Lately I’ve been having this fantasy where I see a talk or read a review in which someone manages to avoid using any art world buzzwords. You know, a conversation that doesn’t use the term “conflation” to describe the “fusing” of various kinds of jargon, or one that refrains from labeling any physical manifestation of this concept as a “reification” (I’m confused already).
Yes, inanity abounds in the art world, particularly in the form of art speak. Just last year, for example, I overheard a puffed-up sales pitch from an art consultant in Caren Golden Fine Art, describing a collage with a few pylons in water as “the detritus of human civilization.” I’d like to reissue my art world call to reclaim the word “garbage” — surely dealers and consultants are skilled enough to sell work and use an unsightly noun from time to time. Other gallery-sanitized art words include “clean line,” a legitimately useful term to describe a fluid line drawn in one stroke, and the use of “erotic” to describe virtually any raunchy or sexually explicit material.
Another art-world go-to I’ve come to dislike finds roots in the world of commerce. “Invested with ______” a turn of phrase that owes its legitimacy to capitalism, isn’t actively awful, though I expect the significance of an artwork could be expressed without attributing capital to it. By contrast, “slippage,” a financial term describing the estimated transaction costs and the amount actually paid, is most frequently used in art contexts without its economic connotations, characterizing the ambiguity between one concept and another — the art professional’s actual thoughts are typically obscured once this term is introduced. “Slippage exists in the gray areas of language and social interaction,” reads one press release from 2006, never going on to describe what this means. In this case, I’d almost prefer the financial definition — the sentence would become unreadable, but at least it would be specific.
Much like the business world, artists often employ art-making “strategies” in their studio. I’m not willing to give this coinage up just yet; I happen to enjoy the legitimacy “Late Capitalism” lends the word. Coincidentally, the latter term describes the phenomenon wherein every aspect of 20th-century life is turned into a commodity or transaction. Both this and “hegemony” (aggression or expansionism by large nations in an effort to achieve world domination) may be relevant today, but are certainly old hat. I don’t need a critic to describe my buying habits or the objective behind First World international policies; I experience the results of both.
Finally, while “hybrid” doesn’t carry the weight of commerce, it carries more authority than its synonym, “mix.” Particularly popular during the 90s and early 2000s (the height of Mike Kelley-esque mutated stuffed animal art), the term typically implies greater complexity and superiority. In fact, at one point I even started referring to black-and-tans as hybrids since it seemed as good a way as any to elevate beer drinking: there may be little that can tame the art world’s penchant for jargon, but we can at least cut it with a healthy dose of cynicism.