Isn’t as simple as it seems.
To borrow a strip from Elvis Costello: Writing about music—or in this case, art—is like dancing about architecture. If we are to agree with the original Napoleon Dynamite, how are we to decipher one craft and then translate it successfully into another?
It’s true we don’t necessarily have to translate, or describe, a work of art into syntactical form, but we are not all trained to understand art—though we are all taught to read and write—and there is an expectation to filter everything through this medium of natural language. In approaching a work of art I find myself asking: what is the artist attempting to communicate? And how are words going to communicate this communication?
I have recently been blocked twice on this issue: once in an interview gone awry, and once in a writing exercise I was asked to do, a task that asked me to write about a postcard print by Franz Kline.
Arts writers and critics can normally go around the issue of discussing art by throwing around the idolatries of history, theory and formalities that all lend to the “talk” of art; but to capture the presence, an essence wholly unto itself, of a work of visual art in mere words can become a rare and daunting task.
In being confronted with art that stirs an emotion rather than a thought, this task of writing in an informative manner suffers. In the interview with an artist whose body of work was both richly emotional and technically advanced, a struggle in discussing the art, by both interviewer and interviewed, stumbled in the faulty predisposition that the process of creation could be captured by natural language. Without social or political contexts to base the work, and unable to recapitulate a decade’s worth of knowledge in the craft, it was my role as an interviewer to illicit readable insights about the process and inspiration. When you leave out the dry talk of art, the history and -isms and theories, all that remains is the emotion you feel upon experience of the work. The effect, responding to that initial visceral reaction, may be a romantic approach to discussing art, but it is nevertheless the first and foremost step.
Similarly, in looking at the movements of a Kline, you are staring down the pure emotion of the artist. What is there to say beyond what is being poured out on canvas for all to see?
Because how do you use one medium to describe an emotion conveyed in another medium that is so vividly and structurally different? Description fails and details falter. It is near impossible to translate across form and content, and the end result of whatever you produce will always lack a certain significance exempt of experience.
But perhaps it is just this rumination of occurrences and experiences in and with art that is all that may be required, as with this fleeting gesture there is at least an acknowledgement of something intrinsically shared and mutually felt. Regardless, the discussion of art is an ongoing debate with each other and one that is certainly also going on within ourselves.