On deliberately obscuring clear concepts to make art

In writing, I endeavour to “make myself plain”. I get frustrated when someone’s meaning is not clear from their writing. I have little patience for wordiness, bafflegab or academese that aims to make the writer look important. (Though I appreciate, and use, unusual words when they express an idea better or quicker than common words.) I even took an editing course last fall to get better at writing clearly and simply.

In my work, I use those writing skills, plus formal diagramming languages that express complicated concepts in widely-understood ways. I have little patience for diagrams that don’t use the formal languages, because they don’t convey the author’s meaning clearly. I have even less patience for people who create over-complicated abstractions (including diagrams) of simple concepts.

So it is very odd to find myself in the art studio, deliberately obscuring concepts that I could express clearly in words, so that the result looks like “art”. Paragraphs of a journal article were reduced to a few elastic bands pressed into a coloured background. Mathematical concepts were written backwards, so they would be even harder to understand.

It is traditional for the artist’s statement, and the titles of works, to merely hint at the ideas that inspired the art. The full story is not told; the viewer is left to interpret what they see, perhaps coming up with interesting but unintended meanings. But I feel compelled to explain the concepts clearly. (I am even considering using the series of prints as an educational tool for people learning the journal article’s concepts. )

Some people express themselves most easily in visual art. They may struggle to find even the few words required for titles and blurbs. They don’t have to deliberately obscure a concept to make it art – it just comes out that way. But I’m much more fluent with words, so it does not seem legit to take away their clarity just to satisfy the expectations of the art world.

Well, now I know why I have been fascinated by conceptual and abstract work for decades, and why I tend to read the titles & blurbs as much as I look at the artwork. I’m trying to figure out how an artist’s brain connects the picture to the words.

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