To each of us, locked in our own realities, our personal fixations seem common. I happen to be an artist, and while speaking about art in the acceptable language, or “Art-speak,” is as natural to me as breathing, it occurs to me that almost no one knows what I’m talking about.
This article cannot deliver you a full understanding of art-speak, or even scratch the surface of the bottomless world of ideas that is “art.” This piece is meant as a primer for those who wish to begin a journey of understanding into the language and for those who just want to know how to fake it.
You might think at this point that there is something wrong with me. Why would a person who spent long, arduous years in college, thousands upon thousands of dollars, and endless mental anguish to receive a Fine Arts degree teach other people how to fake what he earned? The answer is both simple and complex. As an artist, it is impossible not to hate fakers, but it is also impossible not to respect them. Art, in a very real way, is about results, not “truth.”
So let’s say that you are walking with your date through an art museum or gallery and you want to be impressive. The first step, and the most important one, is to act like you know what you are talking about. Keep in mind that most people know nothing about art. They only know that certain people do know it, and they tend to trust them. You must establish yourself as one of these people.
When most people talk about a painting, they look for the story. This is wrong in terms of contemporary art politics. Narrative was the heart and soul of art up until the mid 1900s, when it became extremely taboo. The story doesn’t matter. Something that does matter is the way it was painted. Is the brushwork, (the telltale marks of the paintbrush) wiggly and wild? If so then it is “a very lose, energetic style.” If there are no signs of a paintbrush, if the painting is smooth all over like advertising graphic, than it is a “tight and clean style.”
Another thing that is very important is the mood of the painting. Is it “dark and brooding,” or is it “light, airy, and reassuring.” Get used to saying the word “evoke.” Instead of saying, “hey, that looks like my rubber ducky when I was a kid.” say, “it evokes memories of childhood and innocence.” You will find yourself sounding uppity, and may be uncomfortable. If this is the case, stop right now. Art-speak is all about being uppity.
The thing to know about this, is that uppity is good among the art crowd, so long as it remains positive. Never trash a work of art. Find the remarkable and interesting in everything. After all you’re trying to impress people, and people like positive speakers. Hold your hand on your chin and look closely at the painting before you speak about it. If you wear glasses, take them off and stick your face right up to the piece. If you look interested, people will believe what you say.
One of the other major elements of contemporary art criticism is the influences of the artist. To master this skill, you will need a basic knowledge of artists and art movements. Then you will be able to accurately say, “it’s very Picasso-esque,” or “I definitely see the surrealist influence. You don’t need to spend four years in art school to do this. You can get away with knowing the major artists and movements.
For example, The Baroque period was a French movement full of gold and excessive ornamentation. Rubens, it’s most famous artist, painted Buxom women. If you see a contemporary painting of a buxom woman, it is “Ruben-esque.” If you don’t feel like reading long and wordy art books, you can use Google image search.
Search for images under these names, Bernini, Cassatt, Monet, Degas, Rodin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Rubens, Jackson Pollack, Warhol, Basquiat, Bill Viola, and Takashi Murakami. This is an extremely short list of the thousands of famous artists in history. If you want to research them all, I recommend it, but you can probably get away with knowing only the “Big guns.”
The real reason I recommend that you fake it is this. All artists and art critics are faking it. It just depend on how well they fake it. Art is a game. Once you know the rules, you are allowed to wear the badge, and recoup the honors.
Happy faking! And I hope you learn to actually like art along the way.