I recently returned home from the College Art Association (CAA) annual conference in Los Angeles, CA. It was a week chocked full of engaging talks, workshops and gallery/museum visits. As I recalled from my attendance 10 years prior – the talks often consisted of reading papers that IMHO contained too much “art speak” for verbal delivery. When read out loud, the context for me was sometimes lost and thus attendees had to really focus to stay engaged in the content (and stay off of their idevices). While the audience consisted of art intellectual types, and not all of the talks or “reads” I heard were overly dense, I still think that considering your audience and formatting ones research for oral presentation rather than reading transcribed academic text is not only important but polite. Consider the wild success of TED TALKS – a concise presentation with physically rehearsed enthusiasm that holds the viewer. I would welcome a hybrid form of TED with the academic brilliance and sophistication of the ideas at CAA. Perhaps this may help eliminate the extraordinarily long lines at the coffee cart at next years CAA conference in NYC.
Artist statements also need to consider audience. After all, not all artist statements are written for other academics. The below excerpt of an article published in The Guardian covers this topic and artists would do well to peruse and consider it.
Writing an artist statement? First ask yourself these four questions
“Combining radical notions of performativity and the body as liminal space, my practice interrogates the theoretical limitations of altermodernism. My work, which traverses disparate realms of object-making such as painting and performance, investigates the space between metabolism and metaphysics and the aporia inherent to such a discourse.”
Are you impressed yet? These forms of writing are scattered across the contemporary art world. You can find preposterously complex, jargon-laden artist statements on the websites of galleries and pop-up project spaces all over the English-speaking world. If you don’t believe me, join the e-flux mailing list. I regularly visit such exhibition spaces in London and beyond, and read – with total, dulling indifference – the often pompous ramblings of what Alix Rule and David Levine call International Art English.
This is a dialect of the privileged; the elite university educated. If you can’t write it effectively, you’re not part of the art world. If you’re already inside but don’t understand it, you’re not allowed to admit it, or ask for further explanation. This kind of rhetoric relies on everyone participating without question. To speak up would mean dissolving the space between inside and outside: quite literally, the growing boundary between the art world and the rest of society.
The funny thing is, the chat you actually hear at a gallery opening rarely uses this language. You are much more likely to hear someone say “his work has really developed since the last show” or “I really like the way that length of rope dipped into avocado green acrylic paint casts a shadow on the wall above that piece”.
What is the alternative to artspeak? I want to suggest some simple things to consider when writing an artist statement. I’ll do this by answering some questions. Read All