Monday, March 1, 2010


Until very recently, the buzz-adjective was “performative.” It appeared in countless artist statements and wall texts, and was meant to indicate that whatever you were looking at involved some kind of action or process that should be considered part of (or is actually) the work; that that action or process was a performance, deliberate, and therefore meaningful. While it is true that watching something be made or thinking about how it came into being can be beautiful or interesting, we can’t be surprised that the rest of the world thinks we art people ride on a high horse.

What’s floating around these days is the word “physicality,” meant to indicate that touch, surface, the palpable predominates over idea and thinking – in artspeak the latter is erroneously called “conceptual.” It’s a noun, and I haven’t quite got the hang of using it yet. But, here’s an example, from the blog Two Coats of Paint (re: the Whitney Biennial):
[…] much of the work manifests a rediscovered attention to physicality in various ways.
And here’s an example from a wall text at the Biennial itself (re: a piece by Pae White):
[…] by contrasting an image of something immaterial with the physicality of fabric.”
All this to say, “physicality” might indeed be appropriate for the work in Out of Line. As Ms. Locke, my frightening English teacher in high school, might have ordered: Use it in a sentence. OK, here’s two:
The physicality of paint renders the metaphors in Riley’s paintings human and deeply personal.
In seeing the various surfaces and materials, and even in sensing speed and movement, we are reminded that physicality suggests meaning as much as concept.

Hmmm. I think I may stick to touch, surface, palpable.


  1. Oh man, I just used the word physicality on a post and deleted it because I was working for a word that exists in the physical as well as the the mind or spirit which that word doesn't define.

  2. Probably need to write a whole sentence to describe that. And that sounds like a pleasure to read.