weaving the unraveled as I ravel the strands’
textual influences ofthe term

Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘new Materialism’ through the Arts (2013), “Introduction” by Barbara Bolt

The idea of the performative power of materiality that Bolt introduces has raised one possible strand of research relative to the function of visual and performative artists’ writings. Still just raw mental musings spurred by this reading is the notion that there may be correlations between the material nature of making, the physicality, and the need to consciously process via written language, some kind of needed balance or play between the physical co-collaboration with matter and the artist’s internal associative cognition. And is there a relationship to the physicality of the act of writing (and typing) that still grounds the artist’s larger practice in the material world? Is there a drive for artists relative to writing that anchors it in physicality?  I am not suggesting that there is necessarily a content relationship between that which is made and the writing. For instance a line from one of Anne Truitt’s first published journals correlates more with the act of being an artist than negotiating a particular artwork: “My hope was that if I did this (writing) honestly I would discover how to see myself from a perspective that would render myself whole in my own eyes.” (1974) Additionally, I wonder if the more an artist’s body of work is abstracted and removed from direct representation or is ephemeral, if there is an increase in the frequency or drive for writing. Perhaps writing undoes the illusion of “muteness” and the “irrationality of matter” in a fashion that instead allows the artist to be in a more overt co-collaboration with the performative nature of matter

Barbara Bolt, “Introduction: Toward a “New Materialism” Through the Arts,” in Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘new Materialism’ through the Arts, ed. Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), 1-13.

Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music, Ch 6 “Disability Within Music-Theoretical Traditions” by Joseph Straus

Straus’ summation and application of the idea of metaphor and the body to art, in his case music, derived from Lakoff and Johnson’s research, seems also to be a relevant research direction in regards to exploring the function of writing for the visual artist. The relevance has become more evident as I have gone to Straus’ source texts by Lakoff and Johnson, which then led me to explore research around human acquisition of knowledge via metaphorical thinking—in that we understand this from that and that from this and rarely a direct understanding of this is this. This metaphorical thinking also seems to harken back to Judith Butler’s discussions of the cultural constitutions of gender and identity via the trappings of performativity, as well as Melanie Klien’s Object Theory. I haven’t quite woven this together in my mind yet but metaphorical thinking and making, language as a container, writing as a container, performing artist (as in Judith Butler’s performing gender), and co-collaboration with the material world (Bolt) perhaps need the act and process of writing to hold together the multivariance practice of being artist.

Additionally in terms of Straus’ discussion of “musical abnormality requiring normalization,” a controlling, managing and neutralizing dissonance, there may be a relevance to the topic of writing’s function for the visual artist. This notion of dissonance calls to mind the potential cognitive dissonance that might be a repeating event for the practicing artist. By cognitive dissonance, I mean that mental unease that arises when conflicting notions must be simultaneously held and artificial resolved to smooth the mental distortions (anxieties?). For instance, an artist might grapple with a critical art review that infers that she is no artist at all, yet she is a practicing artist. Perhaps even, depending on one’s familial history, a negotiation of the desire for a purposeful vocation yet simultaneously experiencing art as frivolous entertainment. Or even more disruptive, for me, is the dissonance that arises from the role making fills to move the self from a position of consumer to producer, yet the production results in something for consumers to consume. Essentially cognitive dissonance is that chaos Elizabeth Grosz alludes as the source of the drive and negotiation via the framing and deframing, the territorializting and deterritorializing of chaos except this is occurring within the mind relative to one’s shifting constructed identity as one attempts to perform according to what seems and “feels” “right” and “real.” The framing and deframing to manage the chaos is a sort of dissonance management with attempts at normalization, reducing the mental deformities that occur when life, self, etc, are unstable. Grosz suggests that this process of managing chaos stems from the impulse to organize space. So as the artist works with material space, does the artist simultaneously need a way to organize the space of the mind? And is this ordering of space a function and source for the compulsion of visual artists to write?

Joseph Nathan. Straus, “Disability Within Music-Theoretical Traditions,” in Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 104-24.

I am equally impacted and influenced by Judith Butler and Elizabeth Grosz’ writings. It is not yet directly clear as to how all these threads from the four authors fully relate to the visual artist’s practice of writing, but I think that if I follow each thread—new materialism, metaphor, dissonance, performativity and the impulse to organize space—they may weave together in a revelatory and useful manner as I unravel the function of writing for the visual artist. Or in the words of Grosz I may use them to frame and deframe, territorialize and deterritorialize the chaos of the impulse to write, to order linguistic and mental space.


You may also like

The narrow space of “free will”
Grosz notions worth intertwining with Butlerian logic
art making as contextual other–as resolving alternate avenues of being
Art as an Accounting of Oneself. Reflecting artist into a Judith Butler essay.