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Communication, not alienation

Monday January 22 2018

Art is a wonderful thing. Everyone agrees it can transport you to another time and place, feeling or opinion. But in some quarters there seems to be an attempt to push people away from art, not draw them closer. Some writers and curators are responsible for helping to both create the mystique and intellectual aura which surrounds exhibitions and shows.

Language plays a big role in what has become a rather unfriendly style of communication. The blurb on the wall as you enter the gallery is as likely to be incomprehensible as it is pretentious. A favourite example spotted at last year’s Venice Biennale includes the immortal sentence: …Reformulated by artists since the 1990s at the time of “presentism”, or suspended time and “hyper instantaneousness”, the notion of time re-emerges today with a new metaphysical quality, within borgesian mazes and speculations of a future that is already embedded in the present, or in an ideal infinity…’ and so on.

A classic, surely. Venice is a rather extreme version of course. Bonkers at one level but exciting and inspiring at another. I’d forgive it almost anything.

However, national museums often committed the same word crimes and art lovers are often left feeling mystified. Words such as such as ‘praxis’, ‘connoisseurship’ and ‘dystopia’ may be commonplace amongst academics and an art historian but what twelve-year-old starting out on their own early journey into the world of art knows, or wants to know, what they mean?

Amanda Sharp, founder of Frieze magazine and the fancy art collector fairs of the same name, says ‘You don’t need to dumb complicated ideas down – you just have to explain them clearly.’ Frieze is a surprisingly straightforward read, opening up contemporary art and explaining artworks and their implications in a clear and uncomplicated way. Its hefty price tag and classy advertisements bely a sensible attitude to talking about art and culture in general.

The business world has begun to learn the long, hard lesson of how clear communication works and a good way for arts and businesses to work together would be to share their learnings. Art in the workplace needs to be communicated in a straightforward and engaging way with people who need to be inspired rather than estranged. In a smart business, art is an agent to good communication and leads to a happy and productive workforce, and enlightened and curious customers.

Although art can be hard to understand, deliberately opaque, or even absurd, the role of curators, galleries and writers is surely not to add to the confusion. Or did the Plain English Campaign bypass the art world?

By Victoria Tate, Director of Arterial