«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 ...»
aspects coming in and out of focus; hidden roads; ignored elements; mainstream currents;
discontinuities where a path ends, yet begins again later; non-teleological — and yet with forms of development, not a static mass; where there is indeed historical change, movement and direction. I took my clues from comics, and my terminology from mass-media theorist Christian Doelker. (A concern with the overlap of philosophy, comics and "fine" art of course returns me to the interests within my own artworks.) I published two essays on Carrier's book The Aesthetics of Comics in 2001 and 2003.52 I found the book very intellectually stimulating as was my long email exchange with Carrier in which I further honed my notions. Carrier's book is a promising cross-over among art history, philosophy and comics. Furthermore, in it he presents a direct struggle with the Danto-Dickie Institutional Theory of the ontology of art now so dominant, which I touched on in several parts of this dissertation, particularly in Chapter One. I mentioned some of Carrier's points when I presented the Dantoesque model timeline above. My response, in short, is that I do not feel that we now have an end of either art or art history. It is the death of one western, reductivist master narrative: that single, simple march-of-history idea which was taken for granted until recently. This is also a history of art which has ignored vernacular art such as comics, the contributions of women, the entire world outside Europe and North America, and much more.
Carrier writes, "unlike Danto, I think that there is more than one way to tell the story of art's history." While this would seemingly call for multiple histories, Carrier terms such a position "posthistorical."53 Numerous and divers stories are not necessarily "post-story;" they simply embody the amendment of one dominant tale into many narratives. The art of comics, with its history of addition and variation rather than reduction, has inspired me to a new model. Art history could have many narratives or even narrative climaxes other than ontology or formal reduction; and multiple ones at that. The future of both fine and comic art might not be posthistorical, but rather polyhistorical. As I mentioned in Chapter Eight, while most literary theorists use the term text to prejudicially favour reading over seeing, Doelker traces the term back to its root in weaving or a cable. (texo, texere: to braid, weave).
This is a highly evocative image which inspired in me a new metaphor for the timeline.
I picture, in a very Wittgensteinian manner, an interwoven mass of filaments, some longer, some shorter, each a "history," each independent to an extent, yet touching on various others, some ending only to begin again farther on, all travelling nonetheless in a certain concert. To use Doelker's terminology, we could have an art history which is plurogenic (multistrand), as opposed to Greenberg or Danto's monogenic (single strand) conceptions. This is an image of history as a cable of integrated stories; we have simply focused far too long on only one strand.
At first I thought of a cable. However, stumbling in internet across one another's similarity of thought, art critic John Perreault and I discussed and hybridized our two streams of thought. Perrault had asked a class he taught, "What if the current rigidity and defeatism were not caused by the critics, the curators, and the historians but by their image of history?" After first flirting with an image resembling the DNA double helix, Perrault settled on the braid. He writes, "But isn't the braid too difficult to use? The heuristic braid diagram is the visual equivalent of multitasking and polyphony, and no more difficult than these. … If you can follow a fugue or the various voices in jazz, then you can braid."54 Crossing that with my vision of the cable, we achieved the new model: a braided rope. A rope can be made of various intertwining plaits of strands, sometimes even in opposite rotations, it can have strands of various thicknesses, and even have some frayed filaments, yet retain much of its tensile strength. Most of us have bodily experiences of working with thick ropes, know how they are linear, yet can be coiled, knotted and so on. All of these properties are metaphorically useful for a promising model of art history.
Here is my final sketch of a new model for the art history timeline.
I have drawn this quite large for hanging in the classroom, far more detailed and with specific benchmark dates. Above the braid, I have also a variety of societal, political and the cultural events (such as the World Wars, appearances of alphabets, Buddha's birth, and much more). The blue strand in the middle bears all the customary epochs and periods of art history from my survey class as shown in figures 85, 86 and 87 above. Throughout the year, students, in addition to learning these, add various other facts and events to appropriate strands, filling in comics history, Chinese art history, more information about women artists and so on.
A New Metaphor(m) for the Timeline Let me list what I feel are a few of the strengths this metaphoric model adds to the teaching and study of art history. Following cognitive metaphor theory, it allows us to access a variety of cultural metaphors to focus on, yet critically regard, our subject. We retain something of the "CAUSES AND EFFECTS ARE LINKED OBJECTS" which dominates most standard timeline models, but it becomes only one helpful trope among many, not the central one. Metaphors of weaving and construction become more important. "IDEAS ARE CONSTRUCTED OBJECTS" comes to the fore, with its important corollaries, "The mind is a builder" and "Thinking is building/forming/shaping." We become keenly aware that our idea of art history is an object built by us, thus one that is not beyond reproach (or praise) and can be altered at any time. A braid is generally felt to be a very handmade object as well, reestablishing metaphorically the personal body-based experiences and embodied reasoning that most artists feel is too absent from art history instruction. The braid metaphor helps to thus humanize a trope that sometimes appears all too predetermined. The various strands that form the braid are also path-like, giving us access to those foundational metaphors and their implications. "Reasoning is following a path" is one such trope. "Arguments are paths on which thought travels" is another. Both assist the viewer of such a timeline to conceive of following the strands, jumping between them, looking for hidden ones and so on as actions involving working out history itself in one's mind, placing the emphasis on personal interpretation rather than simple memorization. The braided-rope timeline still has a "mainstream" main strand, which helps anchor the students' knowledge as they first learn facts. Oppositely, it helps to draw attention to the fact that much is occurring outside the tradition Eurocentric area of focus, such as Chinese art, which we could, and later should, study as well. The braided strands display how very much is taking place simultaneously in a variety of locations. They highlight the existence of long, unbroken lines of tradition in areas and fields that appear to have come and gone in the normal timeline, such as icon painting. In the additions to be brought by students, hopefully it will be clearer that Africa is not just a site for so-called primitive art, that it has long and often sophisticated traditions, but also ruptures due to colonialism and wars. Supplementary strands focusing on women's handicrafts, folk, popular and vernacular culture can be added. Transformations can be displayed, such as that from handicraft into design. It becomes clear that ideas continue on past their peaks of influence, disappearing temporarily, perhaps even ending (such as Dada), only to start up again in a new fashion later. Crossovers and mergers can be shown, such as women into the mainstream of artists, popular elements into fine art, and the like. Comics will of course be expanded, as I also teach a module on them, thus I can use the same timeline, beginning where comics have their own, separate history, yet showing at what points this artform comes close to fine art, perhaps now beginning to merge with it as photography has. Best of all, it is a learnable, understandable heuristic image that frankly exhibits that art history is also a question of where one is focusing one's attention.
I believe I have discovered a useful metaphor(m) in the image of a braided rope: a simple, yet evocative image which allows one to teach art history as a developmental succession, yet avoid teleological inferences; to retain a core focus, yet eclipse the illusion of exclusivity; to clearly indicate that there is a wealth of art not being immediately presented in the standard survey, yet maintain a pragmatically serviceable image.
Timelines 248 fig. 120 Cover: Conclusion, oil, acrylic and ink on wood, 2010, 40 x 27.5 cm / 16 in x 11 in
In this Conclusion the illustrated, sequential form assumes a larger role, much like Chapter Three. This time, however, I am interspersing the comic sequences with pages of pure text. The basis of the adventure here is a Wanderferien, a hiking vacation my wife Cornelia and I did with our dog River. We hiked a section of the Westweg, the long-distance hiking trail running through the Black Forest, much as we did the Via Francigena in that earlier chapter. While doing this, I contemplated, drew sketches and wrote notes for the Introduction and Conclusion chapters of my dissertation. Readers will already have seen the small sequence at the end of the Introduction mentioning this.
A theory is a picture of the world, one way to think about reality, a suggested method for seeing experience in that way. It suggests both is and is not, and even, I assert, should be and should not be. Artists can picture life particularly well, thus being implicitly theorists.
Small changes in the pictures with which we think, in our metaphor base, the stuff of the creative arts, have major importance. The operations of extending, elaborating, composing and, most of all, questioning may seem slight tools, yet they can build impressive edifices of understanding. Metaphor theory in general and my metaphor(m) idea in particular point out some of the instantiations of this drive. Trope-as-reasoning links theorization and creativity to everyday thought on the one hand, and to revelatory ideation on the other.
An enclosed quotation is enlightening here. This is Bloom citing Emerson, adding framing comments which are equally important.
Emerson is totally Vichian when he identifies rhetoric and reality, in his late essay "Poetry
What Emerson is not saying is that we are in the dungeon of language. Lacan asserts that "it is the world of words that creates the world of things," and Jakobson, less figuratively, allows himself to insist that the poetry of grammar produces the grammar of poetry.
Emerson, like all central poets, knows that the grammar of poetry produces the grammar of poetry, since poetry is a discursive and not a linguistic mode. Holmes remarked that "Emerson was eminently sane for an idealist," and such sanity is eminently useful now in current discussions of the arts of interpretation.3 Equally resonant is Bloom's typical lack of footnoting. He sees interpoetical, as opposed to intertextual, metaleptical analogizing as part and parcel of his own thoughts. Borrowed metaphors are reformed by the glass of one's own fashion, thus becoming one's own. He is scholar enough to name the people from whom he has borrowed, but artist enough to see no reason to make a specific roadmap to an idea's "first" expression. This can be academically frustrating, yet yields an (I believe unconscious) unity of form and content — thus it is Bloom's own metaphor(m). It assumes the visual, graphic presence of a double indentation when quoted by me, highlighting this trait.
The aim of this paper has been to establish, characterize and investigate an original theory of trope in literature and art. I have been delving into how the "grammar" of art produces the grammar of art through embodiment in the stuff of lived reality, seeing art as a corporeal, dialogical mode.
This commenced with the Prelude, where I sketched out the personal motivations behind the development of my theory within the boundaries of my activities as an artist. My passion for art history and art theory as tools for the working artist guided me not only to the
Immediately after the Prelude, in Chapter One: Wandering and Surveying; Links to Literary Theory and Contemporary Aesthetics I reviewed speculations which I feel are allied or parallel with my own in the two fields of literary theory and contemporary aesthetics.
Using the metaphor of land-surveying as an overriding authorial conceit, I appraised the landscape of theories in which mine must also be located. However contentious many of them are with one another, I discussed how they are often complementary in their contributions to understanding art and in particular to my vision of trope. The intellectual environment in which my literary theory exists was thus mapped. Furthermore, this served to address those debates which have influenced my thought and acknowledged those theorists with whom I feel intellectual kinship.