December 24, 2007

Words Smith loves to hate

In the NYTimes, Roberta Smith takes issue with current art jargon, particularly the newly fashionable use of the word "practice" to describe the artmaking process. "When it comes to fashionably obtuse language, the art world is one of the leading offenders. Academic pretensions flash through like brush fire, without a drop of cold water splashed their way. 'Reference' and 'privilege' are used relentlessly as verbs, as in 'referencing late capitalism' or 'privileging the male gaze.' Artists 'imbricate' ideological subtexts into their images. Some may think such two-bit words reflect important shifts in thought about art, but they usually just betray an intellectual insecurity.... Another lamentable creeping usage is not only pretentious, but it distorts and narrows what artists do. I refer to — rather than reference — the word practice, as in 'Duchamp’s practice,' 'Picasso’s studio practice' and worst of all, especially from the mouths of graduate students, 'my practice.' Things were bad enough in the 1980s, when artists sometimes referred to their work as 'production,' but at least that had a kind of grease-monkey grit to it. The impetus behind practice may be to demystify the stereotype of the visionary or emotion-driven artist, and indeed it does. It turns the artist into an utterly conventional authority figure." Read more.

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