16 Nov


Human brains have two small but important regions named for their respective discoverers. Broadly speaking, Broca’s area processes the syntax of language (i.e. its structure and form), while Wernicke’s area is for semantics (i.e. language comprehension and meaning). Wernicke and Broca work with each other, with structures like the angular gyrus for abstractions of language and interactions of syntax and semantics, and of course with the brain as a whole. There’s a lot that’s still unknown about how it all functions and why, but what is well known is that damage to Broca’s area can lead to a person’s speech being halting and fragmented, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron.


“Geddoodachoppah!”, “Geunzidderdadabidorze”, “I’ll beebeck azzhurl”, etc.

Damage to Wernicke’s area, on the other hand, creates a form of aphasia in which Broca’s area and the rest of brain keeps playing by the rules of syntax but the resulting language is meaningless. The best comparison is to a spambot or chatbot, software which can algorithmically generate texts that mostly make sense without any intelligence or understanding of meaning whatsoever.

Valid syntax but gibberish content, as in Noam Chomsky’s famous example “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”? Sounds like a pretty succinct and accurate description of about half of the conference papers, artist statements and gallery press releases I ever read in my whole career. I could provide numerous examples that I’ve written about on this blog, without even needing to go elsewhere– although I could just as easily do that and find some egregious instances of artspeak within minutes, if not seconds. Anyway, some examples of the worst artspeak that I’ve castigated are here on this blog and excerpted below. They’re all real, and they’re all apparently serious. Try to fight the urge to commit homicide and/or suicide after you’ve read these:

“… a speculative aesthetics of discovery, which is contemplated, interpreted and distorted through the space-time vortex of a mimetic mirror. When the space is not delineated, it is its attempted discoveries which give rise to projects.”

“This is a sort of Schwittersian accumulation of material and void that subsequently creates different spatial architectures – connections. Pure, at first sight simple, spontaneous and rough interventions – gestures (situate, bend down, put, attach, move, cut off) create plasticity of surfaces.”

“… an experimental, rarefied field for the art exhibition which collapses form (the collectivity requisite of the Chain and any performative work) and content (collective consciousness).”

“… exquisitely detailed aesthetic forms hovering between energy and mass.”

“… an instance of collapse to an oblique point of fact, a known feeling… The hook looks like a lemniscate but it feels like a ball bearing… It is in the gap between these understandings and their relentless riffing, where (the artist who wrote this shit)’s drawings take shape and its narratives unfold.”

Even more here, if you think your poor, battered Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas can stand it:




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