British artist Tess Jaray just curated a show of paintings that don’t use paint and the other paraphenalia of the painter’s studio. Readers of this blog may or may not know that I’ve been going on about this phenomenon for a long time—I first wrote (and published) about it in 1988. Painting by other means. In any case, I came across an interview with Jaray in which she says the following:
“My own view is that a lot of theory and art writing now is for those who really long to be able to see, and find it very difficult. And it is difficult. People look, but they don’t quite know how to see, therefore they scrabble around to find a way of understanding, and they do it through words, which are often useful and helpful and interesting, but sometimes they get out of hand, so that the words themselves become a language which really has nothing to do with the visual. And this is where the changes are occurring – the shift in many areas from the visual to the verbal, because the verbal is easier.”
This doesn’t strike me as the usual anti-intellectual position, neither is it unnecessarily critical. She does not say that viewers are incapable of seeing, just that seeing is difficult. It’s difficult for anyone, including artists, and honest people will agree. To recognize this difficulty might also be to recognize a certain unavoidable level of conceptuality, because “seeing” is also part of making. Once an artist sees what they are doing, the job is pretty well done. This might be a good answer to artists who complain about how hard it is to get the results they want; seeing what they’ve already got is the hardest part.