Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

18 June 2018

Dr Great Art Podcast 38: New Historicism in Art





Dr Great Art Podcast, Episode 38: New Historicism in Art.

New Historicism in Art New Historicism or alternately Cultural Materialism, and how its ideas are auspicious for visual metaphor, art history and conceptions of context in visual art. Art History consists of multiple histories, discontinuous and contradictory ones. The heretical response to authoritarian demand is important. Works of art express the problems and alienation of our or any time and place, but also frequently offer expressions of fullness that attack that alienation and help shatter the incrustations of belief forced upon us. Art History should discuss both.
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-38-new-historicism-in-art
#arthistory, #newhistoricism, #heretical

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New Historicism in Art

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 38th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

My artecdote this time is about a direction of theory called New Historicism or alternately Cultural Materialism, and how its ideas are auspicious for visual metaphor, art history and conceptions of context in visual art.

Acknowledging the historic and social situation in which any cultural entity is embedded must be an integral aspect of any useful theory of art. One school of literary theorists who accentuate this is termed either New Historicism or, alternately, Cultural Materialism. These thinkers remind us of the social contextuality of all thought, including their own. This is something which has not often been focused on in the discussions of various Formalist and even Deconstructivist critics, from the exclusively object-oriented theorists who dominated in the 70s when I was first studying art and art history through the solipsistic denials of meaning and agency in Postmodernism of the early 21st century.

New Historicism tries to understand intellectual history and literature through its cultural context. This movement began in the 1980s, primarily in the work of the Stephen Greenblatt, gaining attention 1990s through today. It has not made a very deep impression on visual studies, and I strongly believe this should change.

(By the way, in a concrete application of his ideas I greatly recommend his book The Swerve, a literary detective story about the intrepid Florentine bibliophile named Poggio Braccionlini, who, in 1417, rediscovered a 500-year-old copy of De Rerum Natura and thereby helped launch the Renaissance and modern thought.)

Back to the theory. New Historicists assert that history is of primary importance, yet it is discontinuous and contradictory. Discontinuous and contradictory! Like my Braid-Model of Art History. That is important! It, history, is in fact not an it at all --- rather a they.

History consists of multiple histories. As I developed my own theory of metaphor(m), I felt it crucial to propose the necessity of multiple personal and social histories. Each person's history is invented. It cannot be viewed in a detached fashion, as it is rooted in desire. Furthermore, every individual history is actually an interwoven cable of multiple histories, each representing a contextual role or relationship of that human (class, gender, profession, geographical origin, social position, and so on). The strands twist about one another under the tension of the agon of that specific individual. By person I mean here creator, perceiver, critic, historian and more, even though I emphasize visual artists in my thought, for each of us is all of these and much else at one time or another.

In New Historicism, cultural objects such as literature and art are studied in context in order to recover as many contextual relationships as possible. Basing their thought heavily on the late works of Michel Foucault, these theorists in the U.S. tend to view the situation pessimistically. However, I would concur with their British counterparts, the Cultural Materialists, in interpreting it more positively. Each context itself is a precarious human construct, not just the discreet objects situated therein.

This is manipulable material, too. As both New Historicists and Cultural Materialists have pointed out, there are three possible responses to every authoritarian demand. There is not only the "yes, yes" "I will do that" of the good subject or vassal, but also the "no, no" "I will NOT do that" of the bad subject or dissenter, and most importantly the third modality, the "not in that way" answer of the heretic.

In a similar modality, one may see all three such responses in the development of creators' tropes. There is the good subject who reiterates the accepted metaphors of a time and place, pasting together available tropes. Depending on the circumstances, this can be culturally affirming or it can lead to academic doggerel or kitsch. Second, there is the trope created by the bad subject, which actively denies or negates metaphors generally taken for granted. Such a rebuttal also may lead in two directions. Either it is a stirring criticism suggesting new options of thought, or it results in a clichéd expression of simplistic nihilism. Finally, there is the third modality, which I seek to emphasize in my theory. This creator repudiates the unacceptable metaphors by questioning and bending them into surprises of new insight. Such artists tell us "not in the way commanded" and then carry on, showing us a new way to conceive of the experience under discussion.

Louis A. Montrose in "Professing the Renaissance," has described the New Historicism as the "poetics and politics of culture," and shown how this quickly leads to questions of political power and its effects on literature and art. The Marxist Fredric Jameson is the theorist most rigorously analyzing the political aspects of culture, and he has originated an especially astute form of dialectical criticism. He attempts to view the individual, whether author or reader, within a larger context, particularly within social structures, while keeping an eye on the present and his own ideological position. Jameson has suggested that positions taken in postmodernism "can be shown to articulate visions of history, in which the evaluation of the social moment in which we live today is the object of an essentially political affirmation or repudiation."

According to Jameson, perceivers as well as creators of art works are clearly subjective, even fragmented and suppressed. Nevertheless, works of art and literature express the alienated condition of our time and yet also compensate for certain aspects of this loss through alternative offerings of fullness. This can be interpolated to be true of reception and interpretation as well. It is impossible to completely step outside the fact of our subjective perception, but works of art can assist us in rupturing the casings which continuously threaten to surround us --- formed from the incrustations of our unquestioned assumptions. This action can bring about a widening of our subjective experience,

Thus, I believe such perceptions inNew Historicism, offers some fresh vantagepoints from which to study and create visual art and visual metaphor.

Art History consists of multiple histories, discontinuous and contradictory ones.
Context is all-important.

The heretical response to authoritarian demand, the "not in the way you want" respond, is more useful than simply following orders or even simply saying "no."

Ones own position and history must be clearly expressed and critiqued when critiquing others.

Works of art express the problems and alienation of our or any time and place, but also frequently offer expressions of fullness that attack that alienation and help shatter the incrustations of belief forced upon us. Art History should discuss both.

And this, I assert, artists accomplish through visual metaphors and visual metaphor(m)s in visual works of art.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 38.
New Historicism in Art

If you enjoy my podcasts, please go to Apple podcasts and give me 5 stars and a recommendation! It helps others find this podcast. Additionally, if you have any questions or requests for topics, please feel free to contact me with them! I'd truly enjoy covering them!

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also, I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

You can find or contact me at

www.drgreatart.com/ (spell)

book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.







04 June 2018

Dr Great Art Podcast episode 37: Originality in Art





The new Dr Great Art podcast. Episode 37: Originality in Art, Tradition vs. Innovation
Does originality in art even exist? A Matt Ballou listener request. "Make it new!" has certainly become old. Yet, the Postmodernist demand that a lack of originality be heralded as something new is duplicitous. A discussion of originality in art.
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-37-originality-in-art
#arthistory #originality #drgreatart #markstaffbrandl



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Dr Great Art Podcast 37

Originality in Art

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 37th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

My artecdote this time is a complex one. It is about originality in art. It arises from a request from listener Matt Ballou. Matt is a very good painter as well as a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Missouri. First let me say, I appreciate his request very much! Please feel free to do so yourself about other topics.

Matt Ballou‎ to me on Facebook:

He wrote,
"Mark, I’m still loving Dr. Great Art! Topic suggestion: the myth of originality. You’ve used the term in a basic way before, but I’m sure you have more nuanced things to say. Personally, I find the very idea of originality odious and mistaken; we may impart a unique inflection to received knowledge, remixing and repurposing ideas/associations/structures, but any claim of complete newness or originality is meaningless for a lot of reasons. I’d love to hear you explore some of these ideas."

Thanks Matt. A great question, and indeed and old and important one. Tradition vs. innovation. First, yes I believe in originality. But it IS much more complex than usually imagined. I suspect you are objecting to the standard way the idea is bandied about, in a Romanticist, misty, silly fashion.

The common question is "Should artists bow to tradition, or should they break all the rules?" it is not as binary and simple as that! Other important questions immediately arise: Do they mix these? What is up with all that? Are there degrees of originality? And many more questions. Each of which could make a fun podcast.

The basic question is murkier now than ever before. One problem is that much contemporary art isn't original. Even copying has been done before, as Jonathan Jones has wittily written. Modernism worshipped originality, and often succeeded in reaching it. Yet it led to an impasse in many ways.

As I said in my podcast on art mottos, episode number 2, "Make It New" became a model of change, of renaissance and renewal. It brought us revolutionary techniques, composition and thought. No demonstrations of boring old academic ideas in stolen Raphael clothing, no endless kings, history, mythological or religious pantomimes. Indeed, they really meant "Make it original! Make it now!"

And YET! "Make it new!" became old. Even new was no longer new. The endless striving for newness in many artists became mere production of novelties in the worst sense.

Rather than making "Make it New" new again, many Postmodernists decided to use the fact of lack of originality as an element of meaning. Cynically, unfortunately, many hypocritically demand that their lack of originality be heralded as something great and new. It becomes all about the marketing of the illusion of newness.

Nevertheless, historically and contemporarily, there have been works of great originality and works lacking all originality. The second usually have more success in the moment. The first, more success over time. The artworld at the moment does not truly reward for originality. Or worse for quality. People in it CLAIM to do so, but in general they do not. Artists are rewarded for doing the opposite, for being highly consensus-correct with just a tiny, tiny dash of ever-so-microscopic difference. After all, "Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers," as Mignon McLaughlin wrote.

To get back to Matt's thought, originality is far more than mere newness. The worship of newness in and of itself is what I think he is rebelling against. Originality is culturally contingent and personal. Thus, contrarily, always in a dialogue and with knowledge of tradition --- and I mean that in the widest form: history, techniques, metaphors and more.

David Hare has astutely observed that originality often "either passes unnoticed or is considered to be a mistake. In the arts it is noticed and approved, precisely at that moment when it is on its way to becoming unoriginal."

We must be careful not to impoverish art though by limiting it to current consensus-correct ideas of academistically-understood novelty. For example, Adorno (in contrast to Ortega) rather snootily asserts that whatever appeals to more popular experience, or anything not based on just his own specific context and definition of "being erudite" is relegated to a sub-artistic realm and pejoratively labeled kitsch or entertainment. He's wrong. Knowledge, especially of history and current approaches is important. Tradition. The problem is the exclusionary presumption that tradition mixed with novelty in his odd-ball way exhausts the realm of legitimate art.

The concept of originality became an ideal in Western culture from the 18th century till roughly the beginning of Postmodernism, circa 1979. In contrast, before that, it was common to appreciate the similarity with admired classical works, such as Michelangelo's Sleeping Cupid I discussed in podcast number 33. Shakespeare suggested avoiding "unnecessary invention."

HOWEVER, there are works, entire works or elements of them, that strike us for centuries as being of unique style and substance, springing creatively from what has come before or was around them in their time, yet taking it markedly farther in a surprising direction. As an example, this can be found in Rembrandt, "whose late works took [him] into realms even more daring than those [he] had penetrated earlier in [his] career," as Richard Cork has written.

This was, though, almost never the goal of the artists, if you trust their own writings and comments. It was usually a wonderful by-product of artists becoming ever-more-deeply themselves through the practice of creating art. Originality is one of those things like QUALITY, the word so many are afraid of, which are hard, if not impossible, to nail down, and yet with a developed, experienced eye, one sees their presence.

This is also how much law works. Indeed, In the Copyright Law of the United States, the work that is sought to be protected must satisfy a threshold for originality. This is then judged through argument by a group of experts. No hard and fast rules, but obvious presence. Right now, I assert, it is innovative to use tradition! As odd as that sounds.

Brian Sherwin perceptively declares that in his opinion, "the reality of art in general is that it is a process of building from one generation to the next. …Every work of art is a continuation of our collective story -- and as any avid reader knows... some stories are better than others."

And YET, there are stories and works that are surprising. That feel unique AND "of the tradition." We feel their subtle, personal, "dues-been-paid" individuality. Their "unique inflection" is important. This often comes of the indirect process of finding new tropes, startlingly unexpected metaphors and metaphor(m)s.

"If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter that conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to. Much of cultural change arises from the introduction of new metaphorical concepts and the loss of old ones." As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have written.

So, Matt, yes, I think originality exists and is wonderful. But it is not a Romanticist-envisioned lightning-bolt from heaven, so I appreciate your mistrust. It is rather an important uniqueness that derives, certainly not by design, from a dialogue with, toward and against tradition, both cultural and personal. It is smaller than the Romantics thought, but far important that Postmodernists think.

"Make it your OWN, make it matter." Make it personal, but with the call-and-response acknowledgement of those before, and a vison of those after, you --- as in jazz. And that will be dialectical dialogue with tradition and with innovation. This is the agonistic, quintessentially antithetical stance of much art, that I discussed last podcast episode. I hope this circuitous (sir-que-it-tus) discussion comes close to what you wanted Matt! Thanks for the GREAT suggestion!

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 37.
Originality in Art

If you enjoy my podcasts, please go to Apple podcasts and give me 5 stars and a recommendation! It helps others find this podcast. Additionally, if you have any questions or requests for topics, such as Matt did, please feel free to contact me with them! I'd truly enjoy covering them!

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also, I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

You can find or contact me at

www.drgreatart.com/ (spell)

book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.



Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 36: Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical






The newest Dr Great Art Podcast. Episode 36: Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical.
Paintings and novels, far from being hidebound, as is often squawked, are quintessentially antithetical: excellent disciplines for new metaphoric thought. They are ideally adversarial. They incorporate, use and criticize. They have achieved a condition of being perpetually "genres undermined." They have been in a permanent state of crisis for a minimum of several hundred years. What more could one ask for as a difficult, challenging and rewarding fray?
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-36-paintings-and-novel…
#arthistory #painting #novel
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Dr Great Art Podcast 36 36

Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical

Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical: Excellent Disciplines for New Metaphoric Thought

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 36th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

My artecdote this time concerns how paintings and novels, far from being hidebound, as is often squawked, are quintessentially antithetical: excellent disciplines for new metaphoric thought.

First a quick quotation:
"A culture of experience, of thinking, of consciousness. Correspondingly, the progress of humanity can only be achieved through progressive thinking, anticipatory thinking, imaginative thinking and an alteration of behavior –…– only as the result of a change of consciousness. The famous "do-able" or "make-able" — we must transfer this from the technological dimension into the cerebral dimension.)" --- by Christian Doelker, from his book Kulturtechnik Fernsehen — Analyse eines Mediens, translation from German by me.

Eine Kultur der Erfahrung, des Denkens, des Bewusstseins. Entsprechend sind Fortschritte des Menschen nur zu erzielen durch ein fortschreitendes Denken, ein antizipierendes Denken, ein imaginatives Denken und eine Veränderung des Verhaltens –…– nur als Folge eines Bewusstseinswandels. Das berühmte “Machbare” — wir müssen es aus der technologischen Dimension in die geistige Dimension verlegen.



Painting and the Novel: Antithesis



Whereas both media theorist Christian Doelker and I have been known to claim that new media "demand" a certain learnedness, this is exaggeration. Rather, they offer opportunities. 'Demand' makes these technological developments sound all-important and dictatorial. Such language is symptomatic of a common affliction: the adoration of new media, new technology, new toys. We must stop worshiping or reproaching our tools and begin to use them. Their importance is in their application — the philosophies and expressions they embody. Significance can often be better thought through in conditions of self-imposed circumscription, testing and transgressing the boundaries of received deliberation. In this light the so-called traditional media of painting and the novel are the major league of discourse in many ways.

There are numerous other reasons to choose to work in or study these two, painting and the novel, here are a few:

- slightly more resistance than newer forms to the vagaries of trendiness,
- self-reliance in production,
- proven philosophical openness,
- sheer presence,
- anti-Puritanical sensuality,
- a tradition of shedding the skin of tradition itself,
- a confidence in redefinition rather than cultural amnesia and ignorance.

As I discovered after moving to Switzerland from the US, one reason often cited in Europe for painting or writing novels, or alternately for not doing so, is simply stated as "tradition." I fervently take exception with this. "Tradition" used so abstractly has no identity other than that of a bothersome insect. The standard street myth is that Europeans are borne down creatively by their (wonderful) tradition, while Americans are freed to be so creative by their total lack of one. This is self-imposed self-aggrandizement by both continental groups. Citizens of the New World have tradition — many traditions, almost all European ones and more. They are the descendants of the Old World, not from another planet. If Europeans have it, so do they. PLUS, African traditions, Asian ones, Native American ones and more.

Additionally, North America is concomitantly not "freer," no matter how frequently they assert that. For most minor artists and authors I have met on both these continents tradition today, this seems to mean only a feeling of a burden, loaded with little actual historical knowledge at all. What is needed is knowledge without a debilitating sense of a weight — dialogue with and against tradition, as I have discussed previously and often. And one major reason for my teaching of Art History and for the whole Dr Great Art project.

Painting and the novel offer good conditions for this in the sheer opposition they present to the creator.

True, earlier in the century there was too much emphasis placed on these two media and this was exploited to be dismissive of many others. Yet, as noted, there is an equally counter-productive inversion at work now. Early photographers, e.g., honored painting to an extreme. The best found their way out of this. Peter Halter describes the solution to this problem for photographer Paul Strand.

"In regard to painting this meant that as a photographer one should learn from it rather than try to imitate it, as was common…at the time…."

Now "new" media — anything new — may be glorified merely for the fact of technological newness. We in the art and literary worlds have too often only memorized the idea of a "burden," creating for it an illusory existence.

Paintings and novels are quintessentially antithetical. Ideally adversarial. They incorporate, use and criticize. They have achieved a condition of being perpetually "genres undermined."

Painting and the novel are artistic disciplines and forms which have a history of sabotaging themselves. They are in a constant state of crisis. This makes them fertile ground for the application of my metaphor(m) theory and for testing the broadness of the extended text concept. One self-critique: I have stated this in the odd passive construction so common to art critics, speaking of what "painting" or "the novel" does, when clearly that is a metonymy — it is painters and authors who do things, which then exist embodied in paintings and novels. Painters and novelists are deeply involved in a dialogue with and against the past. Let me cite Harold Bloom:

"…I cite again the Emersonian difference, which is to say, the American difference: a diachronic rhetoric, set not only against past tropes, as in Nietzsche, but against the pastness of trope itself, and so against the limitations of traditional rhetoric."

I would purport that in our period this is the condition of the awake perceiver everywhere. Bloom's insight is deep, and it is Emersonian, but by no means is this limited to one country as he presumes. The pastness of trope must be wrestled with and overcome. Each painter and novelist must struggle with his or her daemon, who is the angel, who is the attendant spirit (from Latin, genius), perhaps even genie: the precursor, god and self. Space is fought for and won with blood, not avoided with new toys incorporating dead ideas. This ineffable spar is the only way to occupy the holy ground of the other, finally creating one's own sacred space. As I have discussed in a previous podcast, Nr 34, I believe this struggle should now be reinterpreted, away from Bloom's oedipal, joust-like view and be visualized as a critical public dialogue, modeled on call-and-response. All the same, the necessary exertion remains.

New media are important, nevertheless! Do not get me wrong --- especially as they can create opportunities for new philosophical and formal inventiveness (e.g. sequentiality in comics, public immersion in interactive media). Traditional forms and formats now have aspects of new media and vice versa. Notions are best transported to other realms in order to facilitate the greatest concentration: in other formats, within contrasting aesthetic objects and in surprising relationships.

One such new conception, in many ways stimulated by the presence in our lives nowadays of a vast array of media and approaches, often simultaneously, is my notion of "Mongrel Art." Mongrel art antipuristically, syncretistically unifies varieties of artforms, disciplines, tendencies and philosophies into imaginative wholes. Like healthy dogs of mixed, indeterminant breeds. Or to jumpcut to another metaphor, the opposite of the "hothouse flowers" that so much Late Modern and Postmodern artworks are.

Rudolph Arnheim has shown that the forces of composition themselves, especially as gestalts, have psychological force, hence convey meaning. Structure itself can embody disparate, complicated, even contradictory meanings. Cognitive science and metaphor theory have expanded and grounded Arnheim's insight.

Painting and the novel have been in a permanent state of crisis for a minimum of several hundred years. What more could one ask for as a difficult, challenging and rewarding fray?

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 36.
Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical

If you enjoy my podcasts, please go to Apple podcasts and give me 5 stars and a recommendation! It helps others find this podcast. Additionally, if you have any questions or requests for topics, please feel free to contact me with them! I'd truly enjoy covering them!

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also, I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

You can find or contact me at

www.drgreatart.com/ (spell)

book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

Dr Great Art Episode 35: Lakoff; Art and Cognitive, Embodied Metaphor Theory



The newest Dr Great Art Podcast. "Episode 35: Lakoff, Art and Cognitive Metaphor"
Metaphor is the basis of thought, which importantly arises from bodily, cultural and environmental experience. It is embodied in the body, in the world and in the expressions of it, such as visual art. Metaphors we live and create by. George Lakoff and Cognitive, Embodied Metaphor Theory for Art.
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-35-lakoff-art-and-cogn…
#metaphor #arthistory #lakoff
Mark G. Taber, George Lakoff

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Dr Great Art Podcast 35

Lakoff; Art and Cognitive, Embodied Metaphor Theory

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 35th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

This episode is another more theoretical one. My artecdote this time concerns A Little About George Lakoff and Cognitive, Embodied Metaphor Theory.

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society. Lakoff is an American cognitive linguist and philosopher, known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the cognitive, embodied metaphors they use to explain their lives to themselves. This conceptual metaphor thesis, was introduced in his and Mark Johnson's 1980 book Metaphors We Live By.

As Lakoff has written: "Theories are constructed objects. 'They assembled a theory.'

Lakoff, who began as a student of Noam Chomsky, initiated research which led to the creation of an important interdisciplinary study of metaphor, now generally called cognitive linguistics. Such cognitive linguistics, especially the subdivision called cognitive metaphor, is largely based on the ground-breaking work of George Lakoff and his two collaborators, Mark Turner and Mark Johnson. Theorists involved in this approach, including me, advance the hypotheses that metaphor is the foundation of all thought, that linguistic elements are conceptually processed and that language is chiefly determined by bodily and environmental experiences. Metaphor as a thought process, with language being only one result of that. Art being another.

Although first appearing in the late 80’s, cognitive metaphor and embodied mind theory took until the turn of the millennium to begin affecting the practice and understanding of creators and scholars.

Mark G. Taber and I in out Metaphor and Art website (www.metaphorandart.com) try in our own small way in this website to help spread the word, as it were. I wrote my PhD dissertation using my version of this theory as applied to art and art history, and am writing a book of aesthetic philosophy at the moment for Bloomsbury Press, also based in this reasoning.

Cognitive Metaphor is still far too little known by visual artists, curators and critics. The desire for an imminent fundamental change linked to a new understanding of trope is indeed in the air, not only for me; ever more frequently, artists and authors have begun to refer to metaphor and cognitive metaphor theory.

Cognitive linguistics and Harold Bloom's revisionism were a revelation to me. I found Bloom’s notion of agon to supplement Lakoffian conceptions splendidly. Bloom sees the primal activity of the creative life as one of struggling with and overcoming one’s influences by revisionistically, willfully and yet imaginatively misunderstanding them. In cognitive linguistics and agonistic revisionism, I discovered theories which read true to my experiences and additionally offered openings to the world, criticizing the solipsism and sophistry of much other current literary theory by, among other strengths, subsuming their rivals’ insights. I discussed my adaptation of Bloom’s theory in my last podcast, number 34, titled "Artistic Agon: Eshu not Oedipus."

Lakoffian cognitive metaphor theory asserts that metaphor is a matter of thought and not only, indeed only secondarily, of language. Trope, --- the actual general term for all forms of metaphor, --- trope is the basis of thought, thus language, which importantly arises from bodily, cultural and environmental experience It is embodied in the body, in the world and in the expressions of it, visual or other forms.

Metaphor, as Lakoff and Johnson explained, is a fundamental mechanism of thought, one that allows us to use physical and social experience to understand other objects and events. Such metaphors therefore structure our most crucial understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by, " often shaping our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. However, we can concentrate on them, notice them, and actively seek to improve our understanding through them. This occurs usually through the arts, wherein we discover new vantage points on our experiences.

What is important here is the free play of tropes. The fascination and excitement of encountering and applying new conceptual systems can lead to productive discoveries, both in the hands of creators and of scholars, whatever their final political status becomes. Applying novel theories can produce new discernments into literature and art contemporary with a given philosophy, but also into aspects of the nature of creativity across a broader time span.

Lakoffian theory offers, at this time, an atypical model, in that it acknowledges agency, that is, it recognizes the individuals who make art experiences. This renders a chance to investigate and speculate on the nuts-and-bolts of creation. The cognitive theory of metaphor is also unusual in that it is a linguistic theory more concerned with concepts than with words alone, thus fostering application to a wide range of art forms. An important facet of cognitive linguistic theory is that metaphors are embodied, that is, that mental concepts are constructed tropaically out of bodily experiences. These foundational perceptions can furthermore lead to what he terms "image schemas," which can then be used to structure somewhat less physical events. This has potentially significant implications for the poet, the painter, the novelist, the critic and the scholar. It is indeed one of the main tools I have chosen to employ in my theories. In my dissertation and in my articles and my podcasts here, Lakoffian theory was and will be applied to the competitive discovery of trope within aspects of form in visual art.

Lakoff believes that a proper appreciation for metaphor cuts through the perpetual clash between the so-called "objective" view of trope (that it is purely literary, almost decorative) and the so-called "subjective" view (that it has no direct tie to experience). He promotes an alternative that stresses the centrality of metaphor to our thinking processes, and thereby to our language and other actions. Hence, I see cognitive metaphor theory similarly offering an alternative to Formalism and Poststructuralism by subsuming them both. Thus, my theory of metaphor(m), or central trope in art, to also be discussed in depth in a future podcast, is derived from cognitive linguistics as a method of augmenting the range of poststructural thought and revivifying appreciation of the formal discoveries of authors and artists.

What we can learn from Lakoff. Metaphor is a thought process above all. Tropes of all forms are embodied, cognitive and based on a small number of foundational tropes arising out of lived experience. Metaphors are essential, not decorative. Metaphors can be limiting, freeing, and even consciously changed, assumed, or abandoned. New ones can and must be created especially in artworks.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 35.
A Little About Lakoff; Art and Cognitive, Embodied Metaphor Theory

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