Where language ends and art begins

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Solid                                 -                      Liquid
Creation                            -                      Destruction
Order                                 -                      Randomness
Reasoned                           -                      Arbitrary
Known                               -                      Unknown
Closed                                -                      Open
Control                               -                      Chaos


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The artist plays with the structure, but does not create the structure. They do not make tautologies ("dependable systems in which everyone can agree on the terms and oppositions"), they break them.

The dance of the artist is, like that of Shiva, a destructive one. Structures move and shake from its tremors, and openings emerge; cracks and holes in which new possibilities can enter. The structure may crumble and fall, or it may absorb this new information and become enlarged.

"Without the random, there can be no new thing [...] creative thought must always contain a random component."

Artists then, are interested in the random. And randomness is synonymous with deconstruction, disorganization. In creating something we impose sense and order, and in destroying it we do the opposite.

The arts threaten the known world. They give lie to the idea that we can have a totality of knowledge - or, indeed, of anything.


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I am really interested in the different ways that language functions.

It's difficult to see what the functioning edges of language are.

The place where it communicates best and most easily is also the place where language is the least interesting and emotionally involving - such as the functional way we understand the word "sing" or the sentence "Pick up the pencil."

When these functional edges are explored, however, other areas of your mind make you aware of language potential.

I think the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs.

Roland Barthes has written about the pleasure that is derived from reading when what is known rubs up against what is unknown, or when correct grammar rubs up against nongrammar. In other words, if one context is different from the context that was given to you by the writer, two different kinds of things you understand rub against each other.

When language begins to break down a little bit, it becomes exciting and communicates in nearly the simplest way that it can function: you are forced to be aware of the sounds and the poetic parts of words.

If you deal only with what is known, you'll have redundancy; on the other hand, if you deal only with the unknown, you cannot communicate at all. There is always some combination of the two, and it is how they touch each other that makes communication interesting.

Too much of one or the other is either unintelligible or boring, but the tension of being almost too far in either direction is very interesting to think about.

Art is interesting to me when it ceases to function as art - when what we know as painting stops being painting, or when printmaking ceases to be printmaking - whenever art doesn't read the way we are used to.

In this manner, a good piece of art continues to function, revealing new meaning and remaining exciting for a long time, even though our vision of what art is supposed to be keeps changing.

 After a while, however, our point of view as to how art can function changes radically enough that the work of art becomes art history. Eventually, our perspective is altered so much that its functions just aren't available to us anymore and art becomes archaeology.

[Bruce Nauman]
Please Pay Attention Please ('Talking With Bruce Nauman: An Interview, 1989')


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It's like I'm reading a book... and it's a book I deeply love.

But I'm reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite.

I can still feel you... and the words of our story... but it's in this endless space between the words that I'm finding myself now.

It's a place that's not of the physical world. It's where everything else is that I didn't even know existed.

Dialogue from 'Her'

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"From West to East" is a commonplace journalistic structure for an article. "From West to Female" is more like poetry. By jumping from one criterion, one binary, to another, it represents a real difference rather than the staged differences of the binary. It's fresh!

[language becomes] mere texture when dichotomy ends.

What the remapping of the binaries produces, I think, is something irrational: beauty. 

It also produces a sort of self-knowledge; the realisation that all truths are provisional, contextual, consensual, habitual. It's therefore good to break one's habits from time to time -- to "binary hop".

Only poets -- those incorrigible binary-hoppers! -- can really change the way we see, because only they (with their under-the-hood view of language) are willing to abandon cookie-cutting binaries, or pick them up and play around with them.

Unfortunately poets can't organize anything, and can't make any lasting systems. Because to organize, you need to reduce and repeat. You need a dependable system in which everyone agrees on the terms and the oppositions.

And there we have the tragedy of human life. The people who can change things can't organize anything, and the people who can organize things can't change anything.

[Momus]
'Binary hopping'


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I think what artists do, and what people who make culture do, is somehow produce simulators where new ideas [...] can be explored.

There's a very interesting book by Lakoff and Johnson, that famous thirties singing team, it's a book about metaphor, it's called Metaphors We Live By. They give a very clear example of the effect of metaphor. They say we use in our culture the metaphor, argument is war. All of our language about argument "she defeated him", "he attacked her position", so on and so on, they are all arguments that relate to fighting.

When we think about the process of arguing, we tend to then reconstrue our possibilities in terms of that metaphor.

What Lakoff and Johnson say is suppose that somebody had said argument is dance, suppose that was the dominant metaphor. So instead of it being seen you have the process where one person defeats another, it becomes a process where two people together make something beautiful between them. We could have that metaphor for argument, we don't.

But do you understand that a shift of that kind produces an entirely different kind of discourse. How the shift from one way of dealing in activity that we all engage in to another changes that activity.

Suddenly our language of possibilities is renewed and different.

What I'm saying, I suppose [is that] we're saddled with a whole set of metaphors [...] about how the world works, how things organize themselves, how things are controlled, what possibilities there are.

Generative art in general is a way of not throwing those out, we don't get rid of old metaphors, we expand them to include more. These things still have value, but we want to include these things as well.

My feeling about artists is that we are metaphor explorers of some kind. ... An object of culture does all of the following, it innovates, it recycles, it clearly and explicitly rejects, and it ignores. Any artist's work that is doing all those four things and is doing all those four things through the metaphors that dominate our thinking.

[Brian Eno]
'Evolving metaphors, in my opinion, is what artists do'


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To stop for a bit and watch someone who is doing something, even the most obvious and customary thing in his life; to look at him in such a way that he begins to suspect what he is doing is not clear to us and it could also not be clear to him: this suffices to make that security tarnish and falter.

[Luigi Pirandello]
One, No One & One Hundred Thousand, p.108


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Silence […] is a scandal to speech, an offence to the adequacy claimed by the empirical orders of language. What I have called the managerial motive in language is, more desperately, the insistence of those who use it that there is nothing it cannot name.

Poetic language refutes this observation by transgressing it. Bourgeois language insists on finding signifieds for every signifier, and containing the entire field within the rule of law: the law is the homogeneity of signification. Julia Kristeva has suggested a psychoanalytic understanding of this law and of poetic language as its infringement.

[…] if experience is, in practice, divided into official and unofficial, authoritative and occult; what corresponds to this division, in language, is the distinction between discourse, with its official diction, and the several poetries, with their several ‘contradictions’.

It is the aim of management to accommodate every apparent contradiction within the standard diction by neutralising the offensive words.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 96


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Related posts:-
Everything and Nothing 
All is Change 
Guiding Fiction
Forever Becoming
Mind your language 
Dreams from dreams
Separations and Bridges
Making connections
Shades of gray
Escaping Uncertainty
Taking the rough with the smooth
Negative Capability
The Tyranny of Novelty
In-between
Levels of Meaning
The Eternal Ideas
Silence  

3 comments:

  1. "...the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication"

    Is this point different for each person? For some language may never fail, and as a result they may struggle to see the point of art, or at least Nauman's brand of art.

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  2. Is his work about opening up the world more? Examining our 'everyday' acts and words as a way of highlighting the assumptions that we are making, and the possibilities (for experience) that we are overlooking.

    So these sites of dialogue say: think about the world, think about your experience, your day to day experience; and think about whether you want more, or whether you want something else, something different. And think about how this may already be within your grasp, just through looking at things a little differently.

    Think about all the assumptions that you are making about experience, and consider whether you are comfortable with this.

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  3. The point of language breakdown (i.e., the breakdown of a structure) is the point of becoming; the point at which the continuum is glimpsed and new possibilities emerge.

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