In the course of preparing for the upcoming show of Valerie Hird‘s watercolors I researched the term visual language. (Valerie is a professor of Visual Language.) I had a vague idea of what the discipline covered but was intrigued by the process by which we learn these cultural cues which we take for granted.
Common visual language has become so assimilated into our thinking that we don’t recognize it: road signage, civic architecture, clothing styles, color symbolism, etc. These are all ways of communicating ideas, status, way-finding, group affiliations, etc.
Sometimes it is forgotten that art has its own visual language. Think of the impressionists using daubs of color to represent light dappled landscapes. At the time their canvases were considered shocking. Today our eyes have grown accustomed to this representation of landscape to the point that it is considered tame by today’s art world standards. Picasso’s depiction of woman with faces reminiscent of African masks was thought of as unworthy of the term art. Today his Demoiselles d’Avignon is considered a masterpiece. It is worthwhile to note that these aberrant styles of art have taken time for broader society to accept and enjoy.
As a somewhat educated viewer of art I would like to think I know good art from bad art. There is certainly a spectrum on which all art falls. Even my favorite artists have uneven output. I have grown eyes to discern the best work that comes my way. I am also aware that something can be well done, but not necessarily my taste. Taste is personal preference. It takes a fair amount of looking and learning to have the knowledge to proclaim something bad.
No taste is something completely different! Someone who has neither the awareness nor inclination to respond to visual language can be said to have no taste.
Reading on Visual Language was a reminder that art which may be initially jarring requires repeated viewing to become familiar enough to enjoy. If you see something you don’t like, take the time to visit it a second and third time. It may just be that you need to grow eyes for combinations of colors or styles. If you have a chance to speak to someone (docent, museum professional, artist, gallerist) about art you don’t understand, they may give you insight into it. Ask them why they like it.