Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Emperor's New Clothes

Rudyard Kipling wisely contended, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Words can draw you in and seduce you---they are the Mata Hari of the marketing industry.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why every profession I am aware of elects to develop its own "jargon." Language serves to act as a barrier against those who are "not amongst the chosen membership". Relatedly, one's lack of knowledge of the jargon or inappropriate use of the language will quickly alert the profession's sentinels and elitist hound dogs meant to keep outsiders at bay.

In a recent article published by the New York Times, Roberta Smith accuses the art community of leading the charge on "obtuse language." Interestingly, I forwarded the article to a dear friend who is "outside" of the art world, and many of the language usages were unfamiliar to her astute and learned ear. Truly, Ms. Smith hit a nerve, for I was unaware that "ArtSpeak" has been so cloistered that it continues to prohibit entry for even the more cultured mavens of our society.

"Symbolical Head, Illustrating the Natural Language of the Faculties."
(Image from Wells, Samuel. How to Read Character. New York: Wells Publishing, 1870. p.36.)

I couldn't help but reflect on my experience at Art Basel Miami---the monstrously proportioned and equally prestigious art fair, with more than 20 fairs that piggybacked on the main event held at the Miami Convention Center. The fair is billed as "the most important art show in the United States." Collectors, artists, VIPs and gallery owners are aware that this is the place to view and sell contemporary and modern art -- works whose intent and meanings are seemingly secret, posed in riddles, and decipherable only by the cognisenti.

Most individuals attending the larger fair darted from booth to booth, exhausting themselves rather than entering into full appreciation of some of the fine art that graced the pristine white walls in the 200+ mini-galleries from all over the world. I was acutely aware that the largest percentage of attendees at the fairs were happily oblivious to what they were actually viewing--so much for the import of artistic meaning and metaphor! Indeed, ArtSpeak was heard frequently at Art Basel Miami this past December; I quickly ascertained that the word of the week was "edgy". By the end of the fair, I came to re-define "edgy" as "over-priced schlock."

More importantly, however, it appeared to me that many people who were actually buying art are more concerned with potential profits from a future sale of the piece than the craftsmanship, skill and message of the artist. As an artist, this offended me. I want my patrons to love my work---and not just buy it as a tax dodge or as another commodity in their investment portfolio. Perhaps it would have been different if the artists were present, rather than the agents and gallery owners who mastered the art of ArtSpeak , psychology and economics; I really don't know.

But I suspect individuals who purchase art as investments and have no concern with regard to the artist's process or inherent meaning of a given work are often the same individuals who would be heartily surprised to discover the reality of the Emperor's new clothes. Perhaps this is why art critics tend to write in Modern ArtSpeak?


Robin Maria Pedrero said...

I like your insight as to the "Jargon Club". Did you actually show at Art Basel? I have not yet even attended and I enjoyed reading your experience.


S. A. Hart said...


Thanks for your feedback. Art Basel Miami is an amazing "trade show" and well worth attending---just plan on spending several days exploring the galleries so you can fully take in the experience. For many, it can be overwhelming.

I was blessed with the luxury of VIP tickets, so I was able to attend many of the 'closed' events, as well as gain entry to various venues despite not "showing" at the fair. I made some good contacts, but my primary reason for attending was to see what is being done globally by the "art world." My goals were achieved and more importantly, I returned home with a renewed commitment to my own art and patronage of lesser-known artists who create works of "quality".

Robin Maria Pedrero said...


Great name BTW! I had attended ART EXPO years ago and was ushered through some red ropes for a special viewing of a Dali clock, along with Brooke Shields etc. I bet those VIP tickets made a difference in the experience.

Robin Maria Pedrero

laurie b said...

Hi Sharon! Beautiful site! Your work is stunning. I did copy and past the Techno post into a blog post of my own and added my name to the list. The link is
I wasn't clear as to where to comment so am doing so here. We'll see if I did it correctly! With gratitude, Laurie B.