I sympathize with Chris Jagers’ dismay at the renewed assertion of language at the primary, superior carrier of meaning in his blog next door, but don’t get too worried. It’s merely the latest wave in the long-running tide that has tried to integrate the visual arts into language-based academic discourse. Academia has never been happy with the fluid, subjective, subtle methods of visual art, or its dirty-hands methods.
Back in the Renaissance artists were recognized as something more than manual workers; centuries of strenuous effort on the part of historians, artists and art dealers have cemented the idea of the artist as an intellectual, but there remains a stubborn, lower-class, manual-labor element to much visual work that the artworld is anxious to downplay.
It’s saddening that there is such an ignorant lack of faith in visual meaning among people who should know better, but it’s understandable. In the average American education there is little training and development for the visual faculties, to the extent that otherwise intelligent people can grow to chair-of-department status without ever really understanding what visual artists do and why it’s important.
Ill-equipped by experience or education to engage visual art on its own terms, these people seek to engage it in terms with which they feel more comfortable: language-based discourse. It allows for symposia, publication in scholarly journals, and other easy-to-describe-to-the-tenure-review-committee activities that make for a successful academic career. Of course they favor art that lends itself to this kind of analysis!
Never fear! At the other end of the see-saw there’s the rabid, commercial artworld that thrives on pure showmanship and visual hype!