Hey, I’m back to the blog.
Here is the peculiar situation I find myself in, it is quite a conundrum:
I am tasked to write and talk about visual art.
Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?
But if, as I believe, the arts are each a unique language,
each providing an experience unlike the others,
then how does one interpret unique visual experiences
if they do not translate into words to any satisfactory degree?
What do you think?
I’d love to see some thoughts in this comment section.
4 thoughts on “”
I’m discouraged to hear that you have so little faith in the English language. While its true that existence has an experiential component to it, its been the business of language and its human users to communicate this since we first began to make use of representation, reference, and symbols.
I’ll admit, its not perfect. I can never explain to you exactly what its like for me to experience the taste of an orange. It becomes even more difficult to get across meaning if we don’t share a common experience. If, for example, you’ve never had an orange before.
And yet, we communicate all the same. We talk about food and the flavor of oranges all the time. Whole magazines are based on getting across the experiences of eating and tasting. The same is true of visual art.
Here are a few ideas I came up with.:
-Contextualize the specific artwork with a personal framework: a story about the first time you saw this work, how it related to what you were doing at the time, why it meant something to you to see it then.
-supplement the experiential with historical, fact based information: Who painted it, odd facts about his/her life, history of the art itself (did it once narrowly escape destruction in a fire?)…difficult to keep interesting, but fantastic when it works
-as for the problem of translating the visual experience itself into words, you’ll have to get at that feeling in a roundabout way. You’ll need comparison (It made me feel as I do on that first warm day of spring, when anything seems possible, and every step is charged with a warmth and electricity.) You’ll need metaphor (the clock on the wall seems to slow down, as time itself seems concerned to give me enough time to view the painting, transfixing me in a state of fuzzy concentration.)
In the end though, the finer details escape most written communication, and we see language abandoned in these moments of extreme experiential pleasure. At these times, we are left with few choices. For food of course we have the very articulate “Yum”, or “mmmm”. The statements “Wow” and “Whoa” do an awful lot of work for us. At the Swope, I’m sure you’ve heard before and will continue to hear these staples for expressing delight and enjoyment.
Of course, the one way to really get across what you’re feeling to another person is to caught up in the experience together. To find yourselves staring at the same painting, each of you captivated by its lines and colors completely. In this moment, all that might be needed to share the others perspective is a nod, a quick glance away from the painting to acknowledge that another living, breathing human being has found something in this world beautiful.
so in response to the presented question, i believe that if for example you are trying to describe something i feel that you do not need to add value to the words you decide to use, as art is always interpreted differently amongst the people of the art community. I think when going about choosing words to describe something, you should use your first thoughts, the words that bleed with little effort out of your brain, and not necessarily worry about if what you are saying is satisfactory, but more that what you are saying is true to you.
Your task and query remind me of a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke from “Letters to a Young Poet”, the M.D. Herter Norton translation.
“With nothing can one touch a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down to more or less lucky misunderstandings. Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, take place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.”
When I was a young art student, I was very glad my instructors were using words to at least try to describe the images and colors of the works of my classmates were struggling to create. When they did it right, and they often did, it made me take a second look with fresh eyes. They helped me see a lot of things I had missed.