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LEARNING THE LINGO

Governments, businesses, professions and sports have their own jargon. Art is no different. In art, though, it just might be a little harder to grasp the meaning without insider information. Don't expect all terms you come upon to necessarily be in the dictionary. Some words and phrases are made by crushing together parts of actual words or creatively adding prefixes and suffixes.

The art world is gaga over prefixes and has been for some time.

Neo, for example, just means "new." But it has a magical ability to transform a worn-out word. Examples: Neo-impressionism. Neo-abstraction. Neo-geo (new geometry).

Post, which means "after," is just as flexible. You can put "post" in front of anything that's over. Or you think might be over. You seem ahead of your time if you can get "post" in front of a word before the next guy.

Examples: Postmodern. Post-minimal. Post-Grape-Nuts.

Anti is another favorite. "Anti-painterly" means you hide your brush strokes. My favorite prefix combo, though, is one I read the other day: retro-risque. I'm still puzzling over that one.

Suffixes are handy for making nouns into verbs. For example, "-ized" is tagged on to all sorts of word. "He fetishized his figures." "Luckily, the artist was heroized just before he was funeralized."

Recently art writers, not wanting to be hemmed in by just one clear meaning, have started putting a contradictory parenthetical syllable in front of a word. You can have it both ways, for example, if you write "The painting had (un)deniable charm." Using this device, even popular phrases can be made confusing: "Go (re)figure."

Some biggish art words simply sound better than their everyday equivalent. For instance, the popular word "appropriation" refers to what happens when an artist purposely steals another artist's idea in order to make a point. Stealing sounds too common. Appropriation sounds more polished.

You will never learn to be an art lingoist if you insist on using ordinary words. Don't say the colors blend; say they fuse imperceptibly. Don't say a thing looks real; say it has mimetic potential. Don't say bright, say auratic glow. Get the idea?

You're not ready for it, but here is a typically inscrutable art world phrase: the perfected realization of an amateur simulacrum of the hyperreal.

Now you have an idea of what art critics do for light reading.