«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
There continue to be developments within cognitive metaphor theory, such as its coordination with the mapping of the cerebral cortex and most importantly for me, conceptual blending. Gilles Fauconnier in collaboration with Mark Turner created this theory, which ideally supplements Lakoff's theory of metaphor.69 I will be referring to it in later chapters. I began to apply many tools from cognitive metaphor theory to visual art such as "image mapping" and "image schemes." I also find it instructive to see where the vocabulary of
"foundational cognitive metaphors" is at work in the formal, technical, and stylistic aspects of the works of artists.70 Yet the basics of cognitive metaphor theory are most important to me.
Under the inspiration of Lakoff, Johnson and Turner, I made the personal discovery which is the foundation of this dissertation: artists create for themselves new metaphors to live by, which readers or viewers can then also use to think with and live by.
Then there is the story of the two detectives in the Chicago Police Department. One was a naive realist who believed literally in the copy theory of representation. The other was a sophisticated irrealist who believed in the relativity and arbitrariness of representation. Both detectives, it seems, had to be fired from the force: the realist, because he didn't see any need to arrest a suspect if he already had a mug shot; the irrealist, because once he had a mug shot, he started arresting everyone in sight. 71 This joke illustrates well the state of literary and art criticism for some time. I have used this chapter to locate my theory within this situation, mapping the distances between my notions and a variety of philosophers and literary-critical theorists. In addition to these cursorily delineated links, the theory of central trope is grounded in cognitive metaphor theory. Metaphor theory offers a path out of the two "prison houses", or misuses, of language described above in Mitchell's joke. What Th. Emil Homerin has written of metaphor and naive belief in the context of religion holds for the arts as well.
When a myth or belief is no longer accepted as a literal account, whether due to a period of crisis or cultural transition, it may be recast in a new form, humanizing and assimilating more primitive dimensions by the symbolic and evocative nature of metaphor. The primary symbols of a culture are then perceived and colored by the individual consciousness receiving a specific complexion over long periods of time, and their multiple, often subtle, meanings lend themselves to those religious and poetic usages whose function is to establish man's meaningful existence in a seemingly indifferent world. 72 Certain assumptions may, following Homerin's assertion, become more useful, not less.
Artworks which were previously viewed as "inspired oracles of an ecstatic saint" may now be interpreted as "profound descriptions of humanity's existential state." 73 This is not a loss, except perhaps of naïveté, but rather a gain in understanding.
In the next chapter I present the theory that I coalesced out of all my concerns, all my wanderings and my surveying of useful contemporary theories. Following chapters continue to investigate the theory and its application, testing it and thereby perhaps even altering it, in a series of double circles of interaction with artists and artworks, including my own. My theory, "Foundational metaphors," "image-mapping" and "image schemes" are important in all the publications of George Lakoff and his co-scholars. Foundation metaphors were brought to the attention of a wide public first through the book Metaphors We Live By. The best short descriptions of image-mapping and image schemes are in Lakoff and Turner’s More than Cool Reason.
Mitchell, Picture Theory, p. 345.
Th. Emil Homerin, "Echoes of a Thirsty Owl: Death and Afterlife in Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetry," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44, no. 2 (1985), p. 174.
Idem, From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint: Ibn al-Fārid, His Verse, and His Shrine, Studies in Comparative Religion (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1994), p. 96.
Wandering and Surveying 46 which I call metaphor(m) or central trope, I believe, is true for all the arts, literature, visual art, music et al., yet I will be discussing visual art principally. The human, artistic gap between experience and its interpretation is art's proper focal point. The distance between our desire to connect and the complex impossibility of transparent communication or unmediated perception allows tropaic mistakes of wonderful richness.
Wandering and Surveying 47 fig. 6 Cover Chapter Two: Metaphor(m), oil, acrylic and ink on wood, 2009, 40 x 27.5 cm / 16 in x 11 in The Theory of Central Trope 49 CHAPTER TWO The Theory of Central Trope: Metaphor and Meta-Form
Paint, to Paint, a Painting, Painting While conducting my investigation of the available theoretical landscape as outlined in the previous chapter, I realized that my survey of the literature was best conceived of using the metaphor of land surveying, a trope both artistically adaptable and one arising from my
personal experience. This approach suggested a hopefully productive and enjoyable strategy:
that I could frame several chapters in specific metaphors. That each would be seen within that sub-limning, yet contribute to the overriding trope wherein I use the entire dissertation to find, explain, test and explore my theory, resulting in a book and concomitant installation. This artwork is an integral part of my dissertation and the process of its creation, one which embodies the theory of central trope, while also internally reflecting the structure of the whole, by consisting of paintings as singular artworks, as surrounding wall painting and even the final book itself, all of which together will comprise a larger integrated totality as an integrated single installation artwork. Through my research, I became aware of what I was seeking: a theoretical apparatus for understanding the struggles of artists, their achievements, at once both intellectual and concrete, one that had a truth to concrete experience. Experience for me is painting. I am primarily a visual artist, one especially devoted to this discipline, whatever my "expanded" ideas and intellectual interests may be. While discussing this with my advisors, Professor Langlotz pointed out to me that the metaphor of surveying in the previous chapter also brought to his mind the act of painting as a metaphor for what I am doing here. I mentioned this to Professor Ursprung, who agreed. Perhaps this is, to an extent, the elephant in the room that I did not mention — did not even think of until my two professors mentioned it — due to it being so all-prevalent for me. My life revolves around the daily act of painting and has indeed done so since the age of 13. Thus, I may have disregarded its centrality, much as I only notice my dual cultures when they stand out against a background of one another or of a foreign experience. I feel most American in Europe, and highly European in the US now, while each of these becomes transparent to my own perception in its own native confines. Thus in this chapter, which is the centerpiece of my dissertation, I use the process of painting itself as the extended trope, much like a Metaphysical poet's conceit. In this case, it appears most often as a simile, due to the fact that I discuss the composition of my theory as being like the creation of a painting. To playfully outline the allusive potential of painting as a trope, my subtitle above unpacks variations on the word, all of which are parallel in English, but not so much so in some other languages. I mean the material, the action, the object, the activity. In German the phrase would be Farbmittel, malen, ein Bild, die Malerei; in Latin: pigmentum, pingere, tabula, picture.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980; paperback, 1981), p. 153.
The Theory of Central Trope 50 What is indeed the process of painting? It is actually quite unique to each painter, although each of us, of course, thinks his or her variety is the best. A short outline is in order;
elements can be added or subtracted, emphasized or diminished, systematized or extemporized, but the broad sketch remains rather similar. Artists choose their favorite medium, form of paint, (oil, acrylic, alkyd, mixed, a.o.) and support (stretched canvas, panel, wall, a.o.). Then they apply and blend paint, both on a palette and on the surface of the work.
Generally, it is blended before application to some extent on a palette or in containers, then once again upon application. The most important factor is the orchestration of relationships among the various elements; therefore this is the source of the continuous changes and adjustments that are made while painting. For example, each color affects the colors near it.
The whole affects each part. The haptic qualities — thick, thin, glossy, matt, glazed, scumbled, flat — must be drawn into careful accord. These are all coordinated in a give-andtake with the intentions of each artist, those aspects planned and those discovered, within the action of thinking-in-things, thinking-within-the process, a dialogue that is highly dialectical.
What do I want? What can I get the materials to do? What does the evolving object want or force me to do? What can I accept and use of its efficacious energy?
This is indeed an excellent metaphor for theorization and its embodiment. In fact, painting may productively be seen as a synecdoche of the process of theorization in the service of the interpretation of experience — one particularly rich, embodied application of it.
Let us make the comparison explicit. A theoretician or philosopher, or anyone acting in this way (which includes many people, from time to time, not just "professional" thinkers), begins with various givens. These are ideas one finds useful and stimulating in one's own and others' thoughts, acquired by means of reading, listening, discussing, and (most important for a visual artist such as a painter) viewing. These are the theoretical equivalent of the material tubes of paint. Undeniably, some artists chose to return to the older method of making their own paint from the base elements of pigment and binder, while, oppositely, others use whatever is readily available, perhaps even purposefully eschewing the deluxe brands, going for commonplace material, as Robert Rauschenberg did (at least in urban legend) with cans of unmarked paint bought randomly in a hardware store. Most artists mix these approaches, using what can be bought and adding various adaptations and self-made elements as needed.
Analogously, the thinker will use useful ideas of preeminent philosophers, or lesser known eccentrics, also sometimes returning to earlier questions and reforming new answers in their own way. Alternately, a theorist might add several completely fresh materials to the tool kit, inventing new terminology, showing fresh acuity. One example of the importance of this last idea is Arthur Danto's "thought experiment" of the problem of artworks indiscernible from real objects.2 Whatever her particular approach is to received, assembled, original and altered raw materials, the theorist seeks to combine these, applying them to subjects which intrigue her, attempting to apply them in insightfully fresh fashions — as a painter mixes, blends, applies and modifies paints to interpret motifs and content of his own choosing. In both cases the key is the relationships among all these formal and conceptual elements in a dialectic of intention and discovery. In my own case, I became interested in the theoretical aspects underlying practice for several reasons. I wish to understand my own practice and those of my colleagues both contemporary and historical and to defend our practice against theories I found incorrect and dismissive. Most of all, my desire is to find a useful theory which appears
to have a semblance of truth to the experience of painting, whereas so many others seem so far askew, like blind men describing photography.
In the following, while using the trope of the process of painting to describe the creation and substance of my theory, which resulted from my search outlined above, I apply my theory to Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway, a thought experiment to both discover my theory and to test it.
Metaphor and Meta-Form
Let us begin with my palette, in the sense of my range of color. These hues are the recent discoveries in understanding metaphor within the field of cognitive neuroscience, which can be used to compose a useful understanding of artistic process. In the past, two unproductive viewpoints have seen art as solely a matter of the playing out of formal invention or, contrarily, only the charming delivery of important messages. A third, more recent and grave dismissal of visuality and visual art is the "linguistic turn," which is still now predominant, although its stranglehold on the artworld appears to be loosening slightly. The phrase linguistic turn is actually Gustav Bergman's, given new currency by Richard Rorty. 3 This is the postmodern notion that there is no reality outside language, and furthermore, that language is itself arbitrary and only self-referential. This idea has performed the significant work of undercutting claims of a universal standpoint from which to pass judgment on art.