At art school, we always poked fun at the explanations alongside the art.
It was easy to get a good grade on a project, just knock up any old junk then put all the effort into writing something that sounded intellectual.
Of course, if you knew the game you could spot when it was being done: the more complicated the explanation, the worse the art it was describing.
The simple fact was, you didn’t need to justify a clearly great piece of work, but a complicated intellectual argument was the only chance a piece of nonsense had.
It was fun, it used to make us laugh so we’d often play it, point to something and make up some pseudo-intellectual guff.
I remember pointing to a cigarette stub in a tin ashtray in the canteen and saying: “I call this piece: Infinity Unravelled – no.9 (media: tobacco, paper, metal, ash). It’s an enquiry into the plasticity of form: the cigarette, once a fresh, virgin product of the capitalist system is crushed, it’s life and usefulness over after a brief period of delivering harm disguised as pleasure, it lies discarded in an equally mass-manufactured object serving the system from which it hopes to gain acceptance, but which will discard it as its usefulness ends.”
We’d laugh at this stuff never guessing that in the future people would take it seriously and pay money for it.
Well, they may be mugs but they’re rich mugs.
That’s why, when I go to an art gallery now, even if the work is plainly rubbish, I can still enjoy it by reading the pretentious justification on the wall.
Recently, I saw an exhibit of 8 identical rectangular pieces of dirty lino on the floor.
I read that: “The artist’s approach to making art deliberately de-stabilises the practice, and in this case proposes a tenuous and uncertain relationship between the artwork and its defining structures.”
It’s like a crossword clue, it takes effort to de-code, so I read on: “Stylistically the work touches on the genre of installation art and contains a post internet impulse, both of which can provide forms of escapism while still resting on the more austere precedents of conceptual art and minimalism.”
Top marks for pretentious waffle about 8 pieces of dirty lino, but I needed more clues:
“A protocol of actions has imbued the piece with a ‘worked’ quality – a site where marks are propagated with such passive gestures as walking back and forth.”
Hang on, there were some words there that I recognised, I nearly understood it:
“The accumulation of impressions produced by this ambulatory impulse…”
Got it: ambulatory impressions = footprints: the marks on the lino are footprints.
Of course, if they’d called those 8 bits of lino “Dirty Footprints” it wouldn’t justify the huge amount of money the artist is charging, you need a complicated list of words for that.
So that’s what we’re really paying for, all those long words.
And, of course, it’s exactly the same in the advertising game.
The worse the work, the more long, complicated explanation it needs.
So a client will be impressed by the esoteric language, even if the work itself is rubbish.
And clients end up buying the justification rather than the actual work.
At GGT, we used to have a saying: “The punter hasn’t read the brief”.
That means, all the consumer sees is the actual work, they don’t get to see a piece of paper next to it explaining how it ought to be judged, the thinking that’s behind it.
Advertising either works or it doesn’t, all on its own, then and there.
So that’s how it should be judged: no long wordy explanations.
It used to be called ‘Taking their eye off the ball’.
Sell the client something by distracting them from what they’re supposed to be looking at.
Or, in art gallery speak: “Valid currency in a mutually reciprocal exchange for aging twine.”
Or, in punters’ speak: “Money for old rope.”