The artists here certainly won’t share this problem because the power to rise above self-consciousness is almost a defining quality of artists. Artists are superb at switching off awareness of self. As you can tell if you watch one eat. Others of you however, fellow non-artists, might understand what I am talking about. And talking is the problem. While I could not be more delighted that we live in a verbal world, I do understand the pleasure in occasionally laying language aside and letting some other non-verbal part of our brains take over. For you cannot explain a work of art in words. A painter makes a painting out of paint – paint is its language. If you can define it, nail it, comprehend it in words then something is rather wrong. A work of art is precisely that which remains when you have run out of words to describe it. The works that move us most are those that have the most life and power in them when the talking stops. If an artist could have said it in words, well then they would have done. Instead they have said it in paint, or stone, or bronze, or glass or whatever medium they may have chosen. “All art is at once surface and symbol,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Speech Given at a Dinner for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – 8th June 2010 « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry

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