragile laces. As a creative medium, cut paper best combines my skills, creativity, and personality, and frees me to create dramatic stories."


I read the article, but can others provide good (i.e. bad) real-world examples of IAE?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:06 PM on January 31, 2013


Interesting comment, mrgrimm, because, as you say, a quick search doesn't reveal much, even through the websites of formerly very guilty parties. It's as if the art world's way ahead of us and purged the IAE types a long time ago -- so 20th Century.

Indeed, much of what I've found is a lot like what you just posted. Rather bland explanations of A. what a certain piece/work is supposed to mean and B. how it was done. Which I find annoying in a different way. It's like, here's a magician revealing his tricks. I don't want that. I want the magic.

Because that's what art is, isn't it? Magic.
posted by philip-random at 9:34 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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