ARTYFACTS: June 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Heresies of Text Art - Dave Beech

Long lectures are bad enough but when simply read from pages of typed text, they’re simply recitation. Yet academics seem to think this is acceptable. This was a public lecture, paid for from the public purse, delivered by someone who shouldn’t really have the title ‘lecturer’ or ’teacher’. That’s not to say that what he read was uninteresting – it was just wrong-headed.

Text Art has always bothered me. All those moralising epigrams, slogans, words and, even worse, childish wordplays. Why do visual artists assume they have the skill to please us aesthetically with language? Dave Beech, who teaches at Chelsea College of Art, tried to convince us that it was a reaction to linguistic philosophy and bandied about names like Wittgenstein and Austin. This, of course, is nonsense. The idea that visual artists in the 60s were swatting up on books like Philosophical Investigations and Speech Acts is preposterous. Text Art has a pedigree in Soviet Art, something EVERY art student in the 60s was familiar with. That perhaps explains their fondness for banal sloganeering.

If anything, visual artists have an antipathy towards philosophy. I have always found it very difficult discussing the philosophy of art with artists as they react by seeing it as a personal attack. Very few artists have read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant or anything on 20th century aesthetics, especially evolutionary psychologists such as Pinker, Dissanayake, Dutton etc. The idea that many are immersed in deep philosophical inquiry is therefore unlikely.

Text Art often suggests that visual artists have a deep dislike of language. It’s all they can do to juxtapose, colour or come up with what they regard as meaningful, but is in fact banal, wordplay. The usual refuge is ambiguity – they want to suggest ambiguity or interesting thoughts in the mind of the viewer but if they enter the world of text they need to have the words to back it up, not state the slogan then run for the hills.

We ended on a spirited discussion of his own piece - PROTEST IS BEAUTIFUL - for Paul a wonderful statement pregnant with meaning. For me a simplistic and somewhat stupid phrase.