Sunday, October 20, 2013

Define Your Terms

"Define your terms" came the request from a reader and I thought that was interesting.  The offending sentence in a recent Missive called “Herb & Dorothy” was, “The professionals, dealers and curators alike, marveled at their ‘eye’ which was at the ‘cutting edge’.” It included two terms that I had used for most of my life yet unfamiliar to people who are not in the art world.

"Photo of Salvador Dali" by Willy Rizzo (1950)
Since I am the first to dislike artspeak which has, in recent years, actually been taught in some of our universities, I wondered whether others may have been stymied by the terms I used so I thought I would make an effort to explain myself.

The first term I will look at is “the cutting edge”.  At first I wondered what my reader had thought.  Did he think I was speaking of a sharp tool or a metaphorical ledge that I was about to fall off or possibly the 1992 film by that name about a figure skater and a hockey player.  In Santa Fe there is an Auto Maintenance shop by that name that specializes in European Models.  The possibilities go on and on so no wonder my reader became confused!

In the art world the term refers to that point in art that is at the very forefront of the evolution of art.  One cannot stay on the cutting edge for as soon as the artist has arrived there it vanishes in favor of a new cutting edge.  It is the new style of the moment.  It is so difficult to pin point this moving target that I found 34 synonyms in Webster’s.  Three definitions on an art site that I like better are, innovative, boundary-pushing, and risk-taking. 

In the sense that I used the term it was about collectors who were looking at all the contemporary art available at the time and picked what was the latest in artistic innovation and experimentation.

The more amorphous term, “having an eye”, I believe is easier to feel and more difficult to define.  I did find 24 synonyms in the dictionary but I thought none of them satisfactory.

We speak of giving someone the evil eye or having an eye for the ladies but when it comes to art there is an added aspect there is the concept of having some discernment.  Knowing what is good art from bad, seeing the quality.  When it comes to abstract or minimalist or conceptual art the mind has to make a leap and go way beyond what the usual standards are and have some understanding of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the moment.

One of the definitions I found was “to be able to understand and appreciate something: She certainly had an eye for art, which explains, of course, why she was a successful art dealer.”  It is true that de facto: if you have a great eye you understand what you are looking at and in artspeak the term has positive connotations and a compliment to the person it is applied to.

As Judith H. Drobrzynski wrote in “Real Clear Arts, ‘On Art Finds and Having a Great Eye”, October 29, 2009, “… and  Lucky are those that are born with a great eye — and nurture it.”

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