«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 ...»
fig. 63 The Diagram of Leonard Bullock's Metaphor(m) Bullock's works concretize this central trope into a collection of painterly expressions of quandaries with which the theory of metaphor(m) is concerned: How do we know and express anything within a physical artistic form? How do we impel brute reality to manifest our conceptual desires? Antithetically merged with these is the further question: How does interaction with material form allow us to discover our visions — and can we, through art, know at all? He addresses how our lives are informed by the historic past (his haptic allusions to art history), our own pasts (the changes in the strokes), how we have tranquil, stirring and more thorny experiences (the various subsections and surface treatments) — and how a large number of such collections of experience begin to map our life as a whole.
Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 170
A Speech in Turkey In most chapters earlier in this dissertation I applied an invented conceit to each unit individually. This chapter's extended metaphor is an actual relic of use. While working on the rough draft, I was invited to give a speech in Turkey as part of an artist and art student cultural exchange between the Borusan Art Center in Istanbul and the Art Academy of Liechtenstein, where I teach art history and painting. I decided to give this chapter as the speech, thereby testing out my idea on a public new to me before writing it out in full. I also attempted to metaphor(m)ally integrate some of the content of the essay into the structure of the presentation. Moreover, I continue to find inspiration in the integration of form and content in the marvelous book suggested to me by Dr Ursprung, Giuliana Bruno's Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film.2 Therefore, I have decided to keep as much of the original form of the speech as possible in this final draft of the chapter, including the PowerPoint images I used and the phrases I had translated into Turkish for them. As much as I usually despise PowerPoint presentations, I tried to make these accompanying images somewhat entertaining. The inset captions under some of the images are based on the spontaneous short apostrophic comments I made when presenting the images. The pseudoepigraph above clearly reflects this trope in a light-hearted fashion. There were sections of my speech wherein I summarized elements of my dissertation as a whole in order to supply a sense of the context in which this chapter appears. Leaving them in would be unnecessarily repetitive for readers of the whole dissertation. Therefore, I have eliminated them, mentioning that fact in the first instance where this occurred below, or retained, but shortened them when they are necessary to the flow of the speech. Pleasingly, the audience of Turkish artists, art historians and curators was very responsive to my speech (as well as the other two by visual artist and author Peter Stobbe and communications designer Klaus Lürzer). Thus, inspired by the moment, I became more polemical and motivational than I had originally planned. This is a practice I am happy to have learned from African-American preachers. For the printed version here, I have toned this down a bit, but retained the tenor with its gradual intensification toward the conclusion.
This chapter is meant as an aside. I alluded to the idea in Chapter One, on page 26, where I wrote, "Although clearly inspired by Freud, Bloom can be pushed beyond the simplicity of most interpretations of Oedipal father-figure relationships." Below, I describe the possibility of this non-Oedipal interpretation or variation on Harold Bloom's antithetical revisionist theory of agon, of misprision in artistic creativity. Bloom's notion is perspicacious and very influential on my theory of metaphor(m), but I believe an adaptation of it replacing oedipal desire with dialogical call-and-response is even more promising.
Background, Our Artistic Ground As I began my speech in the Borusan Art Center in Istanbul, I said the following. "First, I apologize for not speaking in Turkish. Unfortunately, I only speak English, German and Latin. I do not want to take it for granted that everyone speaks English, but it is my mothertongue, internationally useful, and I thank you for granting me your attention." The projected image above bears the same message in Turkish, which I attempted to read aloud. I then began my presentation.
In my PhD dissertation, now being completed, I present, test and embody my own theory of metaphor in visual art, which I think has a direct bearing on the interaction we are having this week between the Art Academy of Liechtenstein and Istanbul artists connected with the Borusan Art Center. The Title is Metaphor(m): Engaging a Theory of Central Trope in Art. The term metaphor(m) … (That is a representation of a fade-out, as I will spare the current readers the rest of my introduction, as I mentioned above.)
This theory is grounded in the continuing scholarship on conceptual metaphor pioneered by cognitive linguists, particularly George Lakoff, Mark Turner and Mark Johnson.
Especially significant is their assertion that trope is the basis of thought, thus language, which arises from bodily, cultural and environmental experience. Furthermore, creators' personal Artistic Ground 177 and cultural process to discover these individual central tropes is a struggle into which they enter with their precursors, as argued by Harold Bloom in his work on poetic misprision.3 fig. 70 These are portrait sketches of the major philosophers who have influenced my theory.
I agree with literary theorist Harold Bloom that every artist must wrestle with his or her precursors, the ones who inspired them to be artists in the first place, while also struggling against themselves and previous versions of themselves. "Strong" creators, as Bloom calls them, form new and independent spots for their creativity in a continuous conflict which he terms agon. Bloom's thought is very oedipal: from the Oedipus complex (1910), coined by Sigmund Freud from the ancient myth portrayed in Sophocles' play Oedipus Tyrannus, in which the title character, the Theban hero, answers the Sphinx's riddle and unknowingly kills his father and marries his own mother. Overly simplistically described, Bloom's theory contends that artists have a central rivalry with the past, with those artists who came before them.
However, in this speech, I assert that such agonistic, dialectical struggle is more than simply oedipal. Art sometimes advances through homage (think of Jazz) or through wholly new pressures and skirmishes. This is particularly important today, when many of us have
multiple cultures and complex relationships to tradition and anti-tradition. Artists' inherited cultures are wrestled with in complex fashions in their artworks. Creators struggle against their inheritances, yet also pay respect to them, thus using them as material in the construction of their singular identities, in the establishment of the terrain on which they are grounded and, contrarily, from which they journey.
fig. 71 This is a painting of mine based on my own cultural inheritance. On the left, John Lennon in his Beatle days and on the right, Superman, based on the style of his artistic creator, Joe Shuster. I was an 11 year-old Mersey-beat fanatic after the Beatles hit the US. I heard that and saw Superman, and loved my Dad's lettering, and knew I wanted to do "something like that."
Inheritance, roots, are important, particularly to those of us who are bi- or multicultural. A few personal facts as an example: I am seemingly simply an American from the Midwest, Chicago. Yet actually spelled out, I am a German-American, now also Swiss, who grew up mostly influenced by African-American culture in music and religion and Jewish culture in the comics. The strength of the African influence on me was reinforced when my wife and I lived in the Caribbean. My life-long best friend is an American scholar of Islamic poetry and mysticism. Both my American and Swiss cultures alone, in themselves, are actually highly complex mixes of cultures, even if they seldom want to admit this, except in very simplistic platitudes. No matter what the right-wing media tries to label as "unfashionable" or the like, combinations of cultural influences are the wave of all future development. Due to the complexity of Turkish culture and its past, I am certain most of you in this room have similarly multifaceted, interlocking personal roots and influences when you Artistic Ground 179 consider them. Turkey is one of the most promising areas for international — not global — intercultural art.
Cultural Inheritance is, nevertheless, at the very least perceived and colored by the individual and by the particularities of our times and societies. In many ways, we living artists have lost a certain naïve belief in the conventional structures of our inherited cultures, while still retaining them as inner drives. However, this is not necessarily distressing.
In Chapter One of my dissertation I quote the friend I mentioned above, Prof. Th. Emil
Homerin. Repeating him here:
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. 4 Some so-called "lost beliefs" are better seen as returns to the spiritual bases of the principles in ways more humanized and more useful as material for art. They are still factors, but are most valuable when agonistically purposefully misunderstood, proclaimed and answered.
Struggle Also in Chapter One of my dissertation, I describe the heart of Bloom's theory: the concept of a crucial, antithetical agon of each poet, which we can expand to include each artist. Agon is Bloom's expression for the clash occurring due to the anxiety of influence.
Without exception, each artist must wrestle with his or her forerunner, the ones who inspired them to become creators originally. This requires critical conflict, thus Bloom calls it "antithetical." An essential feature of this rivalry is a strong-willed misreading of the precursor's art, which Bloom terms misprision, a word he borrows from Shakespeare: "So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,/" (Sonnet 87).
"Misprision" for Shakespeare, as opposed to "mistaking," implied not only a misunderstanding or misreading but tended also to be a punning word-play suggesting unjust imprisonment. Perhaps "misprision" in Shakespeare also means a scornful underestimation: either way, he took the legal term and gave it an aura of deliberate or willful misinterpretation. 5 Creators create themselves and their works by wrestling with their trepidation about possibly being a laggard. "Strong" artists, using Bloom's adjective, endeavor to capture some part of the position of their ancestor-figures, thus develop a sovereign position for themselves.
This, he claims, is an unremitting engagement, even against oneself. This bestows upon Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, pp. xii-xiii.
Artistic Ground 181 artworks important roots in the achievements of individual artists. Such a focus on "agency" is something which appears self-evidently necessary to me, yet has been ignored or rejected in many contemporary theories. I seek a way to include agency, the conscious contribution creators make, not only in their formal proficiency but also what they have to say, so-called extra-formal concerns.
Respect Philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto writes, One final remark on negation …. Not every artistic tradition is woven out of nihilations of previous art—I do not believe that the history of Chinese art can be understood in those terms at all, inasmuch as Chinese painters not untypically sought to achieve what their predecessors had sought, often by deliberately imitating them. 6
Although clearly inspired by Freud, Bloom can be pushed beyond the simplicity of most interpretations of oedipal father-figure relationships. Rather than in the Greek myth of Oedipus, I see a clearer source for Bloom's thought in Jacob's struggle with the angel (or God)
as described in the Bible7, not detailed in the Qur'an, but discussed by Qur'anic commentators as a walk and debate with an angel; or in the African spirit Eshu, the patron saint of crossroads, who is both young and old simultaneously and who is fond of playing tricks on people for the purpose of causing maturation. The river Jacob crossed to have this important encounter is the Jabbok River, also now called the Zarqa River. The name Jabbok is quite rich in associations, being an aural anagram of Jacob, and meaning "to flow," "to pour out," even "a wrestling."8 Eshu is important as he embodies much of the unity of homage, development, questioning and agon present in African-American artistic expression, particularly Jazz, which inspired this insight in me. Thus, blending the traditions I mentioned, I call my version Jabbok-Eshuian agon. This odd, creole blending is an application of my theory structurally and offers a doorway into two rich storehouses of foundational cognitive metaphors, thus helping to further integrate the Lakoffian and Bloomian facets of the theory of central trope.
Although my own music of choice is aggressive "garage" rock, the Blues (especially Chicago's electric Blues), R&B, or, alternately, experimental music in the classical tradition, Jazz has the most to teach us in visual art. It is the child of the blues, like R&B and Rock, yet has made the most radical and promising structural, compositional discoveries in the history of music as we know it.
fig. 74 (Clicking on the speaker icon in the original PowerPoint image played a sound bite of a Gospel singer/preacher proclaiming and then being answered by the congregation and choir.)