Nick created a moment of clarity in what was a dense debate by defining lingua franca, a second language for communication between communities, today English being used for international business, technology, aviation and culture, the term originating in the eastern Mediterranean region in the Renaissance era. The first lingua franca was primarily Italian, as Italian speakers dominated seaborne commerce in the Ottoman Empire. “So here we have a sense of lingua franca as a kind of lingual imperialism, something belonging to a dominant culture or society, imposed on other, weaker ones.” His statement was clear: “art by its very nature and because of all the things we desire from it, as well as the current state of affairs, never was and can never be a lingua franca, or a common language that bridges borders between nations and cultures.” In our times, “art can be defined as the intellectual and aesthetic investigation by individuals of the nature of existence. Its creators and supporters are mostly confined to a highly educated, informed elite with free time and money on their hands.” Nothing new here, as art has long been the property of the wealthy and the powerful, who have used it to their own ends. And that to the detriment of art itself. “Even today, culture is used improperly as an arm of the state. These may be unpopular views but still need to be stated.” But art itself is the key reason why it cannot be a lingua franca: “high profile art today has fallen into an overly conceptual, academic and conventional rut instead, cut off from all real feeling and mutually understandable aesthetics and thought. This reactionary isolationist movement has created a tremendous gap of understanding and resentment between the art establishment and the general viewing public.” Art has huge potential, but in its complexity, its fragility and its challenges to the norm, it “requires a different, more private, and frankly elitist kind of approach to presenting and viewing to preserve these necessary mysteries.”
Whether these projects qualified as art was of little import to their initiators, but Emily suggested they were demonstrative of artists’ communication skills and the unique position from which they operate. Their profession affords them mobility and manoeuvrability, “a liberty to enter into new terrain or subject matter and to emerge with speculative observations or representations”. They are accustomed to reinventing their working methods continually, and finally, their conclusions tend to draw attention to things, “rather than forwarding concrete and didactic truths”. She closed by positing “that in the strongest cases artists are not only expert communicators but produce necessary forms of communication which aren’t merely straightforward solutions-oriented, results-based or profit-driven, but rather have the potential to uniquely bridge communities, open dialogues and stir debates.”
The intense debate that followed touched on whether art itself communicates, or whether it requires mediation; whether if politically a hot potato art is nonetheless destined to be misunderstood; of art becoming popular culture; of art as an active or a passive entity; whether icons are universal or specific; and many other points. A growing consensus opinion of the ideal communicative role of art catalysed the vote, which the opposition, Nika and Nick won, though several members of the audience abstained.
Many thanks to all the debaters and to the audience for listening intently, and particularly to Galerie Edwynn Houk for generously hosting the event.