The art of gallery lingo, or what you can call jargon exists and the mango person, or in other words the common man is far often baffled with the intricacies that this dialect offers. What would normally seem sorted, seems unfathomable and too obtuse to connect with. What then, is the purpose of these handouts, write ups and this exalted conversation that the gallery guide subjects you to. Whatever happened to simple and easy to understand lingo you ask! Is simple understandable language deemed unworthy in this realm of creative beings?
In my pursuit to unravel this mystery lets discuss this further to get a perspective if not an answer to the mind’s query, in what is now recognised as International Art English (IAE) thus coined by David Levine and his friend Alex Rule, critic and sociology PhD student at Columbia university in New York.
Being an artist and often guilty of being caught up in this verbal maze of interpretation where an “apple” will not be referred to as a “red fruit” but “a red fruit of temptation which became the subsequent downfall of Adam and his kind, and yet has the power to mould the future...”.
Let us probe further into finding a reason for this rather digressive means of reference to the subject. Maybe a certain tone of textual seriousness is conveyed through the exalted usage of the language. It is probably to convey to the viewer, buyer or even browser, that they must drop their ordinary gaze and bring in their most prized glance, to fathom the depth of the presented art or their wallet, whichever be the case. Hence creating a psychological acceptance of the price list.
IAE, could also spring from the entire avant-garde movement which was heralded by the French and which was a non conformist movement to previously established rules in art and art movements. This new form of art needed new language to describe it. Hence an even complex task, when translated from French to English. Perhaps this also explains the rather French behaviour and mannerisms of today’s gallery assistants and certain curators too. You will now argue that if it is rooted in a cultural understanding of art why is it prevalent all over the globe. Good point, but then most art norms are generally set by the European art market. It is only recently that Asia has suddenly started having its say.
One can create an amusing past time of collecting literature, from various shows and exhibitions and doing a study of the language. This can well be used in lessons aimed at teaching editing by de-jargonising. However once simplified try using these as hand outs and I can tell you the entire exercise of creating an aura of a collection and mystery to the artists thought process is completely lost. Hence I would like to affirm there is definitely a certain beauty, and therein a purpose to mystifying the subject in hand. This is important when you are trying to re –interpret what has already been done by the artist. Hence despite all these exalted notes “the artists perspective” is often sought. The simplified language of the simple artist can sometimes even leave the buyer de-mystified or slightly disappointed. Here is when the curator jumps in and speaks for the artist and once again is very successful in re-webbing that aura of extravagance embedded in visual jargon. I have seen that happen one too many times, and sometimes even on panel discussions. Am I stepping on toes here....but anybody who knows anything about me, knows that I live and get my inspiration from these very tip toe moments.
Coming back to the matter at hand this jargon namely IAE and the need for it is something that even the new bee or hobby artist acknowledges. Some of these hobby artists, aspiring to call themselves as full time artists even take lessons with a “master” or someone of recognisable talent to be able to learn and de-code some of this jargon. At times these are even expelled from the system verbatim and can create an amusing evening and mind you I am a tea taller; so it’s not the wine that makes me smile and feel light headed. I do enjoy the food in these events as these often turn out to be well catered. And events they surely are!!
Hence it would seem there is a well established need for IAE in the world of art and art collectors and the art fakers too. It’s just that even within the realms of IAE some have totally mastered it while others are still trying to grope the very basics of it. As an artist, I do get curated for shows and as these are group shows I respect the curator’s skill in tying the entire exhibit and there after presenting each of the artists. I do self present myself in various shows and as an artist who does regular proposals for different bodies, I definitely understand the need to convey a concept. However when I do, I prefer to keep it simple and yet dreamy, painting with words, trying not to take away from what they will see, feel and ultimately take home with themselves, mainly memories and various impressions. Hopefully the next time you do come across an exalted piece of gallery literature you will give it that prestige it deserves and read it. Remember, those are hours and hours of work you will be shoving in your evening clutch. Personally I don’t waste money printing it...it’s up there on the wall; if you have the time to read it you will find it :)