It is what it is




It is what it is

...or is it?


Language is always an abbreviation.

                                                                  John Berger



Language has an implicit ambiguity that is often either conveniently neglected for the sake of communication or deliberately ignored for sake of maintaining certainty.

It is all too easy to submit to the dominant literalistic systems of thought that reassure the rational mind that our descriptions accurately and absolutely do comparative justice to that which we are describing. Upon this necessary assumption communications take form. The moment it seems as though our descriptions have made an adequate contact with reality, and therefore that we can proceed no further, the conversation ends. The period or full stop at the conclusion of the final sentence silently encapsulates the common phrase: “it is what it is,” i.e. let us say no more.

And yet…

Despite all attempts to accurately describe reality, we are constantly faced with the impossibility of the task at hand. Our language only ever goes so far. As soon as one accurate, coherent, or meaningful description is made, reality shifts or changes. Language is left hanging like an old coat that no longer fits, useful though it may once have been.

At the other end of the dynamic, language itself is constantly transforming, so that the words that once held a certain meaning in a certain context no longer fit the bodies of meaning they once clothed so snugly. Visual language shares this attribution.

The brushmark in a painting is a carrier of meaning. Literalism leads theorists into the trap of assuming that an impressionist brushmark, for example, implicitly carries within it an association to light and the passing moment. Yet, a similar brushmark extracted from the impressionist lexicon and transposed within an entirely different context may speak nothing of those particular qualities. The oft-cited truism that context is important understates the issue.

Human beings will never again experience what it meant to look at an impressionist painting in Paris at the end of the 19th century. Reality has clearly and obviously shifted. When the understanding of reality does not shift with reality itself, when language does not re-cognise the changes, we inevitably mistake the description for the described, hold to the most fixed and extreme notions, the most convenient definitions, and lose touch with the body of truth that was once warmed by that old and all-too familiar jacket of language we loved so much.

The jacket: shrunk in the dryer of second-hand knowledge and no longer usable, is carefully framed and placed in a museum. The crowds gather to take photos, while the connoisseurs contextualize and theorize about the body of the truth that no longer needs it. Truth itself sneaks through the cracks in the cabinet, takes the back door exit and lives on as it always has, surrounding us as we observe, chuckling in the corner, inside and outside the museum…naked, but never in need of the garments of language we venerate and admire.



"Art interests me very much, but truth interests me much more."

                                                                                                      Alberto Giacometti