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narrative, artspeak, academic language, and misinterpreting posts

updated tue 30 dec 03


Vince Pitelka on mon 29 dec 03

> The silly bit of paper stuck on the wall instructing
> and defining the work of art becomes superfluous at best and a
> downright insult to the intellectual and sensory powers of each
> and every viewer in much the same way you try to instruct, Vince.
> "I love art, and therefore have learned much of the academic
> language, but as I said, there is no reason for you to fear such
> language". What the hell is that you are trying to convey or
> imply? Only those who go on perpetuating the myth that a
> jargon-based, specialist language is necessary for them and
> others to love and appreciate art? Vince! You are joking!?!?! We

Good for you, Janet, that was indeed a spirited rant! Most entertaining, as
entertainment goes, as in stand-up comedy and magic shows. But let's get
real here. Jargon-based specialist language? Certainly there is silly
jargon and artspeak in the art world. I admitted that pretty clearly. Some
people get some kind of perverse joy out of convolutions of artspeak. But
that language is transparent. Let's make some kind of reasonable
differentiation here. Please do not imply that I am using "jargon-based
specialist language" here, because that is of course absurd.You really do
know me better than that.

You are confusing artspeak and healthy academic art language. There is no
reason to be in any way frightened of or threatened by academic vocabulary
OR artspeak, so STOP ACTING LIKE YOU ARE. As I said before, the development
of an elaborate vocabulary which evolves among academics is a perfectly
healthy and natural thing, and it is absurd to think of it as some kind of
intellectual masterbation. Universities are GOOD THINGS. Academics STUDY
THINGS. A complex academic language is the natural outcome of this, in any
field of study. If you get deeply involved in a particular field as an
avocation or vocation, it is often interesting and useful to understand the
academic language. To openly condemn and belittle the academic language is
indeed very strange.

Many artist's statements are very well-written and very informative. There
is no requirement that you read them. So it does seem strange to condemn
them so braodly. I expect that you are fully capable of differentiating
between useful information and puffed-up artspeak, so I do not understand
your wholesale condemnation of artist's statements. There's no gain in that
for you or for anyone else.

Janet, I stated pretty clearly that no one needs to understand academic art
language in order to appreciate art. Did you really read my post? At the
end of the post I said that all you need to appreciat art are the
willingness to look, open eyes, and an open mind.

I am about as far from an art elitist as you can get. I love most forms of
art, especially those produced by children, folk artists, and indigenous
peoples with little or no formal academic training. I am fascinated by the
phenomenon of art-making in all forms, from the spontaneous and innocent
work of children, to the frenzied creations of religious zealots. Academic
language provides insight and access to a lot of opinions and ideas that I
find interesting. But that is just one way of thinking about or talking
about art, and there is no implication at all that academic art language is
of any use or interest to most people. Nothing wrong with that notion.

And regarding your defense of 16-paragraph posts, I was referring
specifically to Clayart posts, and never said anything at all that was
critical of writing at length in literature. It would be far more
productive if you didn't take things from people's posts and interpret them
out of context and proportion.

I have been an avid reader all my life and I love getting into a long book.
But the reality of Internet discussion lists is that people usually do not
spend much time on long posts, especially when the daily numbers of posts
get so high. If a reader does not know you (and often even if they do),
they will hit the delete key after the second paragraph. I hate to think
that they will miss out on the (mostly) good things you have to say.

You said " Seems to me that the raison d'etre of art speak is to replace
content, not augment it as you imply. " Huh? I clearly stated that some
artists use artspeak to puff up shallow work. That happens altogether too
much, but again, it is pretty easy to tell when that is the case. On the
other hand, academic art language is often used very effectively to augment
and clarify content, in artist's statements and elsewhere.

Janet, sometimes when you get really hot on a topic your posts flow out with
a bit of a poisoned pen, and perhaps not as well considered as your writing
generally is. You always write with such spirit and personality, and that
is a treasure for us on Clayart. But it is a bit frustrating trying to
respond when you misinterpret and misrepresent my words. I wish you
wouldn't do that.
Best wishes Janet -
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home -
Office -
615/597-6801 x111, FAX 615/597-6803

Janet Kaiser on tue 30 dec 03

My Dear Vince

As you may have realised, I prefer comedy and slap-stick to
facetiousness and sarcasm, but both naturally have their uses as
you so skilfully demonstrate. I can recommend keeping a lively
sense of the ridiculous when debating with such an
anti-Establishment sparring partner, as it can prevent taking
anything and everything so personally.

Now you have made me splutter tea all over my keyboard, it is
only fair you get your fair share to edit and play around with
again today! Besides which, this is the time of Misrule. As you
will know from your extensive reading, anarchy has been
associated with the twelve days of Christmas for centuries here
in the UK, although admittedly it tends to spill over into the
rest of the year here too. Whether healthy, spirited pranks or
mean-spirited taunting, depends on the jester -- The Lord of
Misrule (how politically incorrect, but that's history for you).

Sadly the only vestige left of this fine Anglo-Saxon tradition of
poking fun, irreverent tormenting of our Lords & Masters and
generally extracting the Michael at the ridiculous, dictatorial
Establishment without any fear of retribution, has been relegated
to a round-up of The Past Year by our tame and timid press.
Tedious but oh so terribly civilised and seemly How they
underestimate the power of the buffoons versus that of the
self-righteous prigs in society. But thankfully, satire is alive
and well amongst our political cartoonists (the Artists) to make
up for this errant and despicable shortfall on the part of the

Gosh...! Sixteen paragraphs, was it Vince? Or twenty pages, Mel?
Really? What a lot of navel gazing and rumination. You see...
Those who disregarded Mel's advice to write "Ass" on the delete
key and put "Silly Cow" instead, made the right choice. Ah,
well... With BSE looming over the USA it is good to know some
ruminants will survive.

I have truly chewed over what I honestly believe re: Narrative,
Artspeak and Acamdemic Language. I don't think there is anything
to add... Now taking up the "Misinterpreting Posts" part, you
have so thoughtfully tacked to the subject line, Vince.

Where did I ever refer to Artist's Statements? Hummm...? Let
alone a blanket condemnation. You have inserted that little extra
angle all on your ownsome lonesome, Vince! Admit it! Do you not
remember that thread urging artists to write a statement, not
matter how irksome they found the exercise? No, no, no... you
cannot claim such and get away with it! An honest, simply written
statement should remain in the artist/maker's palette of helpfull

Secondly, I did not say that academics should not study or do not
have a rightful place in the great scheme of things. Another
reason for me to shout about pots and kettles (colour =3D black).
Nor did I imply that it was you personally that I was speaking
about... Just the TREND I see as an "impartial" onlooker, in
spite of all the work done by individuals to slow down or reverse
it. I prefer to think that everyone in Claytown are amongst the
"Doers" of Mel`s post and address all (including you Vince) as

The Thinkers have their own perfectly proper place in the great
scheme of things, but as we come together as artists and makers
using clay as a medium -- either actively (=3D majority) or
passively (=3D minority) -- I made the unfortunate presumption
that everyone was well able to distinguish between the "academia
bashing" I am now accused of and the perfectly valid point which
I was making.

I could go on about misinterpretation and cherry-picking out of
context, but that would be tit-for-tat and neither you nor I need
descend to that level, eh? However, just to qualify my "academic
angle" against the backdrop of yours for a minute. Academics have
traditionally had the grace to stay in their institutions of
learning, occasionally publishing learned papers and tomes to
share their research with others outside (peers, interested
bodies, experts & individuals) whilst lecturing to those inside -
their students and passing on their knowledge (is this gross
simplification allowed without a qualifying sentence, Vince?).

Beside the Art Historians (that race apart), the Art Professors
(now considered pure academics and not the craftsmen they
traditionally were) were all practising artists in their own
right. What has been the trend over the past 50 years? (It goes
without saying that I do not mean every institution or every
professor/tutor/teacher is part of this). We now have a great
many who ONLY talk and write about art. They do not know one end
of a paintbrush from the other, but pontificate ad nauseum. Far
worse than either you or me, Vince, and in far less
comprehensible terms.

On the whole, the rest of society -- the artists, makers, art
lovers, collectors INCLUDED - were originally free to ignore any
NON-PRACTISING twits... Sorry...! I naturally should say: "Dons
and Fellows" whose work was only used for reference in an
historical or theoretical context. Their role was basically much
as anyone reading any of the Humanities would have. If they did
nothing or little in practice, they at least were not directly
interfering in the development of those students who were going
to become practising artists and makers. For example a drawing
Master actually taught drawing skills... Something which is now
(believe it or not) quite a foreign concept in many of our

So no more specialists teaching skills. Now we have a generation
of practising artists and makers (many, not all) who are
depending on following in the footsteps of their role-models. The
result is that they themselves are not makers either. Intent and
concept is thereby their ONLY input, which to a clay community
such as this is not acceptable, however you care to look at it
Vince. Creativity has been one of many tools and skills which
have defined artists through the ages. They have depended a great
deal on craftsmanship, but remove that extremely important aspect
and what do you have left? Answer: not a great deal.

The interpretation of the concept is now left to artists, who
lack all the skills which define them as artists and craftspeople
to society as a whole. Artspeak and Academic Language is only ONE
symptom of the overall malaise, IMO. The cause sits in the
institutions of further education as well as government. I have
no doubt in my own mind, that the emphasis now put on the
theoretical (i.e. academic) versus the practical (i.e.
vocational) is leaving a generation with few practical skills.
One naturally cannot have one without the other. They must

If mechanical skills outweigh the intellectual and academic then
one is a "mere craftsman" yet when the intellect takes over via
the pen and the mouth, then one is a "mere" .... Yes, what is one
then? A mere Artist? A mere Academic?

Now, the misuse and abuse of "jargon" as I am pleased to call it
and which I am supposedly afraid of using / reading (another
misinterpretation) continues, yet (as you say yourself, Vince)
"But that language is transparent. Let's make some kind of
reasonable differentiation here". Yes, let's do that...

So... It is transparent when it descends from Academic Language
down to Artspeak and into pure Art Balls? Are you very sure about
that? To whom is it transparent? Everyone? No... Because it's
very existence in print, in public places, at exhibitions, degree
shows and other venues proves that there is some doubt at to who
is able to differentiate between the spurious impostor and the
bone-fide artist. You forget how many are gullible and/or ready
to exploit an unsuspecting public, Vince. All those "bad people"
who wind him up and get Mel on his soapbox for starters...

In the meantime, the general public are confronted with good, bad
and indifferent work (which for the sake of this discussion, I
shall continue to refer to as art, but which includes all made or
created objects). Having removed the skills and practices of that
figure of fun (a real live artist-craftsman/woman) and replaced
them with conceptual theoreticians talking a different language,
just what is left for the public? Hummm...? Be truthful!

Whether a specialist language or jargon, the "rest of the world"
are not going to take seriously, because -- guess what? In this
rush to proving we are all so bloody clever, there is one
teeny-weeny oversight here... There is nothing on exhibition
which they would themselves classify as art... Concepts
interpreted by the strategic juxtaposition of found objects is
tantamount to saying that there is no need for that historical
figure "the artist" or the father and mother of every great
artist "the craftsman".

Britart has been totally conceptual over the past twenty years.
Artspeak has reached epidemic proportions. So much so, that those
"transparent" tracts which mean less than nothing to which you
refer, Vince, are now the norm and not the exception. Ergo... Is
it any wonder that because these so-called "artists" are allowed
to proliferate, the whole Art World is losing touch with an ever
increasingly sceptical public? The Mystery of the Shrinking
Market is no such thing! Society as a whole is richer than it
was, with a lot of money available to spend on art, but when it
comes to investing available cash in work for one's personal
pleasure at home, where does one look?

Let me give you a little illustration... A fellow Clayarter was
recently rendered totally speechless by an American visitor
remarking, "It is a shame there is no craft tradition in
England". And that in a nutshell is where we are at right now.
YMMV (individually and collectively) but with art departments
(the practical workshop, vocational skill teaching/learning type)
disappearing under carpets and computer equipment, COMBINED with
the Establishment fabricating their own language which is
exclusive, not INCLUSIVE, is it any wonder that I despair?

You did not pick up on the David Blaine factor/phenomena either,
Vince, but I have had enough for today. YESSSSSSSSSS!!! Made it
to =A721!!!! LOL! Don't be so hard on yourself, Vince. Or me
either for that matter. At least I did not waste a single word on
"narrative" or "signifier"... You should be proud of me!


Janet Kaiser

>Good for you, Janet, that was indeed a spirited rant! Most
>as entertainment goes, as in stand-up comedy and magic shows.
But let's get
>real here. Jargon-based specialist language? Certainly there
is silly
>jargon and artspeak in the art world. I admitted that pretty
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