The Versimillidude – Art Speak and Pretense
Time for what has now become a bi-monthly blog post. I intend to blog more frequently if not weekly, but Julia/Julia this is not.
I was recently talking to a friend about the time when I was delivering a piece to a gallery in the west end of TDot for a trial run. My work was anomalous and I knew it. It became clear to me just how much my work stuck out when the gallery assistant sat me down to ask me some questions about my practice and her first words were “why such versimillitude?”. I was not taken back as I knew what artistic neighborhood I was sticking my painty toe into. I have no idea what my response was, but I do know what I wish I had said;…
[cue dramatic theme]
[cue the voice of god]
“Because… I am… the Versimillidude.”
Seriously though. I do not mind the question.
I have almost always painted in a highly representational manner. Still, I would urge anyone to stop short of calling my work ‘photo-realism’. I am occasionally in awe of such work, but often it leaves me cold and I actually don’t aspire to the sheerest levels of verisimilitude (easy to remember this word and its meaning ‘cos it sounds like you’re saying ‘very-similar-to’ or even better ‘very-similar-dude’). You still somehow have to incorporate some soul. I can’t say whether or not my work has soul, it is not for me to decide – I mean, sad clown paintings have soul don’t they? Elvis on black velvet? I dunno.
Again, there is nothing wrong with the question. Usually, the whole idea comes up not in the form of a question, but rather as part of a more pedestrian statement that always begins with ‘Wow, it looks like photo’ or even better, ‘it looks like a picture‘. I repeat, there is nothing wrong with that remark in and of itself. It can always be taken as a compliment (which is surely how it is meant).
It is hard to talk about though, in part because I have a problem with art speak. I not like it in a pram, I do not like it with some ham… Um… I do not like it on a peak.. I do not like art speak. I enjoy talking about art and the practice and really anything related, but I cannot navigate a conversation in actual ‘art speak’. For anyone who who knows what I’m talking about, you are either good at it and enjoy it, or you suck at it and usually go to the bar when a deeply intellectual, ‘art speak’ conversation begins, so you can begin to drown your anxiety with good simple whiskey.
So, what is a good example of this dreaded art speak that I… speak of? Grants and proposals. Oh yes. Have you ever read over a long arts proposal? No, you haven’t, because unless you are getting paid to do it, you cannot sit through the endless pages of pretentious drivel cloaked in the duplicitous garb of cultural import. Someone wants to paint or do installations or clip mousetraps onto their digits or worse and they want money to do it. But instead of plain sentences and direct meanings, the language must be very specific. it must drip with pretentiousness. I can’t even illustrate it for you with words because it is beyond my capability. You need to read some of the more high minded art criticism to even get a sniff of what I mean.
None of this means that there is no validity in such language and dissection. I am not so much condemning as standing apart (at the bar, having a whiskey) and listening in wonder when artists and makers and critics begin to converse with each other about the arts. Chests are beaten and plumages displayed in these intellectual jousts… But, what the hell are they talking about? Is it important? Is it just time-wasting-fluff? I can’t always tell.
Maybe I’m just jealous.
Maybe… But what I do know is that nothing feels like doing good work. When you are striking the iron and it is hot. When the muse is riding your back like a crazed monkey. That is the whole dealio. Any amount of dissection can’t do any better in explaining it than I just did. It is ineffable. So, while I’m glad that art writing exists and I’m glad that there are those who can actually write grants or proposals and get some money to fill a gallery with red shovels, I will keep painting away while not really being able to clearly express exactly why I paint what I do and why I paint it like I do. Hopefully, someone, somewhere will write something about it that I will not understand.
Best of the season to everyone,
P.S. Here is a commissioned piece I am working on.. It looks like a picture! And for good measure, a photo of our happy winter chickens.
I love this! I remember the whole grant writing process from when we were doing theatre. The grant writing demanded so much ‘creativity’, while what we were striving to say as theatre artists was much simpler and unpretentious. I love your work. It has tremendous soul.
Thank you, Julie. That means a lot coming from you!