I am perplexed by the segment of artists, art critics and art collectors who rely on words to shore up or justify the complexity of a piece of visual art. Art is communication; it is something that can tell a story, spark a memory, or create an association that will take the viewer to another place. Sometimes it is not easy or simple to know what we are looking at- it is our own discovery of that work (appealing or not) that enriches our senses.
As an artist and curator, I believe that work should be compelling visually, but must also be compelling conceptually. I don’t want to see an artists statement that explains the artists’ intention -the work should stand on its own merit visually. It is at this point where muddled ideas attempt to excuse dull execution. An idea that surpasses the training and skills that enhance an artists vocabulary is neither a successful work of art or a fully conceived idea. One must marry the two. I don’t buy the bullshit excuse from neo-conceptualists that art students should spend more time talking about ideas than creating artwork – it perpetuates the ‘cult of the ego-artist’. In some ways, conceptual art is an excuse for artistic laziness driven by shock value. It is a decades old faux-rebellion against the commerce and object driven art world – a world that the rebels ache to be a part of!
The beauty of all art is that it ultimately is in the eye of the beholder. I do not want to be told to think about something when nothing is there. Send me a postcard, an email. That is a sow’s ear not a silk purse. I don’t want you to explain what happens at the end of the film before I see it for myself-it is about discovery. The experience of seeing a sculpture or painting or mosaic is mine to explore and discover with my eyes and mind. I don’t want to read the philosophical musings of an unfinished idea – I want to see something that I can muse about. When we put our work out there. it no longer belongs to us.. it belongs to those who take it in. When viewers have to rely on a foundation of artistic statements to justify a work it becomes a weak excuse for poorly executed ideas.
Here is a wonderful essay /rant by British writer Chris Sharratt published on Axisweb on this subject:
What is art if not a form of communication, a way to say something that cannot be said using language alone?
Great art speaks for itself.
It requires our undivided attention and an open yet critical mind, but apart from that it needs no explanation for it to convey its message.
Of course galleries don’t always exhibit great art.
Often it is mediocre, the message unclear and the end result uncompelling.
However much undivided attention we give, it fails to do what all the best art should – to make us think about the who, what and why of our lives and the world around us.
This failure to deliver is, in a way, all part of the dialogue of contemporary art.
Communicating ideas isn’t easy – better to try and fail than to not try at all.
Yet there is another dialogue that so often accompanies bad art, and which is far harder to forgive – the interpretation text penned by the artist/curator/gallery staff.
Done well, this can add context and background information that enhances the gallery experience.
Yet far too often it acts as a smokescreen, a roll-call of art-speak gobbledegook that baffles rather than enlightens.
There is, I think, a pattern to this; the more lightweight the concept, the greater the tendency towards obscuration.
It’s as if the writer is trying to convince themselves that there are hidden depths in the shallow ideas set before them.
Big words and complex sentence structures are offered up as some kind of validation.
If you don’t get it, well, you just don’t get it.
Text like this is worse than useless – it just gets in the way of our experience and wastes paper.
It’s always better to let the art do the talking than obscure the picture.