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International Art English
April 26, 2013 12:33 PM   Subscribe

"The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated. " - Triple Canopy magazine on why do artists' statments and press releases sound so utterly odd and confusing.
posted by The Whelk (45 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe they can do a follow-up article on why websites about art have user interfaces that are so utterly odd and confusing.
posted by tocts at 12:40 PM on April 26, 2013 [25 favorites]


(frantically clicking buttons)

HOW DO I TURN THE PAGE FOR GOD'S SAKE
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


yeppers L/R arrows work to scroll....brilliant, totally brilliant.
posted by multivalent at 12:43 PM on April 26, 2013


"Of this horizontal scrolling format we may note (a) that it is not localised in any one place, (b) that though the people who use this format are not all acquainted with one another, they can easily recognise each other’s status by this index alone, (c) that this format tends to be imitated by those who are not of the elite, so that other formats are gradually eliminated, (d) that the elite, recognising this imitation, is constantly creating new formatting elaborations to mark itself off from the common herd."
posted by lumosh at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


IAE has a distinctive lexicon: aporia, radically, space, proposition, biopolitical, tension, transversal, autonomy. An artist’s work inevitably interrogates, questions, encodes, transforms, subverts, imbricates, displaces—though often it doesn’t do these things so much as it serves to, functions to, or seems to (or might seem to) do these things. IAE rebukes English for its lack of nouns: Visual becomes visuality, global becomes globality, potential becomes potentiality, experience becomes … experiencability.

This shit is comedy gold. GOLD.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


That page layout is as annoying as most artist statements.

When I had to write an artist's statement I used a bunch of online gibberish-ish generators and NO ONE commented that nothing I said made any sense at all.
posted by cccorlew at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


previously ...
posted by philip-random at 12:48 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hehe, apparently I need to enable some javascript to even get their font to load — without it there's just a blank page except for the word "triplecanopy". I think they've made their point. Well, it's a different point, but it's very similar.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2013


I'm still reading this but can I politely request that the UI nitpickers just go elsewhere to do their thing? I feel like seven out of the eight first comments is really enough and it'd be wonderful to be able to actually talk about the content here.
posted by invitapriore at 1:03 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


The medium is the message, invitapriore.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, and the medium is text. The control scheme is incidental.
posted by invitapriore at 1:06 PM on April 26, 2013


I think that the irony of an article that calls out pretentious and overwrought language that is presented in a pretentious and overwrought UI is entirely worthy of calling out.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


In my mind, I'm hearing the examples narrated by Will Ferrell, as the Architect from the Matrix.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:11 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's just too delicious a parallel to ignore.

Still, it's an interesting article, web design aside.
posted by hattifattener at 1:13 PM on April 26, 2013


I think that the irony of an article that calls out pretentious and overwrought language that is presented in a pretentious and overwrought UI is entirely worthy of calling out.

It's the website's default UI, so as a topic for conversation here it seems pretty orthogonal to the topic of the article. Anyway, I'm not the conversation police, and if you want to have the most boring possible discussion about this link then I guess I can't stop you.
posted by invitapriore at 1:16 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I once had to translate IAE into French, and just couldn't do it. I had riddled the page of original text with diagrams, trying to find what the author was on about... after 2-3 hours I gave up and asked for another assignment.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The control scheme is metacommentary. Or an incidental joke.

They really have nailed the obsequious, distilled *nonsense* of Artist Statements.

(I used to display some art - pretty landscapes from the western US - in a small gallery. They asked me if I had an Artist Statement I wanted to put up somewhere. I told them my art is my statement, and the gallery owner chuckled and shook my hand. "He gets it!" Never sold a damn thing, but there you go.)
posted by notsnot at 1:24 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel the proto-lateral nature of the Triplecanopy UI challenges my assumptions of what the essence of a website is supposed to represent, vis a vis my own preconceived nature of the notion of technology. By subverting the standard movement of a webpage, I must re-conceive the not only the content, but the pretext of the content, which opens a line of questioning not just about the nature of International Art English, but the nature of language itself, including the expanisveness of the English language -- formerly regarded as the language of business, but now posing its corrosive nature by revealing the temporality, né the fragility of art and language. The action of scrolling sideways presents a deconstructionality of the user interface experience, underscoring the elemental reality of being a user while interfacing with this technological shibboleth of the Internet that we can only encounter in the mediated environment of the electromechanical apparati of computer and monitor, or, if we peel back the layers, operating system and hardware, kernal and layer stack, electron and pixel, &c, &c. Indeed, it is truly some badass shit.
posted by slogger at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


In fact, it is badasshitty.
posted by Kabanos at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2013


If e-flux is the crucible of today’s IAE, the journal October is a viable candidate for the language’s point of origin. In the pages of October, founded in 1976, an American tradition of formalist art criticism associated with Clement Greenberg collided with continental philosophy. October's editors, among them art historians Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, saw contemporary criticism as essentially slovenly and belle lettristic; they sought more rigorous interpretive criteria, which led them to translate and introduce to an English-speaking audience many French poststructuralist texts.4 The shift in criticism represented by October had an enormous impact on the interpretation and evaluation of art and also changed the way writing about art sounded.

Heh, my pet theory as to the origins of IAE was always that it's pretty much what happens when you try to use the language of late twentieth century continental philosophy to describe your own work, so I'm kind of happy to see that validated. The really cool insight to me though is how a lot of the nounifications in IAE might derive from French. I always figured it was just standard-issue college-essay-style linguistic puffery, but that hypothesis actually makes a lot of sense and explains why the definite article is so prevalent in art speak.
posted by invitapriore at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


All that the control scheme does is mediate your interaction with the medium.
posted by XMLicious at 1:31 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The edited press releases from BANK's Fax-bak, linked to in the article, are worth a read.
posted by Kabanos at 1:35 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Destroyer song Blue Eyes includes the line "I subsumed all the books on your shelves." At least, that's how I heard it at first. I recently realized that the actual lyrics are "I thumbed through all the books on your shelves."

I like my misunderstanding better, because the idea of subsuming someone's entire library always suggested such a deep connection, the very opposite of thumbing through. It always conjures up such a delightful image in my head. How do you subsume books?

To paraphrase John Baldessari: I'm not sure, but I think this has something to do with art. Contemporary art writing's eccentric vocabulary seems purposeful in an oblique way. Deliberately obfuscating language introduces a certain ambiguity that leads to interesting conversations. Maybe Destroyer deliberately mumbles his lyrics so that both interpretations are possible, making Blue Eyes a more interesting song to talk about and interpret.

Of course, that's just my MFA talking. Deep down I think artspeak can probably mostly be attributed to a deep-seated desire by art-academics to be taken more seriously by other academics even though they only have MFAs and not PhDs.
posted by oulipian at 1:41 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, invitapriore, any time an art website with a slightly esoteric (or yes, bad) interface gets posted on Mefi, the discussion is dominated by mockery of the website itself. You kind of get used to it.

I think most people here don't realize that artists do this on purpose, it's not ignorance, though it may be annoying and possibly even counterproductive, though I'm not sure. They're making these websites for gallerists mostly, and those people don't give a fuck that flash is outdated or that the website doesn't fit the browser frame or that it has a rather baroque scrolling system. They want to see something kinda flashy, kinda artsy. The only time I think that criticism of artist websites is valid is if it's so confusing and/or broken that you just can't find the art. That would be very counterproductive to an artist's actual audience.

Also, art talk sounds very froofy but it does actually mean things. At least most of the time; there are hacks in the art world, who would disguise their hackiness with obfuscating language, just like anywhere else.
posted by malapropist at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, art talk sounds very froofy but it does actually mean things.

Well, it's complicated, right? I mean, I think casting your lot entirely with either the "it's completely meaningless bullshit!" or the "its lexical complexity reflects the conceptual intricacy of its subject!" camp is fallacious, because I think the Bourdieuian interpretation of art speak as a status signifier is probably on the mark even as I read artists' statements and see that they frequently are making a point, even if obliquely. Intuitively speaking, I think it's possible to accurately identify different levels of ornamentation in language, and I think that IAE is a particularly ornamented dialect. The article makes a good case for the social pressures that probably drive that trend:
Authority is relevant here because the art world does not deal in widgets. What it values is fundamentally symbolic, interpretable. Hence the ability to evaluate—the power to deem certain things and ideas significant and critical—is precious. ... In a much expanded art world this language had a job to do: consecrate certain artworks as significant, critical, and, indeed, contemporary.
So there's a lot of pressure as an artist to have your work be perceived as "significant and critical" and so on, and what better way to do that than by wielding and in fact further ornamenting the language of the art world to establish your own authority? You can see how the feedback loop starts and how the results can seem perverse to an outsider.
posted by invitapriore at 2:09 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


It exists largely to inflate the power of critics and create an exclusive and small in group. 9.5 Thesis On Art And Class is one of the few art criticism books that I can both follow and shouted along in agreement with.
posted by The Whelk at 2:20 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think most people here don't realize that artists do this on purpose, it's not ignorance

Of course we realize that; that's why it's such a good parallel to IAE, and that parallel is why it's especially interesting to discuss here. IAE is also done on purpose, and like this website, it (often) has content— but the communities producing these artifacts are developing elaborate ritual forms in which to present them. It's fun to talk about the forms (e.g., nounification, or the insistence on defeating and then reimplementing scrollbars) as well as how they relate to the groups they use them (are they shibboleths? exclusionary? simple stylistic drift in an isolated group? an attempt to solve a problem in a medium which is unfamiliar?)
posted by hattifattener at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


A statement should represent the artist's unique way of seeing, without sounding like every other artists statement in the book. It's a difficult thing to do well. If its creative or obscure, that often is revealing in its own way...
posted by artdrectr at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2013


that parallel is why it's especially interesting to discuss here

Ok, fair enough. It's just that it comes up so many times when an artist's page is posted here, even when the FPP is not specifically about the idiosyncrasies of the art world.

I don't think the over-stylized nature of art websites is meant to be exclusionary, or a shibboleth. It's just that artists are obviously concerned with aesthetics and style, and many of them want to show off a little with their websites, show a little arty pizazz to the point that form ends up impeding on function. As a graphic designer, I admire well-functioning websites as much as anyone, and my preference is a website that put an artist's work front and center in a minimalist interface. But that's a stylistic choice that, to an artist, is very important to how people perceive them.
posted by malapropist at 3:13 PM on April 26, 2013


an article that calls out pretentious and overwrought language

Having encountered the Triple Canopy crew before, I wouldn't be so quick to assume that this is really snarky satire. I'm totally willing to believe that they are earnestly trying to dissect art-world language.
posted by LMGM at 3:40 PM on April 26, 2013


La, Di, and Da. It's self-link time again:
Artist's Statement
(I really should make this scroll horizontally, but the page dates from May 2000 and so is resolutely untrendy)
posted by hexatron at 3:52 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Whelk It exists largely to inflate the power of critics and create an exclusive and small in group.

Small in group? Hardly.. IAE is ubiquitous in the Art World, which is ever increasing is size. Knowing english is not even important, and superficiality is the norm. Quite ironic given IAE mimics writers like Krauss, Benjamin, and Barths whose difficult writing was born out of desperately trying to uncover meaning.

Now best to appreciate it as wallpaper...
Maybe in the meantime we should enjoy this decadent period of IAE. We should read e-flux press releases not for their content, not for their technical proficiency in IAE, but for their lyricism, as we believe many people have already begun to do.
A funny twist on Death of the Author..
posted by snaparapans at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2013


which is ever increasing is size

Not compared to the world that is Not The Art World.
posted by The Whelk at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you mean that the Not the Art World is increasing at a much faster rate than the Art World, so much to make it appear that the Art World is getting smaller...

I guess due to the internet, more and more people are becoming aware of the Art World and as a result more and more people are feeling excluded. Is that your point?

Because they do not understand what is going on? Or something else?

I have not read Ben Davis' book, so I am not sure of your point. I do read ArtInfo on a daily basis.
posted by snaparapans at 5:24 PM on April 26, 2013


That the Art World, that is the galleries that get lots of press and high prices and position themselves culturally as The Art World Establishment has been increasingly insular and self-relating, and who gets to be An Artist is in increasingly closing circle of people while out there in the rest of the world, lots more art is going on that has no reason to, or desire to, relate to The Serious Art World.

And quite frankly if you looked at the economics you'd agree. It's a great rackett for the Hirsts at the top, but everyone else is getting screwed.
posted by The Whelk at 5:27 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a great rackett for the Hirsts at the top, but everyone else is getting screwed.

First of all, in order to make it to the top of any profession, sports, music, acting, you must be absolutely driven... lots of ambition is needed.

Hirst, who I think deserves his place due to hard work and talent, came from a working class background. He is known to be quite generous to his fellow artists and workers... buys a lot of art and supports many people.

Given that, anyone who goes into the Art World as an artist with the idea of making a lot of money should get their head examined. You really have to love making art because expecting that if you do not make it means getting screwed is a sure fire way to have a miserable life.

Most artists I know have other jobs and get a lot out of making art. That is a rich life.

Who gets to be an Artist? Certainly the market does not determine that. Yes you have to have food in your belly to paint, but many can achieve that and still make art.
posted by snaparapans at 5:46 PM on April 26, 2013


Quite ironic given IAE mimics writers like Krauss, Benjamin, and Barths whose difficult writing was born out of desperately trying to uncover meaning.

Or maybe they are trying to mimic Derrida, whose written works were explicitly not intended to make sense.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2013


Or maybe they are trying to mimic Derrida, whose written works were explicitly not intended to make sense.

Krauss was absolutely trying to get to something deep about art, and express it in words. To claim that Derrida was explicitly not trying to make sense is either a misunderstanding or distraction from what he was trying to get at. From The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
Here we arrive not only at a point where there is no agreement whatsoever between us, but also at the second reason why this theory has left the wider critical establishment of this country in such virginal condition… For where that establishment had not been largely ignorant of the work of Barthes or Derrida or Lacan, it has misconceived or misconstrued it.....

The paraliterary space is the space of debate, quotation, partisanship, betrayal, reconciliation: but it is not the space of unity, coherence, or resolution that we think of as constituting a worn of literature. For both Barths and Derrida have a deep enmity towards that notion of a literary work. What is left is a drama without the Play, voices without the Author, criticism without the Argument. It is no wonder that this country's critical establishment- outside the university, that is- remains unaffected by this work, simply cannot use it. Because the paraliterary cannot be a model for the systematic unpacking of the meanings of a work of art that criticism's task is thought to be.
posted by snaparapans at 7:13 PM on April 26, 2013


i was going to comment but, fuck it. Or...
posted by evilDoug at 8:17 PM on April 26, 2013


This might help, people.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:15 AM on April 27, 2013


ivarpriore is pretty spot on about Bordieu - this is institutionalised cultural capital at work.

It is not so much about knowing about what this particular form of language means, but knowing how to use it and read it to demonstrate that you 'know' what it means, as a way of signalling that you belong to the in group.

And I say this as someone who basically teaches continental philosophy to kids who just want to make games, films, and write, where my job is decode this stuff into everyday language. There are often much simpler and clearer ways to express these ideas.

I have had to explain interpellation far too many times in the last month, also what institutional cultural capital is.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:08 AM on April 27, 2013


but knowing how to use it and read it to demonstrate that you 'know' what it means, as a way of signalling that you belong to the in group.

There are codes for most groups. But, in this case anyone can learn the codes of IAE, no? just as anyone can learn the codes to corporate dress.. In fact using art world IAE to get a leg up is a lot less expensive than wearing Armani suits.

The authors point out late IAE is superficial, meaningless, akin to an accent, or vernacular way of speaking. It is a learnable code that provides a key to get into the vestibule of the Art World, after that you are on your own.
posted by snaparapans at 6:55 AM on April 27, 2013


David McG is spot on. Another word for this type of language is "jargon." Most every group has its own jargon. Jargon allows the group's members to talk about its unique concepts, allows them to readily identify each other, and presents a barrier to outsiders from entering. I think we react with didain to the art world's jargon because most of us see art as something universal and natural, not a specialized, exclusive body of knowledge that relatively closed groups like computer programmers or insurance actuaries use. There's definitely a branch of art that is on its own path and isn't interested in being largely understood, and the jargon is part of that art's inaccesibility. But what is art? What role should it play? Do we have the right to demand accessible art? And language is at the center of the questions... /ramble
posted by touchstone033 at 9:24 AM on April 27, 2013


most of us see art as something universal and natural, not a specialized, exclusive body of knowledge

I think that this is the biggest problem that many people face.. Most think that being educated and culturally aware should automatically grant them access to the latest (last 30 years?) developments in contemporary art..

The fact it that many serious artists are trying to push the envelope and the public at large is way behind the curve. Even the most knowledgeable connoisseurs, who follow contemporary art on a daily basis, often miss what is going on, and get an artist only years after they have been on the scene.

The richest elite collectors, for the most part, are way behind the curve as well. They get into the game years after an artist has emerged. It is rare for anyone to be up to speed with the latest developments, and comprehend what young talented artists are doing. There are some visionaries who see.. they are the legendary dealers and collectors who get behind certain artists when they start out.

So for the lay public.. it takes a lot of footwork and study to keep up with what is going on. Most do not have the time or inclination for this type of work. So, the age old gripe for most, is that the art world is FOS.

Oh, and yes most art work made will never make it into the history books... which does not mean that it is not of value to those who make it, and those who admire it, and those who collect it.
posted by snaparapans at 11:00 AM on April 27, 2013


Thanks for linking this. I'd always wondered why artist statements used so many fluffy words to say not much, and their explanation* seems plausible and backed up by the analysis.


* If the interface was too hard to deal with, their explanation: noobs copying English-speaking academics from the 70s who were copying French-speaking academics, because everyone wants to sound like the influential taste-makers.
posted by harriet vane at 12:07 AM on April 30, 2013


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