How to Say Nothing Poorly

There’s a lot of really bad art-speak out there and I usually just ignore it, not wanting to make light of someone’s serious effort to, well, sound serious. But it’s 3:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep and it’s put me in an ornery mood so I’m posting this description of an upcoming photography exhibit at a well-known venue that will remain nameless. I’ve also changed the name of the photographer because I don’t want to denigrate any specific person, just this strange genre of writing that is far too common. Otherwise though, it is a direct quote:

Traditionally, photographs are thought of as mechanisms, which we use to capture or make visible a moment in time, creating a moment in an experience that becomes static, held as a marker of that experience. Essentially photography assists us in representing and/or communicating, our understanding of reality and experience. These images, caught in a single moment in time, open a doorway that allows the viewer to travel into the experience. The really great photographs transcend the moment captured and evoke a response that allows any of us the possibility to glimpse some insight into the mysteries that life holds. Smith’s intention as a photographer is to make visible those aspects of our multi-faceted lives that include some of the mysteries that are often hidden to our eyes.
His work as an artist leaves non-linear traces and examples of his memories, thoughts and experiences. Smith’s approach collapses the linear sequence that our cognitive mind perceives as time, attempting in some small way to capture both the depth and richness of these experiences that make up a single life. Like other artists, this body of work reflects the offering made to invite the viewer to explore the complexities of reality, not simply as he might understand that, but as it speaks to, challenges or informs how you might understand that.

Most of this come across as nonsense to me, a randomly arranged sequence of buzz words and catch phrases tenuously strung together with questionable grammar. Here’s the sum total of what I learned from reading this exhibit description: this photographer takes photos. If you are more versed in art-speak than I am, perhaps you can provide a more detailed translation into common English.

9 thoughts on “How to Say Nothing Poorly”

  1. No juxtaposition? (you knew I’d say that!) Coincidentally, as I began to read your blog, CBS Sunday morning was featuring a photographer/painter who, among other things, had photographed old gas stations along Route 66. I didn’t catch the photographer’s name but caught the comment about his art representing “what we leave behind”. I immediately thought of your amusement park series, but suppose that could be applied to many photographs. Oops! I may be lapsing into art speak.

  2. Two sentences into reading this I could tell the entire description was going to be empty of meaning despite the fancy words. I have to give the writer credit, he/she can bullsh*t with the best of them!

  3. This is obviously the work of a trained professional he or she filled two paragraphs with meaningless drivel !

  4. I guess if the contents of photos fit into English, then we could stop shooting and just talk about it. We’re built to try to describe (in language) our experience, but efforts like this highlight the fact that language really isn’t big enough for the job. Which is good– we can keep shooting.

    1. Jeff I agree with every word you say, but some folks seem bent on over-proving the point. I think (almost) all photographers feel inadequate when writing about their work, but some try to compensate for their insecurity by writing pompous drivel. Or maybe their taught to write that way in photography/art programs. If so, that’s really sad. I’d rather seem someone write something not particularly illuminating but in plain language (the potentially achievable bar I’ve set for myself) than something nonsensical in needlessly inflated hyperbole.

  5. The meaning (if there is any) in sort of art criticism often becomes, to borrow one of the author’s phrases, hidden to my eyes, because my eyelids slam shut so soon after beginning to read it. It evokes a complex, non-linear yawn experience and puts my cognitive mind to sleep.

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