Totally Dada

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“With the sound of gusting wind in the branches of the language trees of Babel, the words gave way like leaves, and every reader glimpsed another reality hidden in the foliage.”   Andrei Codrescu (from

The vocabulary of the art world often sounds to others as a strange and different language.  It is.  Strange and different.   So strange and different is this language that many articles and occasionally, books are published to enlighten those living in the dark and unable to speak it.  Translations of the language vary, are ever changing and hard to keep up with.  But the Art World’s unique speech may have met its match now that it has found its way into the Urban Dictionary.

 ArtNews has an article on Artspeak, the book by Robert Atkins.  Atkins’ book translates this strange and different language.  According to the article, Atkins realizes how this unique language may actually alienate people unable to fully decode it.  As Atkins states in the article, “Somehow the language used for describing and discussing art has an unusual opacity, even sadism.” Sadism?  No wonder the urban language is moving in on the art language.

Dada is one of those art movements that makes no sense at all and was apparently the purpose of the Dada artists.  So why create art that makes no sense and purposely is meant to confuse people?  Sounds a bit sadistic. But now we have a new and improved meaning for Dada. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Dada is anti-art, yet art”. “That is so Dada. It breaks all the rules yet make sense.”  Really? And one wonders why people think artists are crazy.

So if you haven’t mastered the traditional art speech, have no fear.  You can always go with the new art speech found in the Urban Dictionary. tells you how.  You will soon be able to tell if someone is “a total Picasso.”  Or maybe you will notice, happily, that someone is “totally Rembrandt.”  But whatever you do, you don’t want to go, “totally Bob Ross!”  And that is “so totally Dada.”

Photo is Man Ray’s The Gift, a classic example of Dada Art!

A Catfish Among the Mackerel


The movie Catfish brought that word as a descriptive into the general language where it has found a place in the Urban Dictionary.  IMDb quotes the character, Vince Pierce from the movie as he describes the term:

“Vince Pierce: They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”

Slate magazine gives a more in-depth synopsis of the origin of the term but it took today’s world of social networking to bring the term to life as the subject of a movie by that name and a series on MTV.  It is well worth reading the article for deeper understanding.

Reading about the movie brought back to me an incident from years ago that still brings a smile at the memory.  While traveling through the beautiful Cotswold region of England, we encountered an elderly gentleman working hard at cultivating his status as “local character.”  He was sitting on a bench just outside the gates to the churchyard obviously waiting to waylay any tourists coming to view the historic church.  He called himself a catfish among the mackerel because, as he told us, he was a relative new comer to the village only having lived there twenty years.  As new -comer he was not able to be one of the local mackerel so he had relegated himself to nipping at their fins by ambushing tourists.  He went on to give us a detailed history of the town and the church.  I never forgot him or the village.

That village in the Cotswolds will always stand out to me because of a curmudgeonly Catfish who brought it to life for us by nipping at the fins of the mackerel.  As artists, isn’t our role to be catfish?

The Cotswold region of England with its thatched cottages, lush roses and lovely winding streets is a great place to look for artistic inspiration.


                        picture from the downloadable brochure on the website

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