A Wandering Journey

by Stefan Arteni

Lecture-Demonstration Workshop
St. Mark’s Library,
New York

April 7, 1999

On Painting
Otherwhere Otherwise
Painting, Image Likeness
A Wandering Journey
Painting Calligraphy
Painting as Polycontexturality






Sol Invictus Press

Art can redeem the world.



Art exists both on its own terms ["art does not reproduce the
visible, it makes visible"(Klee)] and within a historical horizon.
mimesis = faking     poiesis = making (V.Turner)
The idea of organic unity is used as an epistemic criterion,
instrumental in the comparative attribution of valuational
guidelines: "beauty exists when the work fulfills what it purports
to be"(Ortega y Gasset); "ugliness is absence of due

Corporeal movements imply embodied schemata producing
cognitive schemata. It is "the human play of projecting a schema
generated in our experience of being alive onto a non-biological
and potentially organizable domain"(Corradi-Fiumara): from
bodily experience to mapping across and structuring other



"The eye comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its past.
It functions as a dutiful member of a complex organism" (Goodman),
e.g., Leonardo’s test: the worn out and irregular surface does
not contain what one mentally redesigns (Corradi-Fiumara).

A sight is puzzling (light and dark and color blots/patches)
when at first it is just fragments that through an effort are to be
made into objects of which they are the qualities (Polanyi).

Signs are projections and interpretations in an attempt at
integration with experience past and present. The brain has no
fixed program for structuring the plethora of impressions.
Cultural imprinting interacting with biological factors helps
to integrate details into a context that makes sense (Burkert).

We see by supplying shapes and patterns in terms of which bits
of the perceptual field fall into place – we see complete even
if parts are missing (Polanyi). To make something meaningful,
meaning must be imposed and overlaid (Smith).Visual shapes
are capable of simultaneous articulations. Lines, etc., obey the
rules of art but have no meaning. Meaning follows form, it
creeps into it.

Reality is a totality. A societal reality is a set of sets. One could
formulate the following equations in any order: the economy
equals politics, culture, and society; culture equals the economy,
politics, and society, and so forth (Braudel)
    In a traditional society, a calling(vocation) is an art: art of
    war, art of healing, etc. Art is born of art (Malraux) – upon
    seeing paintings, Correggio said: "I am a painter also!"
A traditional art is a stylistic idiom based on a particular body of
firmly set axiomatic rules and methods accepted by usage and
custom , that suffice for communication in so far as they are
understood by convention, signs and schemata distilled through
time, passed on from master to pupil or learned from how-to
handbooks (Coomaraswamy).
-East West influences:
East Asian calligraphy: Soulages, Tobey, Zao Wu Ki’s ink
Icon painting: De Stael, Poliakoff.

In the West, writing is seen as a semiotic system based on
convention in which the sign disappears as much as possible
into the signification: a marginal and transient awareness of
the sign. Writing has to be emancipated, released from the
quest to equate it with language, refusing to confine it to
an utilitarian function of communicating and recording.
The realm of writing (pictograms, ideograms, phonetic signs,
musical and mathematical notations, etc.) is space. In this
sense, the Chinese character is the ultimate icon – however
much it may be distorted, it still remains itself, it contains
a relation to the structure. For technical reason, the signs
are broken up into assemblages of strokes, i.e. the pictorial
form is very early deemed irrelevant, and replaced by a formal
register peculiar to the signs made with the brush – interesting
is the image of writing, the actual form of the brush-drawn

What then do we do with mystery?

John of Damascus


ARTIST/ source/ causa efficiens

Art is a way of life, writing the ch’i (first canon of Chinese
painting). Creativity is related to a certain Dionysiac madness
unifying the symbolism of the descent into Hades as
initiation and the shadows of the primordial nothing (Eliade).

MASTERY by means of wish (Cassirer), the genius theory (Hegel):
    What counts is not the doing but the artist’s idea, the
    "Kunstwollen." It results finally in parodies, destruction of
    what is not turned towards the idea, making the innermost
    of the artist the work of art and destroying the vulgar,
    material art: subjectivity as apocalyptic negativity.
MASTERY by means of the work (Cassirer):
    Matter (paint: dirt + vehicle) should be addressed with awed
    and ecstatic reverence as it is the manifestation of, and in
    itself, a mystery.
    Matter is causa materialis.
    Matter (hyle) is constructed into shape (morphe), a
    transmutation of matter which has its corollary in a
    transformation of the artist.
    Working through a medium involves manipulations,
    potentialities, constraints, skill that comes with practice,
    tacit and unspecified knowledge (Polanyi) - the
    material issues its call. The formal maps onto/structures
    the material.
    Gesture, medium, pictorial elements, act as presencing of
    a mystery when heart (mind) and hand are in accord (China),
    presenting something to be lived through and inwardly

In speech, original schemata condition one to watch out for
certain features while ignoring other variations of
sound – hence, the accent. Is there accent in style?

The culture sets up a mental set, a level of expectation. The
medium also sets up a horizon, a frame of reference.
Pictorial equivalents –context and cliches – act as a
selective screening. In fact, the layman looking at art
is a partner in the game of equivalences: cultural habituation.
Unless one knows the conventions, one has no means for
deciphering an art work.

Today’s insistence on "creativity" may be compensation
for the enormous anonymous constraints at work in society.
The channel forms as the water flows = self-expression.

The mutation of heritage through a strategic appropriation
of the rules and signs of the only living traditional
art – East Asian calligraphy – brings about a symbiosis
of calligraphic abstraction and painting, the dissolution
of the self in the process of moving the brush – the act
itself of doing that sets one free - , a meditation through
the simple, changing, pressure of the brush.

There is but a small step from
daub (croute) to masterpiece

Paul Gauguin


THE WORK/ causa formalis – finished forma (hyle-morphe)
hyle – matter/refers to growth of wood and animate
matter (Scheler)
morphe – placing into appearance for a while/shape

A painting consists of lines and colors assembled in a certain
order (Maurice Denis), an internally gathering dance. Matter
is the substrate and field for the artist’s formative action.
The thing is formed matter. The thing solicits us by its
looks, eidos (Heidegger).

Art has a cultic(ritual) and ludic root, it is a semi-ritual
acting out – doing while making. Ritual is an action
artificially exaggerated and redirected for demonstration:
as if + demonstration (Meuli, Burkert). Any new creation
requires a ritual sacrifice - underlying the bone flute,
the tympanon, is the idea that the power of music comes
from a transformation and overcoming of death (Burkert):
operari – to act/to sacrifice.

The space of a painting (Francastel) is the locus/site of a
free play without why (Heidegger). Although one does not
"intend" the game, but simply the act of playing, the
intentionality of human consciousness includes binding rules
of the game (Gadamer). It may be a game of make-believe,
a symbolic play . Language relates to the objects it denotes
like a map to a territory. In play map and territory are both
equalized and discriminated (Bateson).Like for a toy object,
one identity is superimposed on another identity which contrasts
with it in a number of ways; synergic quality emerging from
this contradiction: it both is and is not something (Apter).

Form is conventional (Klee), an encoded system of pictorial
equivalents (Lhote), a structure that could hold indifferently
a multitude of contents. The message is irrelevant to it. Pictorial
formulae persist through adaptation/adoption although
their use varies (Warburg):
-    the three tones for showing volume, used since
the Greeks;
-    pseudomorphosis (El Greco);
-    scenographic composition, used since the Romans: three
planes (screens) parallel to the picture plane, foreground,
middleground, background (Lhote);
-    surface composition: Golden Section, contrast, expansion
or reduction of field harmony (assonance, dissonance),
isophany, texture;
-    "passages": disappearance/blurring of outline in certain
points, i.e. the rule of three contrasts (Lhote), applied to
light-dark and color contrasts.
Visual clues/cues that screen out actual aspects so that one
responds to those selected, are naturally integratible (Polanyi),
e.g. background, a range of particulars to which one
directs no special attention, is considered at rest.

The image is a cryptogram, it operates with conventional
notations admitting features for which schemata exist.
The test of the image is not its life-likeness but its
efficacy within a context.

Canvas, paint, combinations of strokes and colors, are the
framework, the story is the content. One can look either at
the framework , missing the content, or at the whole, by
dwelling in the elements of the framework and integrating
them in the whole (Polanyi). In non-figurative art the whole
becomes part of the framework.

There is a difference between linguistic and visual
communication, an ambiguity of iconographic meaning.
It can change when it is transferred from one cultural
area to another, and images may be adopted by a tradition
that has no visual means for the respective iconographic
content. An appropriated image schema may result in

An image is projected into blots and brushstrokes (Gombrich’s
guided projection), it has an aura of factuality (Geertz).
Textual traditions usually represent the official culture
of a small elite, which can read and write. Iconographic
material has a broader scope: mnemotechnical image codes
used ritually, the belief-web expressed also as decoration
of all items and household objects when differentiation
between literacy and visual art never started. It can be
said that representational art has hieroglyphic character.
As a semiologic complex, hieroglyphic script, interrelated
with pictorial art, surpasses the alphabet – a Western
news bulletin gives next to linguistic information, also
visible metalinguistic information: images.

One does not refuse conditions of
existence, one can only have others.

Friedrich Nietzsche


VIEWER/ receptor/ causa finalis

Before ascertaining the necessary connection and adequation
of form and content, before knowing what a painting may
signify, one must ascertain if it exists as a good
painting (Maurice Denis).

The reality represented by the artwork is not located in that
object any longer, but in the viewer’s subjective experience,
where generally a non-visual literary outlook dominates.
Hence, the "aesthetic question":
- a message is deliberately associated with powerful vehicles
of transmission ("Only beautiful pictorial matter may be
equal to a grand idea", said Dufy), or
- a message naturally generates a successful vehicle, or
- the power of the vehicle ensures that the message is
perceived as important.

© 2001 Stefan Arteni
& Myriam S.P.de Arteni
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