The 'artspeak' in unintelligible artists' statements.

Posted by Michael Best on August 23, 2014 0 Comments

What I love about botanical art is that it speaks for itself. It needs no interpretation.The only descriptor a botanical art piece needs is the name of the plant, period. There is no need for pretentious explanations or descriptions by the artist to assist the viewer in interpreting the piece or to answer the question I have heard in contemporary art galleries, "What the hell is that?"

In my view, you shouldn't have to ask. But if you do have to ask, the answer is usually in the form of an artist's statement that includes something like this extract from one published by an Ottawa gallery, " . . . uses the craft of painting to navigate through the transient obstacles and challenges towards unification of concept and practice. . . " Artist statements like that leave one wondering if they are written to assist the viewer in interpreting a piece or to shut them up for fear of appearing ignorant.

Peter Simpson, writing in the Ottawa Citizen this past week, refers to that type of artist's statement as 'artspeak'. He takes aim at artspeak or 'International Art English' as it is also known, pointing out that, " . . . (artspeak) is impenetrable to any sane person, who will recognize it as words arranged nonsensically and purported to be profound. People don't know what artspeak means, because artspeak means nothing."

Here is another example from a gallery publication and quoted in the same article: "The artworks are formally linked through their use of research aesthetics and the moving image. Weaving through many disparate topics of study and lines of inquiry, the videos offer compelling examples of how the artistic research process is turned into form."  What the . . .?!

As Simpson points out: "Artspeak makes everyone but a few self-inflating people in the art world feel dumb, and that has a terrible effect on art." He goes on to say, "Worse yet, people see that no other type of art suffers from artspeak - you don't hear screenwriters or musicians or authors talking about their work with such preposterous blather."

I am well aware that Simpson and the rest of us who have the temerity to point out that the emperor has no clothes run the risk of being dismissed as cave-dwelling Neanderthals, but if the emperor has no clothes, then the emperor as no clothes and nothing that art-speaking, pretentious wind-bags say can change that.

Well said, Peter Simpson. Now go reward yourself with a botanical art exhibition of meticulous and magnificent work produced from live specimens that speak for themselves - no need for artspeak.

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