Unreal Nature

January 19, 2016

A Mythology of the Visible

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… it plainly records its own genesis in all its phases and steps up its power of expression by the very fact of leaving an open record of its material creation.

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

… What is being challenged, in addition to representation, is the primacy of the eye, which may probably be taken as the essential characteristic of the figurative arts in the West. Painting, sculpture and decoration have of course to be perceived in the first place by the eye. But in cultures alien or anterior to ours they often merely pass through the eye in order to refer back to beings or meanings which do not belong to the visible world. Such is the case with all artworks invested with a religious, magic or mystical purpose.

[line break added] Historians of civilization have often pointed out that acoustic, tactile and olfactory sensations had in the Middle Ages an importance scarcely imaginable today. Generally speaking, without there being any need to go into the physiology of vision and all of the photochemical processes that serve to produce an optical image, each of us is well aware of all that the image owes to the participation of the body. Countless phenomenological and psychoanalytical analyses have laid bare the proprioceptive, motor, gestural and tactile determinants underlying visual perception.

[line break added] Representation in its purely optical form is never any more than the final stabilization of a perceptual meaning to which all the senses have contributed in an initial undifferentiation. This is realized when the visual function comes into action without any objective point of support for it; that is, in a febrile, hallucinatory or “psychedelic” state. Then the most lavish pictures can be conjured up by a noise, a smell, a physical sensation.

… The image as conceived in our culture postulates an initial presence which, however, receives its pattern from that image, so that we are left to refer back from one to the other as if caught between two mirrors.

… The operation whereby the outlines and colors of an object are detached and treated as its equivalents in a system of representation is in some ways analogous to the operation whereby gold is distinguished from other matter and used as the sole monetary standard. Perhaps in our culture there is a fetishism of the visible just as there is a fetishism of money.

Art Brut gives rise to what might be called a mythology of the visible. Because, on the one hand, it leaves the work with its non-optical components and connotations intact; and because, on the other, it plainly records its own genesis in all its phases and steps up its power of expression by the very fact of leaving an open record of its material creation. By reversing the relation between reality and image, it challenges the prevailing system of representation.

My most recent previous post from Thévoz’s book is here.

-Julie

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