All languages are made up

They are all invented – and incessantly reinvented – over time, collectively. Necessity mothers them usually, but not always. Regardless, they help meet needs, allow people to express themselves, share thoughts, communicate. Hundreds and thousands of languages are used to enable existence, culture, civilization everyday. Despite their existence and use-value though creating new languages remains an enduring human fantasy. What can new languages do that the old ones can’t? Perhaps our fascination with them has little to do with newness. Maybe it is fueled instead by our insatiable desire to say more, find ways to let others know our thoughts not just clearly but entirely.

Language is about others. It can be used to bring people in and keep people out. Nowhere is this more apparent than in writing about art. It frequently takes a rap for being exclusionary, using language as a barrier. It is impossible after all to imagine any form of contemporary art in exclusion of the deluge of texts which surround them. Exhibition literature, press releases, catalogue essays, pamphlets, journal articles, reviews, research content, books. This discourse is so far buried in coded language that one has often to toil to simply reach the art at the end of the smoke-screen.

But if words only obfuscate why write about art?

Some say that texts help make meaning in a way mere looking doesn’t. Others consider it a lazy way out of looking at art carefully. Visual information is difficult to make sense of for most, it doesn’t make it to our curriculum, we aren’t taught to encounter it.  Texts on the other hand are deciphered daily by a range of people, from school kids to sign-board painters. Processing visual data frequently involves a translation, from picture to idea, for instance. Finding meaning in a work of art through writing on the other hand needn’t involve ‘converting’ what the artist has attempted to say into words. Ever so often it involves the invention of a lexicon which can run parallel to the work of art, introducing viewers to new ways of looking. Drawing them further into the work.

This is possible because language can also open doors, make accessible, enable conversations, create communities, forge solidarity. Perhaps there is no end to inventing languages because the dream of being able to speak to others- everyone- never fades.