Last week at college, we were tasked with reading a very challenging article about art. We haven’t yet had the chance formally to discuss the article in a controlled manner as the tutor was away, but we discussed a certain aspect of the article a great deal in his absence: it’s obtuseness.
We scoffed at the long words, we criticized the long sentences and we debated the point of reading the article with little conclusion.
So I decided to write a blog entry about what my college friends and I call ‘arty farty spherical objects’. The question we were asking last week as we talked about the article was: why does academic art literature have to be so hard to understand? I have a BA (Hons) degree and I work for an academic publisher so I come face to face with academic texts every day, yet I had to read this article three times before I got the gist of its message. So who was the article written for? Certainly not foundation degree students. Perhaps not undergraduates, or even postgraduates. Maybe only for a very small percentage of society – academics. The article, once I could understand it, I could see made some really salient points about the role of the artist in the community. So is it fair that only a small percentage of the world benefit from its words of wisdom?
There is an organisation, called the Plain English Campaign, who give awards for obtuse language. They campaign for brevity and easy-to-understandability. They wouldn’t have thought much of Hal Foster.
One of my favourite websites is the ‘arty spherical objects’ (can’t you I find it hard to type rude words?) generator. It is specifically geared to artists who don’t know how to posh-up their personal statements. You don’t even need to input any text; your artist statement is automatically generated at the press of a button and somehow it all makes sense.
Thinking about arty farty speak, I wonder whether our tutor gave us this article to read not so that we’d discuss it’s message and debate the artist as ethnographer, but so that we’d discuss exactly what we did discuss: how high-brow art criticism fails to talk to ‘normal’ people.