From abstract of Judith Ryan’s presentation at Art Museums: Site of Communication 2, symposium, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005
“in the beginning was the eye, not the word”: we need to get audiences to look at art. Forget art speak, anthropological speak, or intellectual theorising, employ plain speak: write it as you would say it in words that you and your audience can understand and remember, the maker of the work is part of your audience. We must not create libraries of the intellect or invent unfathomable theories that interfere with the power of metaphor or what the artist is saying in the work.
I am always dubious of work that is accompanied by wordy text which makes claims for how it functions: if it functioned at all, it just would- you wouldn’t need to explain it. It doesn’t always neccessarily negate the existing strengths of the work, but to me it feels neurotic and pushy. And it can certainly reveal what weaknesses are there, as a gulf between the words on the page and the thing before you suddenly opens up and swallows the meaning.
The reason you made the work is just one part of it’s meaning. The other part is how the audience receives it- and that you can’t control. The attempt to limit how people see and understand your work not only restrains it’s possible meanings, to me it also demonstrates an insecurity about or lack of faith in the visuality of visual art- the sensory experience of it.
The apprehension of meaning via the senses, which is- I would’ve thought- a major factor of art in general, is essentially an invisible process contained inside the space between the viewer/experiencer, and the art. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Just because you can’t say it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean anything. Not being able to put your finger on it, doesn’t mean the meaning hasn’t wormed it’s way into your brain and is steadfastly wriggling its way through your grey matter as we speak.
An image, whether it is visual or sonic, is an open-ended metaphor. It is a frightening bundle for an artist to abandon at the doorstep of the world- it could be everything or it could be nothing at all. I think it is mostly this fear which drives contemporary artists to frame the reception of their work in so many words. It is a safety net and a security blanket- tangible evidence of the intellect and labour that has led to this moment: proof.
When you are writing about your work, it feels as though you are expanding it, when in fact, most of the time, you are contracting it. In fact, you are eulogising it: creating it in the past tense and killing off its living, breathing future.