new language used to discuss the arts has become entrenched in contemporary Britain. ‘Art-Bollocks’ can be heard on Radio Four, read in the Sunday Supplements, and even witnessed in Cambridge lecture rooms. Alongside the pretentious post-modern jargon, the emphatic hand gestures and the earnest smile, speakers of this language employ an extremely annoying array of ‘verbal ticks’. These commonly used phrases seem to serve a very particular purpose: disguising the fact that many people making grandiose claims about the arts have no idea what they are talking about.

Such verbal ticks are designed to cover spurious statements with a cloak of profundity, so that mushy half-baked ideas can be expressed with a false confidence. They deceive the listener by making the mundane and meaningless seem authoritative, and are so prevalent that once you recognise them, you will not be able to stop hearing them. So, here are a few examples of ‘Art-Bollocks’, habitually spoken.

‘Kind of like a…’: Commonly used to introduce a fanciful comparison. To claim something is ‘like a’ would be to actually believe in the opinion you are about to offer, but ‘kind of like a’ removes all necessity to do so. E.g. "The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right." (Damien Hirst in an interview with BBC, September 10th, 2002).

‘Almost as if’: An endlessly used phrase used to permit a nonsensical claim. By establishing a basis of imprecision, it escapes any responsibility that the following statement should be defendable. E.g. "... which in construction reflects the surrounding architecture – almost as if the interior space of the Turbine Hall has been turned inside out." (Blurb from the Tate Modern about the new installation by Mirosław Bałka, 2009).

‘For me’: Have you ever noticed how often people begin an opinion about the arts by defining it in relation to themselves? By doing so, the speaker immunises themselves by making any question of such an opinion an affront upon their own right to hold it. E.g. "For me, the most powerful effect of The Upper Room is its absolute sincerity" (Ekow Eshun, artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Independent, 2010).

‘The List’: More of a technique than a ‘verbal tick’, listing allows the speaker to bedazzle listeners into submission with an array of increasingly abstract notions, without ever having to suffer the inconvenience of explaining or justifying them. E.g. "The tent is womb, home, exile, intimacy, loneliness done out in nylon." (Description of Tracey Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95, Tate Magazine, 2002)

The term ‘Art-Bollocks’ was coined by Brian Asbee with an article entitled A Beginner’s Guide to Art Bollocks and How to Be a Critic. In the years since, this language of feeble mindedness has proliferated. Perhaps the language only reflects the subject it has been created to describe. If this is the case, we are faced with an enormous case of The Emperor’s New Clothes: empty, thoughtless artwork is being produced, and a language of vagueness is being developed to cover this up.

The masterful exponent of simple English usage, George Orwell, attacked a similar trend in political language during the mid-40s. He pointed out the dangerous implications of bad language: by stupefying common thought bad language makes a population open to tyranny. We are now living under the tyranny of a cultural establishment which has made a virtue of vagueness and imprecision through the development of a language which gives the appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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