“Chronicle of a Traveling Theory”

In October 2015 I published “Chronicle of a Traveling Theory” in Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century (MIT Press), edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter. The essay discusses on how International Art English became a byword for the devolution of the language of criticism in the globalized, Internet-addled art world. On December 21, 2015, the essay was reprinted in Triple Canopy. It begins:

International Art English is now an ineluctable, flagrant feature of the art-writing landscape. Prior to Triple Canopy’s publication of Alix Rule and David Levine’s essay by that name in June 2012, many readers may have had a vague notion of certain common linguistic peculiarities to be found on the websites of Chinese museums and Parisian galleries, in the press releases issued by Chelsea galleries and in the pages of German magazines—in all manner of venues that employ language to represent visual art and aesthetic experience, whether for promotional, educational, or critical purposes. Within six months of the publication of “International Art English,” those readers and many thousands more could not help but recognize the lexical tics (“spatiality,” “globality,” “potentiality,” “experiencability”), double adverbial terms, dependent clauses, adjectival verb forms, and past and present participles that so pervade writing about art. For the essay’s boosters as well as detractors—about which I’ll say more later—International Art English (IAE) has become a byword for the devolution of the language of criticism (and the diminution of the authority of critics) in the globalized, Internet-addled art world, but also for the possibility of redemptive reconfigurations of that language. This is true to such a degree that recent articles reiterating the phenomenon, whether published by the BBC or online content mills, have dispensed with references to the original essay.