MSB brainstorming

04 June 2018

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.…
#metaphor #arthistory #lakoff
Mark G. Taber, George Lakoff


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 ( 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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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.

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