Writing about creativity in any form — visual arts, film, music, food — can be difficult. The process of translating what is a sensory experience into the more limiting constraints of language often comes up short. And yet we do it anyway, because what the hell else are we going to talk about?
The problem is, once we seize upon a piece of language that seems like it does a lot of the heavy translational lifting for us, we become so enamored of it that we hammer it into shapelessness. This is something I’m keenly aware of as someone who’s written about music for many years; the sharpest tools in the arsenal become dulled over time.
ArtNet’s Ben Davis is aware of this as well, as seen in his 30 Art-Writing Clichés to Ditch in the New Year. I must admit on the rare occasions I’ve written about visual art I’ve definitely used more than a few of these, some of which, like Borgesian, I am really sorry to realize are so frequently used. It’s going be hard for me to let that one go.
Check out a few of my favorite below, and see the rest here.
This is a paradoxical term in that the people who know what “deconstruction” actually was will probably roll their eyes. But the air of theoretical sophistication that it brings seems to me the main reason that it is so overused. Saying that Marilyn Minter’s book featuring photography of female public hair “simultaneously deconstructs and glamorizes her subject” seems rather gratuitous, no?
I take it that the idea of being “immersed” in something is a big, big selling point. Gagosian Gallery described Takashi Murakami’s recent show as an “immersive installation;” but no, it was just full of big things. Which is not the same.
To me, when a writer says that an artist’s work was “informed by” a certain set of ideas, that can be translated to, “What this show was about was unclear to me—but then I read the press release and it said the artist had read something.”
Describing something as “palimpsest-like” is a good way of telling the reader that you are really invested in arcane cultural trivia. (For the uninitiated, a palimpsest is “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”) I don’t know what joker is responsible for making it cool to do so, but when I find out, you can be sure I will write a merciless clerihew about him.