In this text we want to demonstrate that there is a difference between conjuring up a world and making statements about the world. A work of art conjures up a world. Science and philosophy make statements about the world. The conjuring up of a world is often coupled with making statements about the world, and the making of statements about the world is often coupled with conjuring up a world. Art as well as science oppose such hybridisation. Art is out at confining itself to a pure evocation of a world without making statements about it, whereas science and philosophy are out at confining themselves to making statements without also conjuring up a world. In sharp contrast with such purism is a totally opposite tendency whereby statements about the world are disguising themselves as works of art or whereby genuine artworks are considered to be statements about the word. The disguise of philosophy and science as art is facilitated through a partial similarity of both activities or through language. We condemn such endeavour to transform art into philosophy and make a plea for the restoration of the autonomy of the image.
ARE RUBENS AND BEUYS COLLEAGUES?
Some remarks about the relation between art and science/philosophy.
Artists are increasingly posing as philosophers: they make more or less profound statements about the world or pretend that their works of art are worldviews. They thereby are supported by an increasing number of art critics and art theoreticians pretending to descry all kinds of secret revelations in their works. Conversely, philosophers are fond of posing as artists: they resort to poetical language or even write entire novels. In a era that is so fond of
negating or obfuscating difference, it matters to set things right and to call a spade a spade.
VENUS AND THE LAWS OF MUTATION AND SELECTION
When looking at Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’, we see a space wherein a beautiful woman is displayed on a bed; in fact, we are in the Uffizi in Florence, looking at a mere surface covered with paint. When reading Kafka’s ‘Trial’, we are witnessing a most estranging series of events going on in an indeterminate place at an indeterminate time; in fact we are looking at letters in a book at a given time and a given place. It is immediately apparent, then, what art is doing: the ‘Venus of Urbino’ or ‘The Trial’ are conjuring up a world that is of another, imaginary order, as opposed to the word of the paint and the letters we are looking at, which is ‘real’.
In science and philosophy, things are wholly different. Descartes’ ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ does not make me imagine the existence of an imaginary I in an imaginary world. It, on the contrary, tells me something about the mode of existence of the ego: that it is real. In ‘the Origin of Species’, Darwin argues that all species have evolved from one single primeval being through the simple mechanism of mutation and selection. Darwin is not conjuring up an imaginary world with angels or aliens. He rather points at concrete characteristics of real plants and animals in the real world and deduces from these that in the course of real – albeit bygone – times the process called ‘evolution’ has unfolded. In ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, Freud argues that dreams are meant to preserve sleep. They do so by fulfilling the dreamer’s wishes. Thus, science does not conjure up an imaginary world, it makes statements about a world. No doubt are there also descriptions, examples and representations of fragments of the real world in scientific texts, but these are only meant to replace the real events about which the statements are made.
FISH AND FOWL
Many an artwork can also be read as a statement about the world. To begin with, an image may also be a sign referring to the real world. Consider Botticelli’s Primavera. On that painting we see Mercury, the three Graces, Venus, the Primavera and Zefir, standing in an alley of orange-trees ending up in a summerhouse. The ground is dotted with flowers. The painting is of an unparalleled beauty, but - just like many a painting of Bosch - it partakes of the ‘surreal’: we do not quite understand what the figures are doing there. And that is because they are signs referring to something outside the painting. Many an exegete has tried to find out what they are staying for. Recently, Gombrich’s neo-platonic interpretation has been replaced with the far more convincing political reading of the art historian Bredekamp. After interpreting all the fruits, plants, flowers and mythological figures the meaning of the painting appears to amount to something like ‘When Pierfranscesca de Medici will seize power, a golden age will come over Florence’. Which is a rather trivial political slogan! Also Michelangelo’s David is not only a beautiful young man, but also a sign. He symbolises the geographically minute, militarily insignificant, but artistically unparalleled city-state Florence standing up against a Goliath that owes his supremacy to mere military superiority. After interpretation the message sounds like: ‘Florence, little in arms, big in art’. Only such interpretation allows us to understand why the sculpture of David has the proportions of the giant that he slew as a dwarf.
The Primavera as well as the David may be read as a statement about the world, which in both cases is a mere political slogan. In other works of art we are dealing with statements of a religious or philosophical nature: think of Brueghel and Bosch. In all these case artists are making statements about the world. But that should not induce us to contend that conjuring up a world amounts to making statements about the world. It is not because the baker also maws his lawn, that baking bread and mowing grass are the same thing.
A second confusion originates in the fact that signs may as well refer to reality as conjure it up. There is a difference between the statement: ‘The storm clouds are gathering’ and a similar phrase in a story: ‘When driving home, the storm clouds were gathering’. In the story, the words are not referring to real storm clouds, they are merely conjuring up their representation.
All too often, the difference between both functions is overlooked. Which leads to an inconspicuous switchover from making statements to conjuring up a world. Many a novelist gives vent to his opinions in his novels, which not seldom amounts to veritable theoretical digression. A famous example is the introduction to ‘Sodome et Gomorrhe’, where Proust gives air to his conception of homosexuality - which by the way is rather borrowed from the German scientist Hirschfeldt. In such novels, the conjuring up of a world is punctuated with making statements about the world. But that may not induce us to maintain that conjuring up a world is the same as making statements about it.
Conversely, many a philosopher of scientist is fond of conjuring up a world. At first glance, myths are just stories. But we can also read them symbolically. After interpretation of the symbols, they turn out to be statements about the world. Also more profane worldviews disguise themselves as works of art. Think of the ‘Zarathustra’ where Nietzsche tells us a story that has to be read symbolically. After interpretation, it turns out to be a philosophical treaty. Still other thinkers conjure up a world in view of making a graphic representation of some thesis and thereby lending it some semblance of legitimacy. Jesus Christ told his parables and Lafontaine his fables in order to propagate some moral principle. A mitigated version is the giving of examples or the invocation of facts. The proposition which is ‘illustrated’ or ‘proven’ through the story may be explicitly formulated or merely hinted at. In the former case we are talking about the ‘moral of the story’ or ‘the tendency of the novel’. As a rule, such ‘examples’ are part of a broader train of thoughts. But they may develop into independent wholes. Think of the plays and novels Sartre wrote as ‘examples’ of his philosophy or of the works of art many a philosopher is referring to in an effort to enforce his argument. Or the thinkers might conjure up a world in view of making an abstract idea accessible. That is why Plato told the story of the cave in an effort to provide a graphic representation of his conception of ‘the ideas’. Or why Freud told the story of the guards forbidding the entrance to uninvited guests in an effort to give a graphic representation of the dream censure.
In all these cases, philosophers and scientists are conjuring up a world. But it is not because the making of statements about the world is mixed up with efforts to conjure up a world, that both activities would be the same. When a philosopher or scientist also conjures up a world, he is also an artist, but that does not turn his philosophy or science into art.
Many an artist resists such mixing up. He tries to restrict himself to the pure conjuring up of a world and refrains from making statements about it.
It is not difficult to see why artists are striving for such autonomy. After all, what does the Primavera gain when its iconic signs are converted into words? No doubt, the painting acquires a new dimension as a historical of cultural phenomenon. But as a work of art, it gains nothing at all. On the contrary: it evaporates into a mere political slogan. No wonder that the art lover is hardly interested in the meaning of images. It is only when he no longer reads the image as a series of iconic signs and starts looking at the image as such, that he lays eyes upon the magnificent creatures he has already always been loving.
That the art lover wants to overlook the fact that Botticelli’s Primavera is a mere political slogan, is the corollary of the fact that Botticelli himself virtually obliterated the signs through the image. He was out at so selecting and arranging his ‘icons’ that they join up in an coherent image with a lure of its own.
(Conversely, the interpretative craze can be seen as an effort to escape from the power of the image by retiring in the world of thought).
HOW THE SIGN BECOMES AN IMAGE
In many an icon, the relation between sign and image is so opaque that it can only be deciphered on the basis of some (idiosyncratic or conventional) code. A good example is the use of the icon of the lion as a symbol of the Flemish and a cock as a symbol of the Walloons.
The artist that wants to bring to life such sterile icons is faced with a double problem. To begin with, he cannot but create a rather surrealistic world when letting a lion fight with a cock. In the representation of a lion fighting a cock, the logic of the image is not imposed by the image itself, but by the logic of the statement using these icons. And what is more, there is no connection whatsoever between the world that is conjured up by the image and the world to which the signs are referring. Such representations formerly were called ‘allegories’. There are plenty of examples in heraldry.
The genuine artist might try to solve both interrelated problems. In a first move he chooses icons that are inherently related. An obvious solution is to borrow the icons from one and the same domain of reality. In the case of Walloons and Flemish one might opt for squabbling chicks: this would at the same time produce a more realistic relation between the iconic animals and provide a better match between the symbols and the symbolised world. This option was chosen by many a painter of still lives: flowers are most cherished symbols and they may be combined to a coherent image at will. The image is no longer ‘surrealistic’ but has become a self-contained whole.
But we are still saddled with the gap separating the image from its meaning. The gap can only be closed by choosing images that conjure up the very world they are referring to. To a certain extent, that has been Botticelli’s option. Pierfrancesca de Medici promises a paradise. A most obvious representation of paradise is a place where beautiful girls (the three Graces) are romping around and where fertile mothers are flourishing (the pregnant ‘Primavera’). To a certain extent Botticilli’s painting conjures up the world it was meant merely to refer to.
But there is a snake in the grass. The stronger the coherence of the image, and the more the image conjures up what is refers to, the more the sign becomes obsolete. In the limit, the icon is transformed into a mere image. The image has thrown off the yoke of the sign.
THE SYMBOL AS THE ICON UPSIDE DOWN.
Take Goya’s Kronos: the glaring giant devouring his son. The power emanating form such image originates in the first place in the fear of being devoured, innate in every living being. It is the terror that never fails to seize us when faced with the threatening jaws of a shark or a wolf. Every living being finally ends up in the muzzle of another, be it alive or as a carrion. Only man is granted the privilege of being buried in a grave, which nevertheless is equally experienced as a muzzle and wherein we nevertheless are eaten by worms.
The horror of Goya’s image is only intensified by the fact that Kronos is a human eating other humans, a cannibal, and even a cannibal of the worst kind: a father devouring his own children. The fear of being eaten is joined by the fear of being swallowed by the very man that has given us life. In this sense Goya’s Kronos is the counterpart of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sixtine Chapel.
As a pure representation, the image is already eloquent enough. But it is like a magnet that attracts all kinds of contents which it comes to embody. Automatically one is reminded of the less literal forms of infanticide: parents devouring their children only metaphorically. Or of the equally metaphoric cannibalism of figurative fathers, such as the revolution that devours its own children. Or again: of mankind that is only making its own possibilities impossible.
This time, we are not dealing with an icon that is dissolving into an image. It rather looks as if the image is naturally transformed into an icon. But that is only an impression. Goya’s Kronos is not at all transformed into a sign that refers to something outside the picture. On the contrary: it is as if those other worlds are here and now embodied in the Kronos. They are sucked up by what is here and now visible before our very eyes.
That is why Goya’s Kronos is the very opposite of an icon: no longer is it a sign referring to a referent, much rather is it a world that is here and now perceptible and that at the same time makes visible other worlds. A similar analysis could be made of other powerful images, such as the story of Oedipus, or ’Die Verwandlung’ or ‘Der Prozess’ of Kafka. (See also: Yeats’ Leda and the Swann: 'The symbol').
It is typical of the state of contemporary art and current art theory that there is no term to designate such an over-saturated image, such a reversed icon. In German Romanticism it used to be called ‘ein Symbol’ (Todorov).
By becoming a ‘symbol’ in this sense, the conjured up world is transformed into a multiple world, a world that is saturated, not with ‘meaning’, but with presence. Such is the whole difference between a common print from Goya’s ‘Desastres’ and an image like his ‘Kronos’. The ‘symbol’ transforms the evoked world in a potentiated world with a density that is rarely found in the real world. The creation of such images may be one of the most potent motives for the creation of art.
Also philosophy and science are striving to confine themselves to the pure making of statements about the world, without also conjuring up a world. In the course of history they shrugged off their mythical vestments. In a first phase a story is inserted into a non-narrative discourse. In a second phase the inserted stories are hollowed out to mere examples and facts.
Also language itself is attempting to get rid of every metaphor in an endeavour to develop a pure formal language.
ALL THAT RIMES IS NOT POETRY
A totally different development is when statements about the world are disguising themselves as art or when real works of art are approached as if they were mere statements about the world. The disguise of philosophy or science as art is made possible through a partial similarity between the two practices and through language.
It is widely believed that art is not a matter of what is conjured up. Art would not be a matter of ‘content’, but of ‘form’; not a matter of the ‘literary’ but of the musical: not a matter of the ‘what’ but of the ‘how’.
The problem is most acute in literature. As opposed to painters, sculptors or composers, who are immediately presenting a world before our eyes or ears, poets and novelists have to resort to words in order to conjure up a world in our minds. They can write in such a way that the words seem to disappear, to become transparent. Or they can make a virtue of need and let the sound and rhythm of the words resemble what they conjure up, as in the well-know example of Verlaine:
‘Les sanglots long/des violons/de l’automne/ blessent mon coeur/d’une langueur/ monotone...
Not only artists make use of the ‘sonorous body’ of language. For the election of Eisenhower one copywriter or another invented the slogan ‘I Like Ike’. That is far more beautiful than ‘I want Eisenhower for president’. You might concoct a complex analysis of the slogan – like Jakobson. But it would never enter into anyone’s head that this slogan is poetry, or broader, ‘art’. Many a advertisement contains rhetorical jewels, but that does not transform the copywriter into a poet. In the case of art, the sound of language is transformed into an additional means of conjuring up a world, in the case of the advertisement it is a means of endorsing repetitive and expressive gestures.
That holds not only of advertisements, but also of science and philosophy. Whoever reads ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ knows that Nietzsche knew to manipulate not only the hammer, but also the pen. But that does not transform our philosopher into a poet, as little as Heidegger’s language turns him into a new Hölderlin. And that holds in the first place for the statements of ‘artists’, which as a rule are far less interesting.
Formal perfection as such is ‘artful’, but not sufficient to turn something into a work of art. All that rimes is not poetry. In this context, it is not superfluous to remind of the fact the word ‘art’ is an ‘ellipsis’. In full length it reads: ‘the art of conjuring up a world’. This way of spelling would make it clear once and for all that ‘art’ is only one out of many other ‘arts’: the art of healing, the art of persuading, the art of selling, the art of deceiving, and so on. Also here it holds: all that is art is not art.
ALL THAT USES METAPHORS IS NOT ART
There are those who contend that art is about ‘poetry’, the resigning from the ‘literal’, ‘the prosaic’, ‘the rational’, in short: about a metaphorical approach of the world. Say it with metaphors!
The use of metaphors does not suffice to produce art. Advertisers and politicians are fond of it. But that does not turn their texts into poetry. And is not because philosophy and science cannot do without metaphors like ‘force’, ‘libido’, ‘big bang’, ‘strings’, black holes’ and the like, that they would have something to do with art. As already Plato, Vico and Herder knew, language, thinking and acting are metaphoric by nature. But that does not turn everyone that speaks into a poet. Whereas Molières Jourdain had to discover that he has been speaking in prose for his whole life, there are many that still have to discover that they are not poets because they use metaphors.
When Manzoni cans his excrements and provides them with the caption’ Merda d’Artista’ and a serial number, as if he had made a print, he is producing a metaphor. Translated in words it would read: ‘Many an artwork is not more than canned shit’. But it is not because Manzoni makes use of a metaphor, that his statement about art becomes a work of art, as little as a demonstrator becomes an artist because he pours out manure on the drive of the villa of the minister of agriculture.
ALL THAT IS IMAGE IS NOT ART
There are those who think that they are making art when they replace the word with the image or to be more precise: a sign with an image. There are lots of variants of this assumption. Let us restrict ourselves here to the widespread contention that art is an iconic language. Say it with images.
When seeing two doors, one with the image of a male and the other with that of a female, we know that we have to do with a public convenience. The words ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ have been replaced with icons. But it will enter in nobody’s mind that, as a consequence of such replacement, we have entered the realm of art!
Suppose that one rich man or another commissioned Dürer to paint a man and a woman. After some months, Dürer delivers his ‘Adam and Eve’. No doubt, these still could function as icons indicating which sex has to enter which door. But, if our rich man were an art lover as well, would he not hang the pictures in a more becoming place?
For the same reason we all too eagerly overlook the fact that Michelangelo’s David is also an icon. Generations of art lovers have for centuries enjoyed the beauty of that young men, without even for a moment considering that it is in fact an icon. Thus, it is only when the artist makes the image of the icon also conjure up a world, that the icon becomes art – provided we forget that the image is also an icon.
Not every icon becomes a work of art when approached as a mere image. There is a whole array of icons with on the one end a diagrammatic indication and on the other end full-fledged paintings or sculptures. In all cases, the meaning remains the same: the meaning of a word does not change according to whether it is scribbled on a piece of paper or calligraphically written down on parchment. But the more we move towards the full-fledged images, the more the image acquires a weight of its own and the less are we inclined to read it as a sign. When statements disguise themselves as works of art, it is rather the other way round: the ‘artist’ is foremost interested in the meaning of the image, not in the image itself. When, in Manzoni’s ‘Merda d’artista’, we overlook the meaning, we are saddled with a mere can filled with excrements. Granted, that does not look so nice as the ‘three Graces’ on Botticelli’s painting.
The ‘artist’ that wants to sell his statement as a work of art by disguising it in iconic language, holds the image in contempt. That is apparent from the fact that his statement remains incomprehensible as long as no one has deciphered the code of the iconic language: the relation between the image and its meaning is completely external. In that sense, the intelligibility of art is barometer for its artisticity. The contempt for the image is also apparent from the fact that the relation between the parts of the image can only be understood when the meaning of the icons has been deciphered. Whoever is interested in the image itself, transforms it into a coherent whole and lets it conjure up what it means – so that in the limit it throws off the yoke of the sign.
Thus, there is a difference between a work of art wherein the image is trying to throw off the yoke of the sign on the one hand, and a ‘work of art’ that uses the sign to get rid of the image on the other.
ALL THAT IS PAINTED IS NOT ART.
One and the same medium may be used to conjure up a world or to make statements about the world.
Since words can as well refer to reality as conjure up a world, it is not immediately apparent whether a book is a novel or a scientific of philosophical treaty. It is not because something is printed on paper that it is art. The same holds for a painting, an image, a photograph, a film: these can as well conjure up a world as make statements about the world. Thus, Magritte paints an easel supporting a broken windowpane in stead of a painting. It is evident that this painting is a statement about art as a ‘window on the real world’. It tells us in iconic language what ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ tells us with words. No doubt, we are dealing with a painting, but it is not a work of art.
Also a statement like: ‘The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths’ will never be a work of art, even when Nauman writes it with neon letters in the shape of a spiral and even when it is hanged on the walls of a museum. Not all that hangs on walls – with or without frame – is art.
A rather irritating version of this phenomenon are the so-called ‘works of art’ that intend to give comments on other works of art. As if there is not yet enough written on art, these ‘artists’ are out at saying it once more with icons.
It will be superfluous to mention that the most diverse materials may be used to conjure up a world (or to refer to something). It does not make sense to contend that something is not art because it does not use traditional media. That does not prevent a medium from having its own specific possibilities. Thus verbal language is the natural habitat of statements about the world. And it is only most regrettable that in the past decennia the possibilities of the hand-made image have been left widely unexplored.
ALL THAT SHOWS INSIGHT IS NOT SCIENCE
Genuine artists often display an more than acute insight in the deeper stirrings of the human soul or in dimensions of reality that escape normal people or even scientists.
Thus, Dostojevsky conjures up someone who is driven to murder, not out of obvious motives such as hunger or jealousy, but out of a feeling of guilt! However, such deeper insight does not turn Dostojevsky into a psychologist. In order be a psychologist, Dostojewsky should put forward propositions about the relations between guilt and crime, like Freud. And that is quite another matter than telling a story about someone who indulges in crime out of guilt.
THE ONE IMAGE IS NOT THE OTHER
There are those who want us believe that both philosophical and scientific statements and works of art are worldviews, ‘representations’ or ‘images’ of the world (Cassirer, Langer, Wittgenstein, Goodman and so on).
There is a lot of confusion here. In the expressions ‘worldview’, ‘representations of the world’, ‘image of the world’ the words have a totally different meaning according to whether we are dealing with art or with philosophy and science.
As far as art is concerned, the term ‘representation’ means that the world that is conjured up before our eyes is not ‘real’: we cannot touch the Venus of Urbino. That does not prevent us from having the assured impression that she is lying there before our very eyes – at least as long we confine ourselves to mere looking. The painting is not all a representation in the sense of the plan or a map that refers to a real house or landscape. It is neither a mirror that makes us look behind us to lay eyes upon the original, like the beautiful women in Plato’s cave or the royal pair on Velasquez’ ‘Las meninas’. As long as we keep our hands off, the Venus of Urbino is lying there before our very eyes. In this sense, a ‘representation’ or ‘image’ of Venus is Venus itself, not a mere ‘representation’ or ‘image’ of it. That we nevertheless experience the Venus as a mere image, is due to the fact that we accept her to be there only for the eyes, not for the sense of touch.
In strong contrast with art, philosophy and science are most certainly distinct from the reality they are talking about. A proposition is a series of signs on a piece of paper clearly distinguishable form the world to which they refer. That we nevertheless call such a proposition an ‘image’ is due to the age-old and ineradicable phantasmagoria that thoughts (ideas) are images. Nothing is further from the truth. A proposition such as ’the dream is a wish fulfilment’ is not a representation or an image of the world, much rather something like a finger that points to relations between wishes and seemingly meaningless dream images. Propositions are (a mostly very complicated and widely branched off network of) signs ultimately referring via one another to (unexpected of aspects of the) real world. Propositions are no representations (or images) of reality, unless one would stubbornly maintain that the finger pointing to the sun is a representation (or an image) of the sun.
Whoever calls a (system of) sign(s) a ‘representation’ (or an image), is using a metaphor. But it is a rather misleading one: it is not founded in some analogy between a representation and a proposition. Its only reason of existence is that we often use ‘images’ (metaphors) to describe reality. Scientific and philosophical texts brim over with metaphors. But the metaphors used by language or thinking are mere signs: a kind of schemes that help us to focus on some aspect of reality. Whether they are formulated in a pure abstract manner, or make use of more graphic metaphors, proposition about the world are never a representation or an image of reality, even not in an analogical sense.
Thus, there are two different meanings of ‘representation’ or ‘image’. And also the ‘world’ of which we are supposed to get a representation or an image is totally different depending on whether we are dealing with art or with science and philosophy. The philosopher or the scientist are talking about the real world. The artist on the other hand is diverting us from the real world and introducing us in a imaginary, virtual reality. The world of science and philosophy is supposed to be the real world, the world of art is a mere imaginary world.
The idea that art is a representation of the world just like science and philosophy, is facilitated by the fact that art always contains elements borrowed from the real world. Especially when the artist is painting after a model, he does not seem to differ from a researcher looking through the microscope. The print where Dürer is peeping through a hole at the model that he is ‘representing’ on the paper, only fosters the misunderstanding that the image is a mere representation or image of the real world. But precisely the print of Dürer should remind us of the fact that the artist is not making a ‘representation’ or an image of the real world at all. Dürer is only interested in the verisimilitude of the image, because he is conjuring up a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plane. Even the most verisimilar photograph differs from the real world in that he renders present what in the real world has forever been lost.
Also in a deeper sense is the imaginary world a negation of the real world. When dealing with Oedipus Sophocles depicts a world where nobody can escape his destiny. Thereby Sophocles denies the all too obvious fact that, in the real world, people all too often escape the fate that should fall on them. Also Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ presents us an unrealistically beautiful woman that is available day and night. He thereby denies the painful insight that, in the real world, women are not available at will and that they are not of such unparalleled beauty at that.
Thus, a work of art is not a kind of window or looking glass through which we are looking at a real world. Rather is it a kind of screen that we place between us and the real world in order to gain access to an imaginary world. If the work of art borrows elements from the real world, it is only in view of the construction of an imaginary world or to warrant that the image will be taken for real.
In sharp contrast with science and philosophy, art is not out at telling us something about the world. Rather does it want us to close our eyes for it. When art says something about the world at all, then this can only be indirectly deduced – through negation – from what is conjured up in the imaginary world of art. In order to know what an artist thinks about the real world, it suffices to negate the central characteristics of the work of art. Unknowingly – unconsciously - Sophocles is telling us that in the real world many a man all too often escapes the fate that should fall on him. If Sophocles had a ‘message’ about the real world at all, it would sound like a wish: ‘I would like that nobody escapes his fate’. Therein the world conjured up in art resembles the dream: it is a wish fulfilment, or to phrase it otherwise: it is an ‘ideal’ world. Needless to say that in his ‘Waiting for Godot’, also Becket depicts the ideal world for all those who prefer the world to be meaningless. The real world is a little less ideal, since now and then meaningful…
The conclusion must be clear: science is not a representation or an image of the world and art is not a representation or an image of the real world. And above all: the relation between the world that is conjured up in art and the real world is a relation of wish fulfilment, not of ‘reflection’.
THE COBBLER AND HIS LAST
In principle, there is nothing wrong with using a poetical language, metaphors or icons. But, after interpretation, we are all too often saddled with some trivial proposition. We might ask why artists go to such great lengths to formulate their profound insights in such a contrived ‘artistic’ manner. They always remind me of those poor creatures of Swift hat rather went around with the things themselves on their backs as to rely on the words designed for it, which they thought were only poor instruments. The only possible explanation for such waste of energy is perhaps that the artists, after centuries of anti-mimetic iconoclasm in theory and practice – have forgotten what the image was about. Let alone that they were still able to create one.
That there are signs hanging on the wall, should be the writing on the wall!
© Stefan Beyst, 2000
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Background to this text: stefan beyst: theory on art