Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I'm not a person who is very comfortable with words. Writing isn't easy for me. But sometimes discussions on other blogs invoke a need to comment, so here I am writing in response to a comment-discussion on a blog I enjoy reading, Edward Winkleman's:

Personally, I chose art forms that require other skills to express myself, it was music, now visual art. But these days visual artists are required to use a lot of verbiage. Every exhibit starts with a long lecture by the artist. It's like the art is not accessible without explaining it first. I feel like that often. When visiting a gallery or a show I take a look first, without hearing or reading anything. I like to see what this does to me, and often, it does very little. Then I read, or listen to the 'explanation' or interpretation and I go: ahhhhhh... I didn't get it right away (and I feel humbled - another word for: a little stupid for not getting it right away). Then I look again at the art and it all comes into place, I enjoy and appreciate it, and think: wow, that's brilliant/that's so touching...

But at the same time a part of me is still reserved, not enjoying totally, because I feel insulted, I think - this should have been clear to me right away, why isn't it speaking to me in the language of the visual, why is there a need for crutches? for words, for explaining? I mean, yes, words are fine if you want to know more, understand more, get a bigger picture, but there should also be an immediate response to the art, that is non-verbal, that doesn't need any words, that is individual, open and vast. It is the main thing that makes it VISUAL art.

I also don't like being fed with the interpretation. Once there is an explanation, there is only one way to interpret, to understand, I am forced to see it in a certain way. It's like reading a book and then seeing it in a movie, once you saw the movie there is a certain picture in your mind, you cannot imagine it as you did before, you cannot interpret it freely. Yet, cinema does leave a lot to be interpreted, a lot to think about, at least in a good movie, and a movie can be viewed on it's own, reading the book is not necessary to enjoy or 'get' it. So the analogy is not perfect, because the book and the movie are each separate art forms that stand by themselves, for themselves. I think visual art should speak for itself, on many levels, and to any person in an individual way, be open to personal interpretation. Words can be used as an enhancement, but any explanation that is longer than one paragraph, if that, which is about as long as the lyrics to a song, is redundant, too long, too complicated, too heavy. It's also great when the words can stand by themselves, have some meaning and importance even without the artwork, as in good lyrics to a song (although sometimes the lyrics in a song can be rather silly, only used as a tool to enhance or 'anchor' the music).

For example, in the work of Stephanie Sinclair of Afghan women burn victims, shown now in the Whitney Biennial - the explanation can stand in itself as a journalistic, very touching piece of information. It enhances and is being enhanced by the photographs.

Two paragraphs are printed in the exhibit, but this could easily be shortened to one, the message is striking. If you are able to look closely at the photos or just take a glimpse at them, it stays with you for a long time, and hits you on many levels, emotionally, intellectually. It is about third world countries, but also about our identity as a women, as a society (both men and women), just to name a few. It speaks to everyone who is touched by it in an individual, personal way.

I like comparing visual art to music. Now I am trying to put all my thoughts down into words, and it is not easy for me, but I am trying:

Music speaks without words, but sometimes words are used to enhance, to complete, as an additional tool. But the words are usually short, and simple. A poem, lyrics to a song.

Music can be understood and felt without words, as in instrumental music.

It can be interpreted in many ways. In fact, every person will hear and feel and respond differently to the same piece. We may both like Bach, or Bill Evans, but we will both like them in different ways. You may like the high note and I may like the unpredictable rhythm in the slowest part. Every minute may include other particles we each like, and respond to differently, feel them differently, imagine in different colors. Back in music school, one of my teachers used to mock music critics, for trying to describe music with words, phrases such as: 'the velvety clarinet melody'... 'the sparkling piano notes'... what's wrong with it you ask? for musicians all that needs to be defined with words are mainly the technical terms, such as notes, scales and rhythm, and beyond that the wordly definitions are very simple: In classical music its Italian terms such as: Allegro - fast; Con Brio - with vigor; Dolce - sweetly; Delicato - delicately; Jiojoso - joyfully; and so on, very simple terms. In Jazz there may be even less words used - musicians will define: it's a ballad, or: it's free jazz; mostly technical terms, referring to scale/form/rhythm etc.. the rest is spoken with the music itself. And the music speaks, it speaks volumes.

To me, visual art has lost it's immediacy in making a visual connection that is deep, and beyond words.

I am struggling here with words to explain why words are not necessary. I have chosen this form of art for this reason, because unlike theater, poetry, literature, screen writing, which are art forms that require the spoken or written word, I don't think words are the main tool for the visual artist, or shouldn't be one of the necessary tools.

I've spoken my mind, a lot of writing and a lot of words for me, it's such a long post, all these words... I hope I made some point here... thank you for reading!


Caio Fernandes said...

this is a very good and honest text , Iris .
i do agree with you about all that .
thank you for have writen about .

Leslie Culpepper said...

I agree, that visual art should stand alone, without words or explanation. At the same time, I think it's important for the artist to talk about what they've done (something I struggle with). The artist should be aware of that other level (why did I choose to do it this way?). Talking about it, reasoning it out, thinking it out, informs the process.

I also become annoyed when I can't figure out the art for myself--and sometimes, I think it's indicative of weakness in the art. I don't need to know the artist's exact message, but I should feel something real, and I should make connections for myself. This is what makes art timeless and significant.

Sandrine said...

I'm not a visual artist, but I enjoy fine art and going to exhibitions and galleries. I don't go to the "vernissage" where the artist speaks about his/her art. Usually, most of the art work are exposed with a very small description that rarely interfears with my appreciation of the work. However, I must admit that it is reassuring that the artist explains here and there his/her purpose. Doing that, the artist is responding to the questions from the viewers. I think it's great that art is not just about feelings and emotions, but also about rational questions. In a world where people seems to have lost its mind, it's definitely reassuring that art brings back the questions and the urge to understand.

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