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On the Question of Painting

Ulus Baker

Lecture notes of the course 'Sociology of Fine Arts and Music' given with Ünal Nalbantoğlu.

I came to think on mimesis via the conception of “truth in/ through art.” It was Adorno who firstly let me think about mimesis. Hence mimesis matters for me with respect to its being a utopian stice whereby object- subject relation is redeemed. As I remember, mimicry in nature is that imitating organism comes into oneness with its habitat, or that it imitates a fearfull animal in order to conceal itself in the face of enemies; it lets itself to be absorbed by its external world, by imitating its shapes and colors. To an observing gaze, there is no difference between the imitating organism and its external world. What seems to be of significance, in terms of working, seeing or interpireting art, is the latter condition claimed to be created by mimetism.

Mimesis was representing a stance toward a reality that was different from the rigid split of subject and object introduced by enlightenment. It would eliminate the very source of violence based on epistemological triad of object-subject- concept inherited from western identity logic. The latter is replaced by the conceptual triad of non- identity- reconciliation- utopia in / through art. For Adorno, aesthetic experience is defined by its two salient peculiarities: it does not dominate its object in its treatment of them, and it excludes itself from the realm of instrumentality. It is ruled by affinity and sensuality. Therefore, it was only art what overcomes this condition by reconciling inner and outer nature, object and subject, sensuous and imaginative.

Art was to achive its projection of reconciliation through decisive negation, the experience of elucidating the defining antinomies of aesthetic and social phenomena, because its language is mimetic instead of being conceptual. Mimesis is an experience whereby things are able to show themselves as how they are, instead of being expressed as subjectively; it gives irrational impulses which are the traces of nature suppressed by the civilization process. To put it other words, what has been lost in this process is the capacity to view the nature mimetically or fraternally. As long as the mimetic impulse is emancipated, it becomes “the non-conceptual affinity of a subjective creation with its objective and unposited other.” To be “like” the other is no longer supressed. Being “a refuge of mimetic behavior” in the face of prevailing repression and ruthless domination of nature, art work anticipates a condition of reconciliation.(Adorno 1984: 79- 80, 190)

Being one of the constituents of art, expression is mimetic just as the expression of living creatures is the expression of suffering. Mimetic behavior works in a way of imitating something but of assimilating itself to that something. The task of works of art is to realize this assimilation. “They do not imitate the impulses of an individual in the medium of expression, much less those of the artist himself. If they do, they immediately fall prey to replication and objectification of the kind which their mimetic impulse reacts against.”

“Works of art do not lie; what they say is literally true,” writes Adorno. On the other hand, he makes work of art correspondent to an enigma that is a riddle or puzzle designating potential solution instead of absolute or explicit one. “If you want the absolute, you shall have it, but only in disguise.” Again, what makes work of art enigmatic is its truth content being attainable only non-discoursively and mimetically. Hence its response to the question of “are you telling the truth?” is non-answer. (Adorno 1984: 183, 185)

It is in this sense that, referring to the imitating animal, one might say, both artists and receptors could be simultaneously active and passive. Regarding artist, s/he active while s/he is imitating. Coming face to face with a receptor, however, s/he is passive, for s/he is exposing questions and “vision” of receptor. Hence, in the latter case, receptor is active.

Expressionism is seen as if it is exempted from receptors vision, seeing or pregiven conceptions. The current itself was avidly supporting for pure and abstract subjectivity which aims to work without any convention in a way of totally refusing the domain of accessible and the notion of replication of external world. It was seeking to “achieve the undistorted manifrestation of real psychic states.” (Adorno 1984: 151)

However, it should note that, thought with Spinoza’s monism or Lacan’s Mobius Stripe, there is no pschy or internal, and external that is free from each other. As known, while Descartes was trying to define body and mind as radically not to be reconciliable, Spinoza defines body and mind as different aspects of the same substance; mind is body’s mind, and in turn, body is an extention of mind, as well. The whole of body is either a function of its own formal patterns and internal constructions or of “external” effects and other bodies. In Mobius Stripe model of Lacan, on the other hand, bodies and minds are not two seperated substance or two different forms of the same substance. By the way of a kind of turning or inversion, mind moves into body and body into mind. Also, internal and external spheres of the subject in intermingled by the same way.

In this regard, I think, expressionist painting, too, can not be excluded from the others. More, when any painting is brought in the face of any receptor, it would be bombarded by conventional questions and interpretations, as Derrida emphasised, in a way of constructing a kind of interpicturality similar to intertextuality; what painting is saying is to be detected through questions. The painting, be it expressionist or illusionist or impressionist, would be interlaced to the external world by those questions and interpretations. More, painting or any kind of art work can not escape from objectification or conceptual mediation, no matter to what extend it presents or experience mimesis.

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