APPLICATIONS: WRITING ON THE WALL
objet de désir ©
Below you will find applications to the art theory of Stefan Beyst
Ever more examples will be added until there is a complete overview of
the most important forms of verbal signs (whether or not
conjuring up representations)that pose for art.
The non-verbal counterpart is dealt with in 'Applications:
nauman on kawara
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Picasso introduced letters in painting, where they had been banned for a
long time. The letters are those of a journal, that is integrated in an
imitation (still life). But his example inspired other to make a further
The letters 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' are painted on the painting
with the same name. This time, they are not part of an imitation, they
rather make a statement about it. No doubt, this is paint on canvas. But
not an artwork: a statement about mimesis.
BEN VAUTIER (°1935)
Ben Vautier paints all kind of verbal statements on panels like
': 'J'ai voulu
abandonner l'art, mais j'en ai fait de l'art', 'L'oeuvre ici s'identifie
'Art est un mot
art, not art.
Ben Vautier produced also
non-verbal statements about art.
BALDESSARI JOHN (°1931)
In the late sixties, John Baldessari made some 'text paintings'
with painted phrases like 'Pure Beauty' (1967) or: 'A two-dimensional
surface without any articulation is a dead experience' (1967).
'What Is Painting'
(1966–68) presents a painted text, that ends with the statement: 'Art is
a creation for the eye and can only be hinted at with words'.
Elswhere, Baldessari promises: 'I Will Not Make Any More Boring
proceeded to a series of paintings that juxtopposed a photo with a line
of text in the vain of Magritte: a photo of a glass with the phrase 'A
glass is a glass'. We are dealing here with - rather cheap - verbal
statements about art. In other works, the statements are
MEL BOCHNER (°1940)
Mel Bochner is one of the pioneers of 'conceptual art'. He began to use
language in 'paintings': statements like 'Language is Not Transparent'.
He uses not only letters, but also other symbol systems like measurement
and counting - think of his room measurement pieces from 1969 onwards.
Not only propositions are written down, but also concepts like 'betweenness'
are made visible: ''Thoughts made visible'. But visualising the sound of
spoken words through writing them down is quite a different thing from 'visualising
thought', which in its turn should not be confounded with providing
visual instances of an idea. In none of the three cases, 'visualising'
does not turn thoughts into art... In the best case, we are dealing with
poor philosophical ideas wrapped in more or less interesting design of
letters, numbers and diagrams...
By the way, I know of more interesting 'ideas' than 'betweenness'...
JOSEF KOSUTH (°1945)
The semiotic/linguistic approach of art placed the image on the same
footing as the sign (or symbol).
That gave a strong impetus to conceptual art. Joseph Kosuth does no
longer imitate. Instead, he provides definitions, together with a photo
and the real thing in 'One and three chairs' (1965).
That the letters are rendered in different colours like in 'Four
colors for words' (1966)does not turn them into visual art.
This is just a case of semiotic use of the medium.
BRUCE NAUMAN (°1941)
In 1967, Bruce Nauman dishes up the following statement:
'The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths'.
But it is not because this profound wisdom is written in neon letters
and hung on the wall of the museum, that it would suddenly become art.
And that goes also when the words are painted. Besides, one can really
ask some questions about another statement of Bruce Nauman, this
time in an interview:: '“If I was an artist
and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be
LAWRENCE WEINER (°1940)
From 1968 onward, Lawrence Weiner established himself as a
representant of 'conceptual art'. This concept covers many freights. In a first
series of cases, we are dealing with a kind of scores for the
execution of paintings. In other cases, like the trenches in asphalt,
we are dealing with displayed reality.
In still other cases, we are dealing with signs (symbols) that conjure
up representations, like in the series 'En route' (2005).
This is a kind of 'visual poetry': literature, where the design of the
letters plays an important role. And, finally, there are the verbal
statements about art, like the meanwhile famous ‘Declaration of Intent’
“(1) The artist may construct the piece.
(2) The piece may be fabricated.
(3) The piece may not be built.
[Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.]”
To understand why the man nevertheless calls himself an artist - to be
more precise: a sculptor - we refer to 'Lawrence
Weiner: and the flesh became word'
ON KAWARA (°1933)
In 1966, On Kawara started with the 'Today
Series': a series of meanwhile more than two thousand 'paintings' with
dates ('Date paintings'), sometimes combined with words and with excerpts from the
papers of that day in an accompanying box. On thing and another can
conjure up representations in the mind of the onlooker, but it is not
determined which representations, even when we get, apart from the date,
also other cues like 'One thing/Vietnam'. We are dealing here with a
rather rudimentary form of
To be sure, it is only the representations, however unspecified, that
are mimesis, not the 'paintings' that conjure them up. We are not
dealing here with' paintings', hence, but rather with a primitive form
of literature: comparable with an autobiography that would consist of
the sequence of dates,
calligraphed with great care.
FRED EERDEKENS (°1951)
A rather intelligent and captivating variant is to be found with
Fred Eerdekens. Through a
sophisticated lighting, carefully selected objects are transformed in
words. Thereby, sentences appear like: 'God/Ego' (1990), 'Holy
Spirit come Home' (1997),'Could suggest something vague and unclear'
(1999), 'Men ga een zachter gang' (1999), 'Life itself is not enough'
(1999), 'Neo Deo' (2002), 'Tralala' (2002), 'Mhmmm' (2002), 'Passage
Histoire (2003), 'Minimum' (2004), 'Ooohaah!' (2004), 'Forever' (2005'
'Words Gone' (2005), 'I hate Words' (2005), 'In a name' (2005).
Fred Eerdekens' creations are not just verbal statements about the
world. What makes them interesting is the fact that de objects, the
shades of which are words, contribute to constitute to meaning of the
message. A remarkable feat in that respect is 'Neo Deo' (2002):
The sophisticated letter design realises here on the visual plane, what
rhyme, alliteration and assonance realise on the auditory plane.
CHRISTOPHER WOOL (°1955)
During the 1990s, Christopher Wool painted texts in black and white
which he painted during the 1990s, often using quotations, cut up
randomly or partially erased or destroyed otherwise, so that the meaning
is only discovered gradually. This has nothing to do with art as
mimesis: we are dealing with mere letter
design (of mostly non-literary texts)..
© Stefan Beyst,
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