Talking Balls 2: ‘artspeak’

“These images represent the juxtaposition of the timeless and majestic elegance of nature’s sensory-surpassing miracles with the entangled and growing tensions of our time in culturally reconnecting with the shift away from the human condition of love.”

You know what this is, don’t you?
It’s the first sentence of an ‘artist’s statement’, the artist in this case being photographer John Kilar. (Apologies, John; I’m not picking on you out of personal spite, just by way of a bone-idle, half-assed Google search; you are very, very far from being alone.)
A couple of John’s photos accompanying said statement:

“In giving careful attention to the mediating filters that propagates socially-constructed irreverence, I aim to address the necessity of breaking down the symbolic paradigms of understanding to revisit the overlooked empathy for humanity…”

Ah, now I get it.
That’s not just a lardy fry-up; he’s not just a raving lunatic with a Messiah complex: they’re ‘symbolic paradigms’.
Read the whole thing here: pay particular attention to the comments; is Mr/Ms ‘rien de le monde’ (sic) for real?

“…a glimpse into the unmanaged consciousness that searches for meaning amongst the chaotic jumble of stigma, tropes, tenets, and tradition…”

Or taking the piss, big-style?
How very postmodernly ambiguous.

I was inspired in my seconds-long quest by a great article at pondering on the past and future of International Art English, aka ‘artspeak’, or as I prefer to call it, ‘bollox’.
It, IAE, consists in the main of pseudo-sub-Derridean-esque-ian drivel which, from my own observations, must increase in inverse proportion to the quality of the artwork to which it is attached, and which, as Richard Feynman once famously said of quantum mechanics, “nobody understands”.

Understanding, of course, not being the point; the ‘democratisation’ of art, the great post-modern, defiantly anti-modenist ‘project’ – “we’re all artists now” – has run concurrently with increasing obfuscation and obscurantism in the way we talk about art. So banal is so much ‘art’, it must rely on words in the form of arcane/portentous titles and mystifying accompanying text, convoluted exegesis, to give it any heft whatsoever; ie, to compensate for shocking levels of mediocrity.
There is nothing ‘democratic’ in this; impenetrable bamboozling jargon is always exclusive and elitist, in whichever sphere it operates.

Of course, it’s terribly easy (and fun) to parody this type of discourse, as was shown by Charisma Robot’s Bottom Boom in my last post.
And remember the Sokal Affair? A ‘postmodern essay’, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, was cobbled together randomly from “…grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense… structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics]…”
It was created to prove a point; hilariously, it was accepted for publication; rightly, the shit hit the fan.

Yet back here in ‘Art’, the crap goes on. And on.
This is not a good thing.
For one thing, you can still get away with misogynistic, ‘titillating’ rubbish, if you frame it ‘right’:

“Though the subject itself is revealing and seducing, the intimately intertwined images weave the viewpoint and gaze in such a way that the work becomes less an open seduction and more a psychological game of voyeurism and ways of looking.”

This from the blurb accompanying the work of Lee Horyon; and you know what I thought about that. “Ways of looking”: reference John Berger obliquely, and it’s alright, mate; it’s cool. We dig.

Happily, I reckon the game may well be up. Or it will be if the rather marvellous artybollocks generator has anything to do with it.
Dipping into the Golden Treasury of Delight that is the Museum of Bad Art, I officiated at a marriage made in the Ninth Circle of Art Hell:

Circus of Despair (yes, really) by Someone From Whom All Art Materials Must Be Forever Withheld:

“My work explores the relationship between Critical Theory and life as performance. With influences as diverse as Munch and Frida Kahlo, new tensions are created from both opaque and transparent structures. Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the universe. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a dialectic of defeat, leaving only a sense of failing and the inevitability of a new beginning. As shimmering phenomena become distorted through diligent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the inaccuracies of our existence.”

Fabulous. I could do this all day.
But my point is serious: language, words, are, I firmly believe, the greatest tools for good or ill that we have; it matters, more than anything, how and to what ends we use them. Use language disingenuously, without clarity, honesty and forethought, and you make the world just that little bit shittier.
‘Art’ is a language and it speaks for itself; if it cannot, maybe it should keep go away and keep its gob firmly shut.

22 thoughts on “Talking Balls 2: ‘artspeak’

  1. But without artspeak, you would never have given the world a phrase like “convoluted exegesis”.

    Re: “Ways of looking”: reference John Berger obliquely, and it’s alright, mate; it’s cool. We dig.” – how ironic is it that some dudely pornographer twists around words from an iconic art text famously critical of the Male Gaze to describe his dudely wank-material disguised as art?

    • I know… the irony of ‘convoluted exegesis’, the irony of ‘artwank/’wankart” (tks again, Ann) …. I’m just, we’re just, like, sooooo pomo… 😉

      • I just about incurred another migraine reading that Brooklyn Rail bollocks. Usually like that magazine, but I’ve had it up to here with smug liberal dude artists who insist that art should be totally sociopathic. Worse, dude was an art school professor. So he’s educating new generations of art wankers to create cruelty and nastiness for the world to consume. Like we don’t already have enough of that shit.
        I’m all about getting confrontational with the darkness, or at least I used to be, but it’s become fodder for trendsuckers.
        They didn’t have open comments there, so I am barfing my opinions all over your blog. (Sorry!)

        • Don’t be sorry. I liked it (obviously) but I hear what you’re saying. Let me know how you get on at the hospital – if you’re up to it.

          • I’m back, after kind but slightly incompetent hospital treatment, but my online presence might be a bit sporadic the next few days.

            I couldn’t stand the bit at the end where dude bragged about playing torture porn and people sat around idly chatting. That doesn’t really prove the superiority of anybody, just privileged people’s lack of empathy.

            Dude is not a punk. Punk rubs society’s face in its own shit in the hopes of making people angry enough to fight for a better world. This art professor has no social conscience. Dude just rolls in cruelty and ugliness like a pig in shit, because it’s his natural element. Brutality for him is just an attention-getting tactic and an ego-wank. He’s the anti-punk.

  2. How funny that I should come across your blog post while I was taking a break from tweaking my artist statement into being as clear as possible. I used to think that one of the setbacks of being self taught was my inability to ‘artwank’ (what a perfectly coined term). I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post….all the while sniggering at the ‘artwankers’ out there with their pimped out statements. You nailed it Glennie! Looking forward to reading many more of your posts and I’m almost tempted to send you my artist statement for an honest critique.

    • Ha! Serendipity!
      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Apna – it’s a real pleasure to meet you and your beautiful work; as for your statement, you sound to me just about as un-artwanky (artwankless?) as it’s possible to be. 🙂

  3. Terrific stuff as usual. I’m always afraid of falling into this crap myself. What bothers me about artwank as well is that artists are pressured by galleys to write this stuff. I see some beautiful work on the net and when I read the artist’s statement I want to upchuck. Of course we could get into poetry as well. Read some reviews of poetry. They are like trade manuals.

    • Thanks, David! Yes, it’s rife in every sphere where the dreaded word ‘theory’ can be applied. There is even theory about theory. Time to call a spade a spade rather than a signifier of imminent/immanent abstractional individuation.

  4. Who’s the bird that tried to re-paint the 150 year old fresco of Christ and got it a bit wrong, or more importantly why are we still even making litturgical art in the 20th C? Some people might say it’s great that it now looks like ‘Mr Blobby’. re: the ‘Circus of Dispair’. Brilliant work.

    • They can say what they like, preferably in language that means something. And why shouldn’t liturgical art still be made? Are we now dictating what art must and must not be about? Like Stalin?

  5. I blame it on the hipsters… just kidding, they’re not all bad, though I think there is something of a correlation to them with our culture’s increasing celebration of banality. I there’s a fine distinction between the celebration or criticism of normal, of obscure, of subtle, of grit, and of “realism” and just rubbish. Take for example, EVERYTHING WILL BE OK (, a 17 minute, mostly hand-drawn animation of a stick figure person, exploring, commenting, laughing, and sympathizing, with what we make of our lives, and what we have yet to understand about them. It engages you by defying expectation, but without needing additional commentary. It’s not normal regurgitated in front of you, it’s normal from a new vantage that allows you to better see and understand it, without being distracted by the familiarity of it. “Perhaps this was his life.” I think that’s the goal of art, offering perspective, on truth. Even if there is a truth to be found in banality, perhaps the reason they require a artwank to explain it, is the utter lack of perspective they’ve offered it up in.

    Great post and I particularly liked the Sokal affair reference.

    • Great comments, as usual. Thanks, Andrew, and also for the film; I’ve seen it before, several times, and it just gets better. A simply stunning piece of work.

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