Thomas Marks

Painting with Words

Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art

By Julian Barnes

Jonathan Cape 276pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Artists often shy away from speaking about their work, or shrink from what others have to say about it. Sometimes that’s because their fluency with, say, a paintbrush or chisel isn’t matched by a corresponding verbal facility; but more frequently it’s a calculated choice, based on the feeling that words have a way of leaching art of what makes it most powerful or inscrutable. Braque once claimed, ‘The only thing that matters in art is what cannot be explained’, while Degas pronounced that ‘words are not necessary: you say humph, , ha, and everything has been said’.

A lot of writing about art only reinforces the notion that

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