The Strategies of Artspeak

Artspeak is not the issue. For us, the “No Longer Interested” text set several other thoughts in motion, beginning with the topic of jargon. Our hunch is that the rhetoric of artists is a way for artists to solve a problem, rather than the problem itself. Artists develop a certain manner of speech in order to continue to do what they do, while attempting to maneuver a variety of rules, regulations, preconceptions, expectations, power games and other interests. There is an outside interest in making artists speak like this, and not only at art schools (where even we ourselves have been teaching young artists this parlance). Thus it seems to us that the issue is the diverse interests, both of artists and others, that push artists to develop a strategy of speaking about what they do. The question evoked for us is how to rid oneself of the conditions to which these semantics respond (rather than asking what artists can do without disturbing these conditions).

To begin with, we want to locate the problem of jargon, not with respect to its involuntary effects (such as the ones mentioned in the text: cultural isolation, obscured goals and a reduced ability to act in the world), but with regard to the actual reasons for there being a jargon in the first place. Within a restrained group, jargon may indeed be a perfect solution: it permits fast communication, it provides common tools for swift analysis of a situation and it could even state – or at least impose – a goal for the activity of, or within, a group. And it provides protection: your thoughts are well-armored inside jargon. To a certain extent it can make it possible to say something general about a practice that inevitably is very specific, and often therefore precarious, without committing to a predefined result (for instance, enabling an artist to find funding for what they do, even if this schizophrenic double-positioning is admittedly not the best influence on the artist’s practice and requires a lot of discipline).


Marcel Duchamp by Arnold Rosenberg, 1958. (Image via toutfait)

This kind of jargon-driven cultural isolation does not have to be a problem – it is simply unavoidable. In fact, sometimes this isolation can be a precondition for actually doing something relevant. One might, for instance, look at Duchamp’s statement on the drawback of making things public: “There was quite a bit of activity, but it was limited to a relatively small group and nothing was done very publicly. Publicity always takes something away.”[1]  In the case of Duchamp, and there are many more examples (in art and academia), it is clearly of importance for an artist´s practice that his or her artwork receive public attention safely – after the fact. The main complications seem to arise with the desire to make all art available, to everyone, immediately, 24/7.

Art historians or curators or collectors may very well break the cultural isolation of a group of artists in 10, or 20 years. And that’s fine. But today we seem to want it all to be available right away, in all its artistic, historical, socio-political and networked complexity – preferably clearly packaged and labelled. There may be different reasons for this desire; commercial ones of course, but also control (art schools, funding) or fast intellectual consumption (critique, theory, curatorial). And this is where jargon can become a problem; when the idea that everybody and anybody is entitled to (and should) take part of what is being done without having to participate in the doing of it. We can call it global consumerism as a norm. Now, that is a problem – ruled, in the end, by hedge funds, oligarchs and the like. Certainly jargon is a problem too. But jargon produced by artists is primarily a symptom, not a cause, and the discrepancy between these two problems might be a larger problem that more directly concerns the way we speak about art.

Art has one problem (that it has to speak, and preferably in a certain way, and become public immediately); art discourse has different problem (that the way we speak, our jargon, reflects the discrepancy between the real problems and our art world problems). True, sometimes this predicament of art discourse is reflected in and through the discourse itself, or might be the object of it, but that is most emphatically not a way of getting out of the problem.

[1] Marcel Duchamp, The Great Trouble with Art in This Country, p. 123 in Sanoillet & Peterson (ed.) The Essential Writing of Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames & Hudson, 1978


Read more from Growing Dialogue: No Longer Interested

“No Longer Interested” by Steve Lambert – April 1, 2014

“Difference Not Indifference” by Mary Mattingly – April 2, 2014

“In Defense of Interest” by Harrell Fletcher – April 3, 2014

“The Strategies of Artspeak” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 4, 2014

“Sleight of Hand” by Jim Duignan – April 7, 2014

“What Do We Really Want?” by Steve Lambert – April 8, 2014

“Breaking Out of the Studio/Gallery Paradigm” by Harrell Fletcher – April 9, 2014

“Protecting Ambiguity” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 10, 2014

“Collective Power” by Mary Mattingly – April 11, 2014

“Time Traveling” by Jim Duignan – April 14, 2014

“Why Are You Avoiding the Question?” by Steve Lambert – April 15, 2014

“Taking On the World at Large” by Deborah Fisher – April 16, 2014

“What Artists Think Is Possible” by Harrell Fletcher – April 17, 2014

“Exploring the In-Between” by Jim Duignan – April 18, 2014

“Impossible Understanding” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 21, 2014

“Inventive Contradictions” by Mary Mattingly – April 23, 2014

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Jonatan Habib EngqvistLars-Erik Hjertström LappalainenNo Longer Interested
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