Does some writing go out of its way to be obscure? Artist, Grayson Perry suggests it might

This entry was posted on Friday, November 8th, 2013 at 5:40 PM

I’m just catching up with the excellent Grayson Perry Reith Lectures on Radio Four (why am I always one step behind?).

The first in the series – ‘Democracy has bad taste’ – is about the complexity of judging quality in contemporary art. At one point Grayson talks about how impenetrable the art world can be at times for outsiders, particularly because of its seriousness, which he says is protected by language.

He uses a quote from the editor of a highbrow arts magazine to illustrate this. Talking about a previous editor, she said, “English wasn’t her first language so during her tenure as the editor, the magazine suffered from the wrong kind of unreadability.”

The wrong kind of unreadability? Don’t know about you, but it implies to me that the magazine goes out of its way to be unreadable. Obfuscation is clearly a badge of honour. Presumably it does so to make itself seem more intelligent than plebby outsiders and to massage the egos of anyone who can (or claims to) understand it.

Much to the amusement of the studio audience, Grayson goes on to read, in full, a wall text he spotted at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Here it is:

“A common ground is based on the fact that affectivity remains a centre access in contemporary Uruguayan artist production. This exhibition puts forward to seemingly anti-thetical notions of this idea. On the one hand Magel Ferrero’s personal diary, a written and visual work in progress, and on the other, the discourse and meta-discourse about language in Alejandro Cesarco’s constant need to shed light on what it has said and not said, multiplying the winks, quotes, repetitions and versions of his favourite subject matters.”

“Neither do I,” says Grayson after he’s read it.

As much as we poke fun at business writing, a lot of arts and academic writing suffers from the same impenetrable, gobbledegook masquerading as highly intelligent writing. I have an arts background and artists’ statements have long been a source of amusement tinged with disappointment.

With the arts and business, I think such writing is a deluded attempt by the authors to justify themselves and to seem more important. Sadly, it has the opposite effect and it ends up as material for blogs such as mine, as well as far more prominent platforms.

Surely the aim of any piece of writing, whether it’s factual or creative, is to communicate with the intended audience? What’s point of writing something the audience doesn’t understand? Or even worse, has to pretend they understand for fear they might appear stupid?

I read an excellent post on Clare Lynch’s blog – Good Copy, Bad Copy the other day.  It’s called ‘Business writers, here’s why you really need to master the parts of speech’. Here’s a chunk of goobledook followed by Clare’s translation:

Original – Leverage analytics to drive prediction

Use predictive analytics as a decision support tool to drive a forward-looking analysis of scenarios, response effectiveness, and critical correlations that can complicate or escalate events. Better understanding of the drivers of extreme events, whether external development or internal process interactions, can help build a robust, flexible and dynamic crisis management program. The objective for enhance analytics is not to predict events, but to help companies develop more meaningful warning indicators, and an increased awareness of the leverage and preventing or managing ‘runaway’ crises.

Clare’s translation – Learn from the past

If you know what cause crises, you can prepare for them. So analyse what’s happened in the past to help you predict what might happen in the future. It will let you spot the warning signs that a crisis is unfolding, so you can stop it escalating or even happening at all.

Look how much more concise Clare’s version is. And how much easier it is to understand.

The rest of this post is well worth a read. Clare’s posts are always good but this one is exceptional.

Clare is chief copywriter at communications agency, Doris and Bertie and blogs at Good Copy, Bad Copy.









Forming Words – exhibition at Flow Gallery, Notting Hill

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

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