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"So you want to be an art critic" or "How to talk about art and impress people"

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In case you haven’t noticed, ArtPrize is in full swing. It is the largest open international art competition in the world, essentially turning the city of Grand Rapids into an art gallery. With over 1,700 works of art on display, you can hardly swing a cat without hitting a work of art. The goal of this infusion of art is, as stated on the official website, “… to get everyone talking about art.” The problem: Most people don’t know how to talk about art.

“Hi, my name is Nathan Kukla. I like to talk about art.” There is a system I use to help people talk about art called Visual Thinking Strategies. VTS was designed by a museum art educator and a cognitive psychologist who wanted to use art to cultivate communication skills. Essentially, it asks three questions.

  • “What is going on in this image?” 
  • “What do you see that makes you say that?”
  • “What more can you find?”

That’s it. That is where you start. It’s that simple to talk about art. So don’t be afraid to do it.

Ding! Round 2

With the end of the first round of voting and the announcement of the Top 10, we enter a new stage of the competition, the pontification round. In this round, the stakes for being able to talk about art, or at least sound like you can, are doubled. With friends and family or random strangers suddenly coming into town wanting to “catch the prize,” it’s time to step up your game.

I’ve heard of art school professors who have banned the phrase, “I like…” The word on the street at this art school is if you say, “I like” in their presence you have to drop and give them 20 sketches on the spot. The fact that you are talking about a work of art implies that you like it or dislike it. That’s a given. The question is why. Be descriptive. Describe what it is that you are responding to in the work.

Bring on the JARGONAUT! 

The Jargonaut has its roots in the Jargonator that a friend gave me years ago. It consisted of a set of columns. You simply picked a word from each column, combined them to make a sentence, and suddenly you’re talking art! The Jargonaut is the son of the Jargonator. It goes a step further by creating an entire conversation about art. Simply insert a word from the labeled boxes into the sentence. Then you can talk loudly with confidence in front of any work of art and hob-knob with the best of them.

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I think the Jargonaut is __________________.

                                       (praising adjective)

Thanks for the (praising adjective) Kevin.

I'm used to receiving expletives.