Image & Contemporary Art
this point in time writing about the pains of image making,
crafting a text that has a clear beginning and a clear ending,
a piece in which words within a sentence and sentences within
the text have undissolveable organic connections seems very
difficult. I must confess at the very beginning that I want
to make a contract with the reader for the impossibility of
such an attempt. Giacometti also makes such a contract in Etricts.
(1) Perhaps the text will become of flesh
and blood, and will create its own rhytm and laws.
Goya, “Great Deeds! Against the Dead”, 1810-20,
Sensation Exhibit Catalog (London, 1999).
Karasu once said that we are devoted to our images (2).
Any “attack”, or anything that we might perceive
as an attack on those images, would put us into a very defensive
mode. These attacks which are very subtle, most frequently happen
in visual arts, particularly in contemporary art practices.
As in Kant’s inner critique of the mind, I will put ourselves
through such a process without a defensive posture to show how
we have become stuck in this difficult terrain. I will put some
effort to understand our limits in image making and I will simply
try to accept our fate.
want to start with the literary claims over visual ones. W.J.T.
Mitchell (3) compares painting and sculpture
to poetry which can speak. He suggests that these two art forms
have similar limitations and lackings which are products of
their manipulation of the material for the sake of expression.
Bilge Karasu sees novel as worthy of first place in creating
images since novels can construct history or future within the
current context through today’s eyes. He perceieves history
not as an ordinary story of the future but as a canvas where
countless image strands ranging from individual to cultural-historical
frameworks parade. “Novel is a manifold image creater.
Descriptions [in a novel] and limitations of the act of describing
brings us to other images”(4). Cultural
history is in a sense the history of conflict, a struggle for
the upper hand between pictorial and linguistic images. There
is a word for every suggestion and a natural image for each
word. “Word” is an expressive image. Was the literary
always superior to visual? For example, for Diderot the important
thing in a painting is to find the text in its root. Consequently
to write a critique of a painting (which simultaneously means
image-reading) is a very normal act since painting in general
is a critique of a text (5).
Jake and Dinos Chapman, “Great Deeds! Against the Dead”,
1994, mixed media with plinth, 277x244x152 cm. Sensation Exhibit
Catalog (London, 1999).
the other hand, indicators within a text can turn into images,
can become meaningful structures, can connect to cause-effect
relationships and at the end the text may become something that
we perceive as a story. “Word” is the ‘Other’
of the image and therefore conceptual art is inclined towards
text. We see attempts at making visual representations of the
literary, or visual and literary presented together in some
examples of current art practices. Freud, for example, talks
about earlier paintings with labels and description of places
over figures by the painter. This, Freud suggests, happened
when the painter lost hope of presenting his/her ideas through
image, through painting. The reason is the closeness of indicators
in a literary text with the concept of “image.”
Gregory Markopoulos interrupts voice as he appends it to the
visual in his discussion of the clash between “word”
and “image,” our inability to realize the poetic
connection between “voice” and “image.”
Consequently current art is mostly figurative. It is figurative
in order to enable a semantic connection between objects and
the real world.
not all aspects of language are reflected within visual arts.
Images can deviate. ”For example, in music or in painting,
a meaningful relationship among elements of the communication
order is not a necessity as it is in the literary arts”
competitor, aside from literature, is cinema. From the most
commercial to the most artistic, image in plastic arts, both
in terms of its surprise and shock elements, has this misfortune.
Images are packets of stimulus that aim to evoke understanding
in an audience. Effect is the outcome of experiences of the
audience with the visual image (which stems from the presumed
belief in the meaningfulness of the message). Art that seeks
informing however desires to reach out to “time”
surpassing intellectualism and it must extend since surprise
and shock elements inevitably will position image against ultra
technological games (video, CD-Rom games, and visual effects
in video clips, science fiction and fantastical cinema)
art prefers to free itself of rigid systems, to blend in with
the prosaic, and to bring its contradictions to our life experiences
through its use of daily language. The use of image in contemporary
art, the informing and deviating effect it poses on us inevitably
forces us to face with the old examples of the past, because
contemporary art perceives image to be the starting point for
the process of comprehension that allows for the discovery of
ties between humans and life.
Gillian Wearing, “I’m Desperate”, 1995, photo-performance,
(Art-ist Güncel Sanat Seckisi, No. 2, Ístanbul,
art wants to affect but this effect is beyond informing and
inviting us to think. When Gillian Wearing gave blank cardboards
to people on the street and requested them to write about themselves,
his photo-performance was limited to invention and the momentary
effect of such event.
area contemporary art scene is close to is the language of advertising.
Advertising uses a language in which the indicators are transmitted
directly without diversion to create a more satisfactory result
in quick read of the message. Art on the other hand believes
in going further than the product but in reality this seems
impossible because the necessity of the notion of a mind that
operates as a utility (that takes us further) is not what it
used to be anymore.
art, after all, become an object of knowledge? Or to what extend
can it be transformed into an object of knowledge? Knowledge
has lost its old mystery since it has become easily accessible
with ultra-technology. The chess the image has fallen into in
contemporary art stems from the extinction of rich metaphors
that would require iconographic readings. Contemporary art now
seeks to find the path to reach such images with metaphorical
richness in re-using „the used images.“ It is, at
this point, no coincidence that the text is becoming a shelter.
A familiar kind of soultion, from time to time, is to ask for
the help of the great images of the old times.
conclusion a contemporary artwork reaches does not make us say,
„well, this is the Truth.“ Indeed, there is no Truth
it chases. Instead of the Truth, such artistic creations are
being pulled into a paradigm in which humans define themselves.
Because of the opinion that the Truth, itself, is a weak ideal
more like a veiled egoism or because of a subjective approach
that sees moral judgements as sole reflections that cannot be
altered by reasoning regardless of the structure of contemporary
ideals, this paradigm can be considered as a dead-end. For approximatley
two centuries there has been a tendency to heroize the artist,
to see in his/her life as the essence of being human, and to
respect him/her as an oracle, a creator of the cultural values.
Yet, there is a point at which the old and the new coincides:
art is still defined as essentially an imitation toward the
Truth „mimesis“ ... (yet) discovering oneself requires
something more than mimicry: imagination. We think of people
who obtain originality in life as „creative.“ Here,
the way we define the lifes of non-artists in terms of art is
in tune with our tendency of seeing artists as paradigmatic
individuals that can define themselves (7).
Baltazar Torres, “Landscape in Progress”, 2000,
mixed media, 78x145x70 cm
(Catalog, Christian Marinotti Edition, Fine Arts Unternehmen
Books, Milano, 2002)
the readability of images will diminish when their clarity is
increased, the metaphoric propositions seem like the only solution
(or should we get rid of all images completely?). Perhaps, what
I really want to say is that images might re-own their attraction
when deprived of their aims such as surprising and shocking,
because shocking and surprising are temporary and momentory.
says, „formalistic concepts cannot be expressed through
functions like essential concepts, because their signifiers
(the formalistic properties) cannot be verbilized through functions.
The verbalization of formalistic qualities is a line of particular
symbols“ (8). Contemporary art has
given up chasing „beauty,“ because beauty inevitably
leaves us face to face with the concept of „art piece“
which belongs to aesthetics. On the other hand, since contemporary
art did not put aesthetic solely in its center, it directly
appropriated the concept of „ art work.“
times our mental phase gets so exhausted that our intellect,
tired of decoding, can really not find in itself the energy
necessary to get surprised. Today this is the only danger that
faces the video-art with complex plots: „fatigue of the
do we surprise when we see odd things? Do we really believe
that the creations of Bosch, Goya, or Arcimboldo do not surprise
anymore? Can this be a careless belief? There is something we
forget: the fact that the shocking effect they awoke at the
time they were made was peculiar to that time and that we cannot
perceive that time with the indicators of now. This point has
always been a difficult topic to mention in art history. Conclusion,
with an authoritative tone, is that surprise can become very
normal tomorrow. Then we should in advance accept that contemporary
art does not have an aim to reach out to the future. In our
day, all the ways of art making have came to the sour recipe
of postmodernizm: old and new, they are both legitamate. Who
can claim that a 16th century painting technique or modeling
clay contradict with the practice of contemporary art anymore?
Are these true evidences to draw a portrait of our fate? “No,”
for now. Like the times we live in, our fate will also change
and others will try drawing other portraits.
here to go back to your place in the article.
(3) Mitchell, J. T. ““Image and Word” and
“Mute Poetry and Blind Painting”” in Art
in Theory: 1900-1990, Charles Harrison & Paul Wood
(4) Karasu, Bilge. Ne Kitapsız Ne Kedisiz. Metis
Yayınları, İstanbul, 1994.
(5) Butor, Michel. Michel Butor Üzerine Dogaçlamalar,
translated by İsmail Yergüz. Yapı Kredi Yayınları,
(6) Göktürk, Aksit. Okuma Ugrası. İnkılap
Kitabevi, İstanbul, 1988).
(7) Taylor, Charles. Modernliğin
Sıkıntıları, P. 51. Ayrıntı
Yayınları, İstanbul, 1995.
(8) Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated
by Oruç Aruoba. Yapı Kredi Yayınları,
Kılıç & Özgür
article has been adapted and translated from a piece published
earlier in Turkish. For the original text published in Turkish
please see Art-Íst Guncel Sanat Seçkisi,
Issue 3, Ístanbul, December 1999.