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Modern Academic Art  =  10% Artwork  90% Artspeak


If it needs a long sermon to proclaim it's art it's probably bullshit.

Artspeak is the jargon of the 'in' critics, celebrities, academics, historians, gallery owners, museum directors and artists. It is a jargon which is unclear even to those who regularly use it. Critics refer to it as the 'language of modern art', while constantly lamenting that almost no one understands it. It is the lingo of intellectual kitsch.

It is the job of the modern art critic by means of Artspeak to:

make stupidity seem profound
make incompetence seem philosophical
excuse mediocrity by claiming it is something utterly new



The major rules for writing Artspeak are roughly speaking:

use at least two hundred words where you could have used ten. (flatulence)
use obscure terms especially when writing esoteric theory.  (obscurant)
when stating your subjective opinion make it sound like it is universally accepted as unquestionable truth. (belief)
drop names of famous people wherever possible. This advertises that you are well read. ( I'm a genuine intellectual)
humor should sound obscure, even grave. (Later modern Artspeak does contain a bit of humor.) (very very serious)
when writing a long statement that means practically nothing,  use your skills to construct it in such a way that it never occurs to  your reader to analyze it. (vacuous)


Artspeak generally addresses some of the following themes:

it is a subjective way of saying what amounts to, "I like this particular quality in the picture." In very longwinded prose. (I l-l-like it)
it proposes esoteric theories around unrelated subjects for example the fourth dimension, quantum mechanics, sociological stuff and psycho-babble. (profound theory)-
it deals with pedantic comparative stuff. The best example is found in five-pound Mondrian books which spend time talking about how he could have influenced Vermeer. (pedantic)
it often contains descriptions for the blind. (For the blind)


Artspeak aims at two audiences:

the Artzy-fartzy who claims he comprehends the deeper meaning of what is said--until he's asked.
the non-Artspeaker for whom the obscure terms and flowery inflated syntax are designed to make him feel intellectually inadequate and factually uninformed. It serves to prevent any thoughts that the object in question might really be just another put-on.


The real modern artists today are the critics who have mastered Artspeak.

Only critics can convince the richy viewer that he should part with big money for that GREAT ART on a large canvas containing a few stripes, a chop suey of schmiers or a gigantic display of very incompetent realism.

A lot of main stream  Modern Academic Artspeak today flows from the source some of its originators, the three Bergs, who Tom Wolf complains about in "The Painted Word." However, the greatest and most influential Artspeaker was Clement Greenberg, the Picasso of Artspeak. His timing and geographical location gave a whole population of totally incompetent artists their break to fame. If not for him, they would have been members of that vast army of disgruntled incompetents who never made it. Of secondary importance are the widely read holiest magazine and newspaper critics and the widely ignored academic theoreticians. These are not the originators of the theoretical nonsense which fills the spaces of their reviews, articles and books.

Abstract Expressionism, the mother of all isms after 1940, is primarily a product of Greenberg's writing and the style of Artspeak he founded. His theory of flatness gave post-war Modern Academic Art its establishment respectability. No de Kooning, Rothko, Kline etc. would survive without a steady stream of Greenbergian style Artspeak to prop up its inflated pricetag.

The only really valid, objective things one can say about art are historical and technical. All else no matter how expressed is really subjective. Art theories which claim objective aesthetic universality have a half-life of about 20 years and eventually become defunct.


Some of My Work
Advice for Students
No Skill No Art
An Example of Artspeak
Raising Prices
Behind the behind
Parody and Laughter as Criticism
Critique by Comparison
Good and Evil
Modern Artists I Like
Any Comments?

Home Page


Before the advent of the Internet this kind of criticism was impossible.

Copyright 1997-2002 Mani de Li
Modern Art, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns, Rothko, Miro, Warhol, Cezanne, Kline, Chagall, Dali, Greenberg, Bauhaus, Barnet Newman, Calder, Castelli, Dubuffet, Duchamp, Gorkey, Guston, Kandinsky, Hans Hofmann, Clement Greenberg, Paul Klee, Motherwell