Write in plain English (or Spanish or French) – And avoid ARTSPEAK (“Meaningless convoluted twaddle”).

Some people say that art should speak for itself and that writing about art is pointless.

In fact in the Theory of Knowledge guide Arts section there is the question, “Is there any point in discussing the arts – should we not simply experience them?”

Other questions in the same section are:

  • How can the subjective viewpoint of an individual contribute to knowledge in the arts?”
  • “On what basis can the merit of a work of art be judged?”

These questions may well be addressed in a later blog post, but today I want to remind you (students) that whatever you have to say about your own art, your writing should be consistently clear, articulate and easy to understand.

Visual Arts, the Exhibition and the Curatorial Rationale

There has always been a requirement that you – as a DP visual arts student – write about your art.
Up until now, this has been in the 1000 word commentary (alternative to video/audio interview), the 300 word candidate statement and within the (old) investigation workbook.

As an examiner, I see quite a lot statements made by students about their art exhibitions.
Some students write rather flowery 1000 word commentaries and/or 300 word statements, and I’m expecting to read equally flowery curatorial rationales and exhibition texts next April/May.

Sometimes of course, the writing is not flowery – it’s eloquent but concise, it’s articulate, thoughtful and intelligent.
But sometimes it’s worse than flowery: its meaningless convoluted twaddle. I read through some humdingers submitted for the May 2015 session.

I (the examiner) should not have to read and re-read a sentence in order to make sense of it.

Examiners who do not have English as a first language may struggle even more. It is not necessary for you to embroider and dress up your ideas with jargon and complexity – but many do.

“Artspeak” (jargon-filled, pretentious baloney?)

Twaddle v7

I’m not sure if it’s your teacher who puts you up to this, or if it’s the abundance of bad “Artspeak” already out there, often about contemporary art and written by the artists and/or the contemporary art critics – but writing about art should not involve jargon-filled twaddle.

• There are many examples of art critics and gallery owners writing pretentious, meaningless and indecipherable rubbish.
• There are sites on the Internet that attempt to puncture this pomposity.
• There is even a site that helps you to generate your own meaningless arty twaddle.

What do you think of this?

“The artist brings the viewer face to face with their own preconceived hierarchy of cultural values and assumptions of artistic worth…Each mirror imaginatively propels its viewer forward into the seemingly infinite progression of possible reproductions that the artist’s practice engenders, whilst simultaneously pulling them backwards in a quest for the ‘original’ source or referent that underlines Levine’s oeuvre.
Source: The Guardian

Knowing how to write it means you might also know how to avoid it?

How to write meaningless art twaddle

Take a look at this artspeak generator.
For example:

“My work explores the relationship between Jungian archetypes and UFO sightings. With influences as diverse as Munch and John Cage, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern discourse. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corroded into a manifesto of power, leaving only a sense of dread and the possibility of a new understanding. As intermittent forms become distorted through diligent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a clue to the limits of our culture”.

“My work explores the relationship between multiculturalism and recycling culture.
With influences as diverse as Camus and L Ron Hubbard, new variations are crafted from both traditional and modern narratives. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of the human condition. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of lust, leaving only a sense of dread and the dawn of a new understanding. As temporal forms become distorted through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a hymn to the outposts of our existence”

This is a JOKE of course and I do not want you to use this for your curatorial rationale – but there is an underlying truth: a lot of “artspeak” is pretentious baloney.

But do it properly/thoughtfully/accurately – and now – in the CURATORIAL RATIONALE – it gets you marks!

No marks were awarded for either commentary or statement in the course that ends November 2015, but marks are awarded for the Curatorial Rationale in the new course, so it makes sense to think about your audience (this includes your examiner) and what you want to say.

At HL for the curatorial rationale you must:

a) justify your selection, arrangement and the exhibition of artworks “within a designated space”, and
b) reflect on how your exhibition conveys an understanding of the relationship between the artworks and the viewer

This does not seem to be too complex or demanding – but I predict that some students will still be seduced by the lure of “artspeak” and will submit convoluted, arty twaddle which will hinder rather help any understanding of their art.

Suggestions: how to write in plain English

• Visit the Plain English website for free guides

• Download the ‘plain English’ guidance pdf
Please, when writing your rationale avoid purple prose and just write in plain English (or Spanish or French!)

Artspeak on the Internet

A user’s guide to artspeak

Why it’s time for galleries to dump the jargon

Pseuds Corner and the Turner Prize

Artspeak sucks, and that’s putting it in plain language

You might also be interested in New Speak