Apparently we’re speaking another language: International Art English

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A new study done over the summer tries to prove that the jargon and language perpetuated in the art world has stepped over a threshold, and become its very own language termed International Art English. It’s still English, but includes a rejection of most nouns and remains limited to a small group of phrases and ideas.

Work by Jessica Krause Smith – photo by me:)
Photo courtesy of Rory MacLeod on Flickr

Alix Rule, a Columbian PhD candidate in Sociology, worked with New York artist David Levine to create the study that’s based on actual data and published by Triple Canopy, an online magazine that facilitates research projects like this outside the usual realms of academia.

A lot of the research is gathered from word counts and comparisons art journals and critiques in addition to collecting and examining 13 years worth of museum press releases and artist newsletters from e-flux, the online institution of the international art world.

IAE has come to be characterized as a mix of spacey terms like “parallel” and “void,” with abstract inconsistencies and prefixes; where words like “real” and “space” are used hundreds of times more often. There’s a distinct rhythm and vocabulary that’s recognizable immediately; it’s described in the study as having “pornographic” tendencies because you know it when you see it.

Words like radically, tension, and autonomy are used to describe art that serves to, functions to or seems to interrogate, transform, or displace something or other. 


Although it is definitely a distinct subset of English, IAE shouldn’t necessarily be considered as worthy of having it’s very own language, especially given that everything it consists of actually is English, just arranged in a particular way and with similar words and meanings. Writing about art became such a difficult thing to do – attempting to grasp at what’s become an increasingly vague art world where everything is mostly “Untitled” and is open to millions of interpretations on purpose. What do you say about something like that?

Read more about the origins and spread of IAE in my new article on Artsia here!

All quotes come from the Triple Canopy study cited, which you can read in full here.

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