From the Guild to the Academy: the rise and rise of ‘International Art English’

From the Guild to the Academy: the rise and rise of ‘International Art English’

We live in a different time to the artist run guilds of Vermeer et al, our culture has changed, and the philosophy has changed. Art, as taught by some at the academy, influenced as they are by the thesis provided by C 20th anthropology which drives much of the gender/race/sexuality research within the arts Avant guard and by critic Clement Greenberg and later anatomised by Tony Godfrey (1998) among others, has moved into a period of exploring its own nature. This movement has been termed provisionally, ‘the last great project of Art’. I’m not so sure about that. But this has meant an emptying out of the associations with previous forms of production – and the patrons (art market) have changed: No longer emperors, popes or industrialists of the past, who valued the hundreds of hours spent on works such as the Badminton Cabinet, which took 30 craftsmen six years to build. As an object, it is both incredible because of this, and credible because of the skill it showcases. This is a value differential between the past and present where the only valid currency of note seems to be cold hard cash.


The dialogism of “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past” (Elliot, 1922, Bakhtin, 1930’s), is a one way street for many in the Avant guard. And one of the main problems with popular dissemination of conceptual and much contemporary art is that the default language is academic and more than a bit baffling to the casual gallery witness, which often validates the suspicion that there is some sort of power play at hand. This is understood well enough by the dominant players: the academy/establishment/Avant-guard, so much so that culture bosses at Channel 4 attempted to make the 2012 Turner prize more accessible by having Noel Fielding as a panellist. He didn’t really have much of value to say and unfortunately seemed a bit out of his depth. It was only marginally better than the old days when all the usual suspects (The Late show crowd etc.) would be beard stroking and starting all their sentences with “but there is a sense in which…” before Emin or someone would fall into shot and throw up! That was brilliant though:

The New York based journal Triple Canopy have recently published the research findings of Alix Rule & David Levine (2012) whose work has been to analyse this particular academic art speak and what they’ve come up with is IAE, or International Art English. Here’s an epic example of IAE from Stuart Shave’s ‘proudly’ presented press release to the Gyrobifastigium show by Serbian artist Bojan Šarčević.


‘Ideas of abstraction, in the conceptual and formal senses, rest at the core of Bojan Šarčević’s practice. Šarčević’s aesthetic propositions and quite particular material relationships assert a sense of clarity and convey precise gestural intent. His work offers an invitation for close, attentive interpretation – a starting point for the perceptual encounter and experience of form that defers certainty, revealing questions of empirical, theoretical and sensual understandings of the world, and relating to the potential for artistic gesture to be imagined in a wider or politicised social sphere.’

What the hell?? But don’t worry It’s ok, Rodrigo Canete has walked us through this nonsense on the excellent blog Love Art Not People and given Shave a good kicking which is both called for and pretty funny.

The dominant cliques and coteries of the art world have performed a methodological transference from know-how traditionally the preserve of the Guild; to know-that – involving a power shift from the workshops and studios of the Guilds to the salons of the Academy. This usurping tendency of appropriation by the academy, jealous of their own sanctity, has not democratized popular understanding – in fact it has put conceptual art, especially, only within the grasp of the educated classes. With the UK in the grip of reactionary right wing policies and expensive higher education, an appreciation of art is widely seen as elitist and not for, or even of the people. The rich west, having banished traditional manufacturing – and with it the culture of the hand skill – to the east, now has the dilemma over what to value in terms of its art. Art schools frequently don’t have the staff with expertise in traditional techniques to be able to teach them, nor are they valued. We have entered a post material paradigm (Rogers, Williamson, 2006) through which art has been transformed into a sanctioned collection of ideas from the academy on one hand, and outsider art such as graffiti on the other, which until Banksy commodified and ruined it, was a performative, honest and highly creative strategy of popular resistance to the dominant culture. There are of course TV critics with popular appeal; the excellent Matthew Collings does an engaging job

or Dr James Fox’s A History of Art in Three Colours

…there aren’t enough broadcasters as capable and these guys aren’t enough to halt the rise of IAE separation of ‘High’ art sanctioned by the Avant guard from  everything else – not even with Jeff Koons still working.


Clement Greenberg said in a radio broadcast in 1960 (and later in a pamphlet) that “the essence of modernism lies in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. Modernism used art to call attention to art”.  (Voice of America pamphlet and radio broadcast, 1960); later published in Art and Literature (Paris, spring 1965) and in the anthology The New Art (1966), ed. Gregory Battcock


Bakhtin, M. M. [1930s] (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press. [written during the 1930s]

Eliot, T. S. (1922). “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” From The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. Last accessed February, 2013.

Godfrey, T. (1998) Conceptual Art A&I (Art and Ideas), Phaidon Press, ISBN 978-0714833880

Rogers, H & Williamson, A (2006). Ed’s. Art becomes you: parody, pastiche and the politics of art: materiality in a post-material paradigm. Birmingham, Article Press ISBN 1873352980 9781873352984

Shave, S. (2013) Press release for Bojan Šarčević’s Gyrobifastigium. Until 23rd February, Modern Art Gallery, 23/25 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DF. An excellent riposte can be found at, last accessed 31/1/13


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