Me, looking at and thinking about art.
Me, looking at and thinking about art. JK
Despite the odds, Seattle art shows, exhibitions, and installations managed to happen in 2021. And so, naturally, did artspeak.

Last year I made a list of some of my favorite instances of "artspeak" from galleries, museums, and alt-weeklies around Seattle. Here's our working definition of the term:

Artspeak is slippery and often uses big words or ideas that sound smart but easily confuse. Adverbs are common in these descriptions, which frequently have multiple or contradictory meanings. Usually, the sentences contain numerous clauses, each of them precariously progressing until the whole paragraph collapses.

David Levine, co-creator of International Art English, described artspeak as being a language fundamentally rooted in power, signaling a type of insider status or education to a discerning reader. "You can't speak in simple sentences as a museum and be taken seriously," he told the Guardian in 2013.

What's more, I think when we write about art there's so much focus on what the art is doing: it's revealing and illusive, expansive yet contained, resists but submits to, etc. Sometimes that type of dichotomous description works well as artworks often occupy many spaces at once. But other times, the adverb-y nature of arts writing only confuses and further alienates a reader from understanding or properly envisioning whatever sculpture or painting or installation is being described.
That was an example of a paragraph infected with artspeak.

I don't mean for this list to ridicule underpaid artists or curators writing these descriptions—I've seen and loved many of the shows at the center of these descriptions. I know artspeak is a shorthand that's easy to slip into. (Who doesn't want an excuse to use "texturally meandering" or "palimpsest" in a sentence?) Instead, I see this list as a sort of ~vibe check~. We're just having fun here.


As you read these, try to imagine the art being described. Bolding added by moi:

"The title refers to the artist’s ongoing interest in the incomplete nature of collective history and the palimpsest of narrative and information that constructs our sense of history; it also resists the monumentalizing (and ultimately, patriarchal and colonialist) idea of fixity and singularity."—Henry Art Gallery

"The characters in Bailin's work inhabit an environment that is more stage set than real, uncanny spaces - unstable, filled with erasures and pentimento where correspondences, references, signs and symbols are buried within charcoal like so many pixels."—Koplin Del Rio

"By way of color and curve, it examines both the condition of disremembered grace and the delightfulness of being remembered. Each of the six main paintings serve as metaphor for that beyond the recorded and uttered word."—J. Rinehart Gallery

"And that concept of fragmented, abstracted memory is underlined by the form—the white chalky text is legible, but partially erased. "B Sides" relies on you to put the pieces together, much like trying to recollect histories and stories and people obscured by the mainstream."—The Stranger

"The titles of his paintings and collages, such as Bunker Cool, are frequently lifted from inside the art pieces, reinforcing the fact that meaning generated by language and other signs is based on agreement, which may be easily disestablished, and made absurd."—studio e gallery

"Like Perec’s novel, objects convey different psychological and emotional states and are the protagonists of Cerny’s installation. Sagging, slumping, leaning, they provide makeshift support for other functional things: a painting, a glass jar, a ceramic vase. " —Seattle Art Museum

"This mythological, architectural, and astronomical convergence considered not only the scientific and spiritual aspects of our connection to the natural world, but also our cultural legacy and the ways in which past technological advancements continue to impact our lives and experiences today."—MadArt

"These pieces teeter on the edge between distressed and reflective; meandering through a collection of thoughts before ultimately returning to their starting point."—Foster/White Gallery

"These texturally enticing works encourage a contemplative slowing down, even as they urge acknowledgement of some of the most pressing concerns, from environmental crisis to global marginalization, facing civilization today."—Bellevue Arts Museum

"What is it about certain images that strikes a chord of quiet domesticity at one extreme or industrial spaciousness at the other, and how do these qualities in the environment influence our moods and the boundaries we perceive in our environment and ourselves?"—studio e gallery

"Beyond the plastic’s alluring assurance of universality, clarity, protection, and presumed permanence, it also does an incredible job at replicating and caching itself mysteriously in studio settings to the point of causing physical and mental anxieties that have haunted both artists for years."—SOIL

"Together, the works on view serve as an invitation to reconsider the possibilities of the individual and collective female body when untethered from the limitations encoded within culture and society that attempt to narrowly define and contain it."—Henry Art Gallery

"Then, as now, paintings become a realm where relationships with animals are negotiated and take shape beyond the confines of language and demands of reason."—Frye Art Museum

"In tracing the currents of technical migration and image circulation, the exhibition raises timely questions about ownership and fidelity."—Jacob Lawrence Gallery

"The subversion of material and warping of otherwise recognizable images are deceitful, questioning feelings of familiarity. The views are mechanical feeling and rely on images that are products of developments in surveillance, software, and other media. These references, ultimately accessible via Google Search, are frameworks for imagining the space that straddles physical and digital reality." —Museum of Museums

"The artists’ vision was to explore the concept of “trace” between themselves as individuals and community members while also invoking its relationship to the landscape and to the larger world that surrounds us all."—Bellevue Arts Museum

"Vibrant pigmentation causes each piece to possess a seemingly effulgent presence, each transmitting fields of color and allowing for meditative encounters."—Foster/White Gallery