A Word To Young Artists by Kevin Costello


The relationship between written text, thought and emotion contained in visual beauty has a long history in the west. Hittite Kings and Princes wrote love poems (along with court records) as far back as 1800 B.C.E. Greek and Roman writers bequest to the western tradition contains numerous meditations on aesthetics.
In recent times this branch of philosophy can be seen, among others, in the works of the Swiss linguist and semiologist Ferdinand de Saussure and the Algerian-born French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

A fundamental idea of these writers, and one that shapes the thinking of art theory over the past thirty years, continues to shape the assumptions of young artists. Pictures are signs, which represent the visual or visually imagined world i.e. image as concept/ process as part of image. This premise is supported by the idea that words and pictures are signs, which can stimulate/ recall to the viewer the image of an object in the world. This is relevant to the age of the blogosphere. Writers such as de Saussure and Derrida, like their predecessors, shared one assumption in their speculations: they acknowledged that opinions are free but facts are sacred.

With all this in mind in relation to young artist in the age of blogs – a word of caution. Much writing in this format has much to commend it. Some that I have read have been solid in their facts and astute in their insights. However, much of this genre has become the realm of writers who, just by wishing to write art criticism, feel entitled to do so. Such bloggers seem to believe they have earned the right to be arbiters of aesthetic consciousness for no other reason than self-obsession with their own opinion. Too often in this milieu the tone of the writer assumes the moniker of art critic without regard to the tedium of good grammar, historical research, genuine visual acuity and fact checks. Young artists are better served by arranging meetings in rotation in their studios in order to experience the visceral give and take of debate/ criticism, than take seriously the dubious opinions of Grubb Street Lilliputians whose meretricious cod’s wallop has more to do with their own ambitions than the raw heart and learning of young artists.

There is a lot of satisfying painting and sculpture being made by artist in their 30’s: but as yet no art with a long shelf life. Having said that I have hope that many young artists I know, with time, will do wonderful things. But they will not achieve this enviable position through reading and believing in self-congratulatory blogs.