Listening to Stephen Fry talk about the language of colour really set off some bells in my head – could the same reasoning be used when considering art?
The colour story goes like this, how we perceive colour can depend on the language we describe it with. An example used by Fry was the colour blue (see the image above if you are confused) in English v Italian.
In english, there is just one term for blue – so any colour difference is just described in terms of shade, e.g. light blue or dark blue. Whereas in Italian, there are two separate words; ‘azzurro’ for shades of light blue and ‘blu’ for darker shades. What English speakers perceive as one colour, Italian speakers would see as two separate colours.
So, to art. Do we need to wait for the language of art to be able to describe the work, before we can recognise it as art worthy of note? Take Impressionism, seen at first as non-art because it did not follow the proper conventions. But as the language of art changed, and was able to describe the movement, the light and the angles – impressionism became a verifiable art form. No only worthy of note, but worth a bundle too.
And again, if we look at The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst (i.e. the shark in a tank of formaldehyde). When it was first exhibited it was described as a cultural obscenity. However as the language of critics and curators (and the internet) developed, this has become an accepted form of art, when similar works had earlier failed to make the leap.
Imagine if you could show the shark to Monet or Renoir, they would viewed it as a curiosity – science rather than art. The language was not evolved enough to perceive a dead shark as an artwork.