I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of visual art as a “language” with its own “vocabulary of marks”. “Language” and “vocabulary” are deeply ingrained in my psyche as words referring to speech and writing. However, I’m getting used to it, because in the contemporary art climate there’s no choice. And now I’m even beginning to see that it’s a useful concept. To see painting as a language is to realize that it takes time to learn, both as practitioner and viewer. A painting is more readily comprehensible on the surface than a page of Greek, it is true, and in this sense painting is a more universal language than verbal languages. But it still has its own forms and rules, tradition and history, allusions and illusions, and, yes, vocabulary of marks, that are there to be discovered and delighted in by the informed observer.
On the other hand (as the liberal said), the visual arts may be becoming too verbal, too self-consciously intellectual, thereby losing touch with the wellspring of visual art, which is the desire to make marks, simply and literally; the same impulse that makes a child scribble on your nice clean wall.