One of my most popular posts on this blog thus far (it’s only been about 6 weeks) has been one I wrote about museum wall text. These are the words that appear on the walls of a museum or a gallery that “explain” the art for the unsuspecting visitor. Clearly there is interest in this topic. I referred in that post to Tyler Green’s blog entry about the history of these texts, which I found fascinating.
This weekend I went to a friend’s gallery opening in Chicago. It was a group show and each artist (all SAIC students) wrote the label for their own work. The work was all technology based, which for me meant that it was not very accessible. A lot of the ideas behind the works were conceptual; a lot of the ‘work’ behind the work was in the computer programming code and not as ‘visible’ as it is in, say, a painting. Now this may raise some interesting questions about whether art needs to be explained. Whether it needs this or not, I have to say that this work certainly benefits from it. I read labels that tried to explain the purpose and function of the artwork, but which were written in a way that I could not penetrate the meaning. Passive voice was used. Vague language, unspecific in locating the reader in time or place, made me wonder if I was reading theories about how things should work, and made me feel technologically challenged (and I assure you that generally, I am not).
The thing is, once I talked to the artists and they told me about the operation of these technical pieces, all was clear. And very, very cool. And so I must conclude, at least in this case, that art does need to be explained. And that it should be explained well. Perhaps if the artists spent some time learning how to explain their work in words, it would go a long way. Technology is not so transparent as paint.