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(Un)common visual language: Real World – Art World

by | Oct 29, 2015 | The Practice of Art | 0 comments

One of the most beautiful things about art is communication. It has been with humanity since the cave painting days of 30,000 years ago. It can start a discussion, display a point of view, start a revolution and so much more.

In the “art world,” there is a common visual language. When artwork is referenced and there is a cultural context that is used just as word choice is used in a language. We can all recognize the Mona Lisa. We can all recognize Adam’s hand outstretched to God on the Sistine Chapel. We can read that the baby is Jesus in Madonna’s arms regardless of if we are Christian.

Art language has its basics, but it also has its nuances. The more conceptual a work, speaking with layers of art history and purely learned non-instinctual context, the more it is art for art world’s sake. The easier to read and more direct a piece the more that the general public is invited to participate without extensive explanation.

Take for example the Lisson Gallery’s upcoming show of James Casebere’s work.

From the press release:

For his exhibition in Milan, Casebere once again executes a shift in perspective, this time immersing the viewer in the midst of landscapes that directly reference the art of the past to critically address man’s uneasy relationship with nature today. A major new piece from last year, Sea of Ice, and related works Trees and Bushes in the Snow (all 2014) revisit the work of the German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) to comment subtly on climate crisis.


This work is more directly referencing a past artist’s work than most, but we are all speaking a language that is developing over time. No one today can be a German Romantic landscape painter. They can reference it, but they’d need a time machine to be one because there are two hundred years of references piled on top of that time period.

I love contemporary art. I think that the language used, the conversations being created, and the work itself is fascinating. These artists who work on the forefront of our artistic language development are amazing and I am often in awe of their status of adding to the “art world” and their duel role as both cultural prophet and court jester.

However, for my work I am currently concentrating on reaching a broader audience. I want my art to play a role in the lives of someone whose career doesn’t have to be artist or art critic for them to be able to read my painting.

I do endeavor to create more layers of meaning in my work. I would like to stretch across the divide between general public and art world with beauty, meaning and purpose.