Art is discourse

15Apr09

To accept that art works and not only the system of institutions that support and decide about art works are discourses as well, might be difficult. Art works seem to be rather powerless objects, that, however, can represent also artists, not only  the messages or aesthetic experiences we get from them. Some art works make us think about the artist, very much. Currently, the Amos Anderson Art museum shows Riiko Sakkinen and Jani Leinonen´s ironic celebration of the market forces. Here, many critics has focused on the personalities of Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen, and finish off by saying that the artists are more interesting than their works. If we think that art works, as artefacts and interpretations of a given situation the artist has wanted to construct, are in their own right, socially and metaphysically (as virtual communication), discourse, it must mean that the art works take part in a power situation the same way our own person, body and persona, does it. By conforming to a set of habits in the society, we make up and participate plus reproduce a certain discourse. The art works are objects of a discourse as we are subjects of that discourse.  To talk about power, is to try to describe a situation through the notion of power. If the struggle is between discourses, the objects of them take part as well. 

From a point of education of art, we could preferably suggest to students that it is better to create objects in a superior or dominant discourse, than to function within an lesser or almost non-existant discourse. This is comparable to saying that: “look, what are those in dominant positions talking about? Listen to what they are discussing, and try to formulate something in this direction. If you talk about things, in way of your artwork, that has been said already, nobody is interested. If you talk about something completely out of the range of the dominant discussion, nobody will notice you anyway. You must adjust to participate in the dominant discussion in a relatively new and therefore interesting way, but at the same time in a relatively familiar way, so as not to be completely strange, and then you attract other ´s to listen to you”. 

If we start looking at art the way above described, you will easily find your position. You only have to explain how your objects of discourse function. If you have to analyze the objects you see, the first obstacle is to learn to see what is happening. You should be interested to find out. This makes you avoid communicating in such a strange way that nobody understands anything, the same goes for the completely redundant messages. Everybody understand some messages, so they are useless. Still, as one critic mentions about Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen. “They envision what we already know”. The result is: ” a feeling of frustation”.  I propose that if we are to deal with the work of art as a part, an object, of discourse, we might take up the simile of art as communication or discussion. From there, the power game is fully visible. It has even a name: rhetoric. 

You might want to choose to completely ignore the art scene as a source of rhetoric. It is easy to do, if we accept that the media scene is as good a source as art. But, this option makes it difficult to make a serious intervention within the art field, since we do not know what other artists are doing. We, as it were, ignore what the other guests at the same party are doing. We might settle for a traditional way of discussing whatever we want to discuss. Or, we do not want to discuss anything. In this case, it is difficult to choose an art form. Even if we settle for painting, that does not clearly want to discuss any specific topic, we end up commenting the tradition of painting wether we want it or not. The medium has its own history. To avoid this, we must bring a new medium, or a number of new parts of the world in to the art work, or the art scene, whatever. This has been done a number of times. Much remains, but is often difficult, too pricy, too dangerous, too something. You may come up with new ideas for artworks, in terms of their media: parts of the world, materials, technology, stuff, things, environments.

To come back to art as discourse, we should delve into Foucault and ask him. I am waiting for some answers. Yours, jkw

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One Response to “Art is discourse”

  1. “If we think that art works, as artefacts and interpretations of a given situation the artist has wanted to construct, are in their own right, socially and metaphysically (as virtual communication), discourse, it must mean that the art works take part in a power situation the same way our own person, body and persona, does it. By conforming to a set of habits in the society, we make up and participate plus reproduce a certain discourse. The art works are objects of a discourse as we are subjects of that discourse.”

    Or should we say also: we are not only subjects of a discourse, but objects in a discourse run by another. We are as subjects and objects of discourses both creators and effects of a habit-reproducing discourse. A discourse is more than a set of processes, it uses bodies like ours, beside objects like art works. We occupy a bodily space and interact with the environment, being our body in a space with other bodies and things. The discourses we produce and re-present will take place in the same way art works and other parts of the world does it. Am I stretching the notion of discourse here? Someone versed in Foucault could comment


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