In Hamlet, the prince in his overwhelmed, emotional state, tries to sort out his life and is either feigning or struggling with madness. The old Polonius asks him what he is reading. His answer: “words, words, words”.
Gertrude’s Stein’s famous phrase “A rose is a rose is a rose” is often thought to be about a thing being what it is and nothing more. (As in another Shakespeare line “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”) But Stein’s comment about the phrase’s meaning is this: “…I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.” She is talking about capturing the idea of a thing and not the thing itself. When you read the word “rose” you may envision the rose on the towel in your grandmother’s bathroom, the last rose of the season as it fades by the front porch, or the rose sitting in a bucket at the grocery checkout. But by the time the last “…is a rose” is uttered, your mind’s eye sees a flower with velvety, deep red petals— the archetypical elements of a rose. Or at least that’s how it works for me and what Stein intended.
Back to Shakespeare, too deep w/ too many interpretations to mess with in this forum, but I’m going to do it anyway. Repeating the word “words” three times is generally considered to function like this: In the first “words”– words are meaningless; the second “words” seems to say words are all we have to reach understanding; and then by the time the third “words” is spoken it becomes nod to their power. In this complex tale of the young prince and his quest for the truth, Hamlet shows an awareness of the power of words as they spin lies, swear love and incite murder. They create, they destroy, they are true, they are false—and they’re the best we got.
With a wink to the “rule of three”, we move past it to the point—We are bound to strengthen our knowledge of our wordless journey by talking about the work and its process. Critiques are tricky, but I, and every other art historian, teacher and critic know that the crafting of verbal language in the service of understanding visual language is a rich and useful endeavor. It informs. It unearths. It broadens ideas. And it’s all we got.
Guidelines for offering opinions have been suggested so I propose this one, with a major caveat: wait for the talkback time or to wait to be asked for an opinion before offering one. But how often have you been struggling with something and encouragement from another has propelled you forward, or you’ve been working in silence and you realize no one has said a word so you begin to doubt? In my own work, there are times I ask for my studio mates’ opinion, but then other times I wait to hear if they have anything to say as they walk by. I am grateful for each observation.
So what are we to do? Use your best judgment. Weigh these thoughts and those of last week and know that words have power that can go both ways, but they seem a necessary component to the process. Keep in mind that many people prefer working in silence and some people really don’t like to be interrupted with an opinion, (or with idle chatter). For my part, I will try to say nothing unless it appears you are heading into a trap or you’ve hit on a good thing. But if I am reading it wrong, speak up and we’ll talk about it.