English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

September 24, 2009

Criticism as Agenda

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — elizjurgen @ 4:10 pm

by Elizabeth Jurgensen –

Mitchell hits the nail on the head when he states, regarding Lessing’s principles of space/time: “Where these principles do affect practice is in the formation of value judgements, canons of acceptable works, and formulations of the idealogical significance of styles, movements, and genres” (Mitchell 103).

Let’s face it – the primary reason someone creates a visual or written work of “art” is because they have something to say. In other words, they have a political agenda.  That is human nature.  It follows, then, that any critical assessment of art will necessarily have an agenda as well.  However much anyone, including Lessing, would like to trumpet their work as “enlightening,” the bottom line is an attempt to convince an audience that one is “right.” Mitchell says: “the argument from necessity tends to slip  unobtrusively into an argument from desire” (104).

Mitchell’s usefulness lies in the fact that he exposes this fundamental agenda, what he terms the “political unconscious,”  using Lessing’s work as an example, and unpacks it: “The argument from desire, then has the salutory effect of unmasking the idealogical character of the argument…the ‘laws of genre’ [Lessing’s principles]…turn out to be artificial, man-made statutes”(104). His unveiling of Lessing’s “idealogical freight” (98) reminds us that no criticism is ever “pure,” emanating only from indisputable empirical data, but is always driven by the very human desire to impose one’s world view on others.  Along with this desire is the impulse of the audience to either oppose or embrace the ideology presented, and you have, played out in human relations, the very tension which exists in the interplay between text and image. Mitchell again hones in on this truth when he states “the relation of genres like poetry and painting is not a purely theoretical matter, but something like a social relationship” (112).

So, in light of this tension, what would Lessing think of Renaissance emblem books? Initially, I would be inclined to state that he hated them. As Mitchell points out, Lessing has no objections to beautiful artwork, “so long as it stays in its place and doesn’t try to become a model for poetry” (Mitchell 106). The Laocoon makes it very clear that Lessing was opposed to using art to promote religious, and one could infer moral as well, agendas and teachings. His statement “all (artworks) that show an evident religious tendency, are unworthy to be called works of art” (L 63) is a purely political statement – one that Mitchell suggests as a “Protestant ‘holy alliance’ against Roman Catholic idolatry” (Mitchell 106).  In addition, emblem books, in their combining of image with text, blatantly violate the spatial/temporal division Lessing insists must be maintained between the two genres.

However, when I consider the social and political purposes for which emblem books were intended, and take into account that Lessing’s principles, in Mitchell’s interpretation “are matters of political economy, directly related to conceptions of civil society” (Mitchell 105), I think Lessing would have to soften his views and concede some usefulness to the blending of text and image.

First, however much Lessing opposed religious expression in art, he would have to admit that moral teaching, and by extent the acceptable behavior that created civility in society, was instigated and propogated by religious authority. In a historical time period when the majority where still barely literate, he could not rail against the moral lessons of emblem books without seeming to advocate a free-for-all in social relations. Secondly, the images in emblem books not only presented snapshots of the intended lesson, but more importantly, were a type of text in themselves. The visual “codes” embedded in the images served as a sort of hierglyph, a shorthand to the meaning of the accompanying words.  Moreover, in his 1999 article “Emblem” for Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, Daniel S. Russell states: “the picture and text were meant to be understood as an indissoluble unit” (65). However much Lessing might despise the intentional linking of text with image, he would have to concede, as Mitchell states “a certain interpretive character give images a strange power, a power that threatens to defy natural law and usurp the domain of poetry” (Mitchell 108). This power is what I believe led Lessing to so painstakingly ruminate on the “feminine” aspects of painting and to argue for the “masculine” dominance and superiority of poetry in order to justify his own bias.  The discussion of Lessing from a feminist perspective is a topic for another time, but even he would have to admit the effectiveness of the emblems at transmitting their intended message. As Mitchell points out, Lessing does not explicitly reveal his patriarchal prejudice in Laocoon, and to discount emblem books would blatantly expose his disdain for the obvious power inherent in “feminized” imagery in interpreting and delivering moral messages desirable for a cohesive society.

Mitchell admits that he himself struggles with avoiding the rhetoric of extremes which polarizes both sides of the debate over the intersection of images and text. His unpacking of Lessing in a political light reminds us all that we must approach any criticism, including our own, in the context of personal agenda and social constructs.

Two Separate Spheres

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — vegajaneth @ 2:17 am

Reading Mitchell and Lessing reminded me of the dVictorian age notion of “Two Separate Spheres” in which men and women were held to be so fundamentally different that neither one could venture into the other’s territory. This is what caught my attention in Mitchell’s essay about Lessing’s perspective on art. Mitchell creates a chart in which he depicts the differences in both art forms while also showing another table with the differences between genders. This is an interesting way of interpreting Lessing’s essay.

In my previous post I talked about how I looked at both art forms as almost a marriage although not quiet so. I believe, like Lessing, the differences between these art forms cant be ignored. I also believe that you cant judge a painting based on a poem and vice versa. Both works of art have to be independent of each other. Consequently, we can say that these two very different spheres exist. The question is wheather those spheres should be bridged or connected. According to Lessing, this would be an insult to both art forms, particularly to poetry. However, I also believe that there is an overwhelming tendency to try to mix both together. Although very different, we seem to be able to bring them together and the product that emerges is an interesting new form of expression.

The question of wheather these two spheres should be bridged has already been answered. Our modern world has lessened the gap between both worlds and, in some cases, have mixed them together. Today, with our available technolgy, we are capable of experimenting beyond any ‘fence’ or borders set up. I am not saying that we should eliminate these differences or bulldoze that fence that separates both worlds. However, the exchange between both art forms has already taken place and there is no saying how far our technology will contribute to the relationship of the visual and language arts.

Art is the expression of subjective beauty, ideas, and whole different worlds. We can almost say it is an almost infinite and unexplored territory which can become much smaller and connected to us as we can experiment with these and other art forms. Although, these differences exist between all art forms, there is no reason we can play around with them in our search to explore the limits of art – if there are any. It is through this search that we ‘recreate’ – something Aristotle talked about. The job of the writer or artist, regardless of whether the object of his work is a poem or a painting, is to take that object break it down and rebuild it with a new vision – to recreate. Why not use both together and create something new. This is art.

September 23, 2009

Mitchell on Lessing with a Modern Eye

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — ahime @ 9:26 pm

The questions that Mitchell rises in his examination of Lessing’s Laocoon are similar to the ones I had in reading the piece. Mitchell Looks at Laocoon in terms of how some historical influences might cause Lessing to take the views and make the conclusions that he did.  Mitchell seems to focus most on Lessing’s obvious bias in favor of poetry over painting, and attempt to explain Lessing’s link between genre and gender (Mitchell 109-111).  To investigate Laocoon the use of semiotics and linguistics is often applies throughout Space and Time (102, 105, 109, etc).  And this results in a somewhat thorough investigation of Lessing, but at the same time misses some key ideas.

Mitchell’s conclusions about Lessing and his piece are interesting but also expected.  It is neither extraordinary nor odd that Lessing associated the silent, visually stimulating painted arts with women, and the eloquently intellectual art of poetry with men.  The bias may be obvious and the possible reasoning behind it unsound, but Laocoon was not meant as a scientific expose of art, it is in its essence a pure critique and therefore not obliged to fall within the bounds of objectivity.  It seems without this in mind that Mitchell examined the essay.  Historically an essay such as Laocoon presents ideas and theories as fact, where an honest modern critique makes no claims of supreme validity of ideas, it only shows ideas as a means for further though and examination of a specific topic.  The rigor with which a critique like Laocoon would be written, examined and read today, is very far from when it was originally published in 1776.  I pushed this idea last week, but it seems only apt to suggest it again in regard to Mitchell’s essay.

Bias is bound to occur in any critical essay, and whether the biases are justified and justified adequately is fully dependent on the rigor with which it is written.  I still agree with very little that Lessing says in his essay, but I understand why he said it and why he said it in the way that he did.  The rigor with which Mitchell reads and analyzes Laocoon is astounding and the only way to discover all the faults in Lessing’s thinking, but it isn’t really appropriate if you look at Laocoon with an historical grain of salt.

Lessing Revisited

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — corricrystal @ 4:03 pm

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water… Lessing’s formidable jaws have me in his grip once again.  This time, however; instead of a cement brick that threatens to drown me in the dark depths of confusion, I find Mitchell’s ideas to be like a proverbial life preserver. Mitchell proposes that Lessing’s assertions are not based as much on fact and science as on Lessing’s judgment and desire; although, due to Lessing’s masterful rhetoric it appears to be fact and not opinion: 

Lessing conceals the figurative basis of his distinction under the guise of nature and the “necessary limitations” (Notwendigen Schranken) that govern physical, mental, and semiotic universes. But the argument from necessity tends to slip unobtrusively into an argument from desire: painting should not be temporal because time is not proper to its essential nature. The argument from desire has to be underplayed, of course, because it only makes sense when it is clear that the argument from necessity has failed. There would be no need to say that the genres should not be mixed if they could not be mixed. Nevertheless, Lessing continually blurs these two kinds of arguments in order to prevent the blurring of two kinds of art . . . (Mitchell 104) 

Mitchell has waded through Lessing’s rhetoric and has made interesting observations. He asserts that Lessing is not the man of science that claims to be, “He places himself with Newton and Kant . . .” (Mitchell 111); moreover, Mitchell believes that Lessing is highly influenced by the social and political society in which he lives. Lessing makes the comparison of poetry and painting to men and women. It’s the eighteenth century ladies; you know this can’t be good. “Paintings, like women, are ideally silent, beautiful creatures designed for the gratification of the eye, in contrast to the sublime eloquence proper to the manly art of poetry. (Mitchell 110). Let’s take a breath and remember that Laokoon oder Über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie was published in 1766; a time in which a male slave had more value than a women simply because he was a man. Women were viewed as possessions and treated as such. In current society we might refer to Lessing as a misogynist; however, we must put our ethnocentricities aside and evaluate Lessing in his social and political environment. This environment shapes his opinions as he encourages men, like poetry, to lead a life of promiscuity, “poems are free to range over an infinite realm of potential action . . . “(Mitchell 110). While women, like paintings, should remain monogamous and look pretty, “Paintings are confined to the narrow sphere of external display of their bodies and of the space which they ornament . . .” (Mitchell 110).

Mitchell would likely agree with Professor Hatfield’s observation: “Lessing acts as if he is a Professor of Literature.” Lessing staunchly defends the poetic arts and treats the visual arts as if it were an ugly, “sinister” stepsister who “tries to lure poetry into the narrow boundaries of the pictorialist aesthetic. (Mitchell 107).  Mitchell reveals Lessing’s comparison of gender and art is influenced by Burke: however, Lessing does not reference this influence. Hmmm… perhaps he’s not the honorable Professor of Literature we had hoped for. Not to mention the fact that Burke, who highly influences Lessing, in his writing, Reflections on the Revolution in France, refers to any person that is not apart of the monarchy, clergy, or upper class as “swinish multitude.” (Wu 13). Burke is not exactly mentor material in my opinion. The idea that Lessing takes his lead from Burke is disappointing; yet, I still feel there is some validity to Lessing’s ideas. The subject is not black and white. There is some truth to ut picture poesis, just as there is some truth in Lessing’s assertions. Mitchell helps to weed out the truth within the texts.

Ultimately, I appreciated Mitchell’s analysis of Lessing’s work. Lessing is a complicated, flawed, yet highly influential character whose writing is inspiring very lively debate within our class.

Poetry is music.

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — rmeenay @ 4:01 pm

W.J.T. Mitchell’s essay, “Space and Time: Lessing’s Laocoon and the Politics of Genre,” concurs the idea that “literature is an art of time, painting an art of space” (95). Throughout the Locoon, Lessing argues that painting can only depict the singular moment, whereas poetry always depicts the object in succession.

Mitchell argues, “reading occurs in time; the signs which are read are uttered or inscribed in a temporal sequence, and the events represented or narrated occur in time”(98). It is true that reading occurs in time, but lets take it a step further and consider that poetry is more than just words brought together in any given form to convey a message. Often times we hear poetry is music, but we never really stop to think why. Combining sound and the measures of time, poets form beautiful and everlasting art. Which in whole “harmonizes” with Lessings theory and Mitchell’s argument.

Mitchell’s understanding is that visual art “consists of forms displayed in space; these forms represent bodies and their relationship in space; and the perception of both medium and message is instantaneous, taking no appreciable time” (99). This objective coincides with the idea that the painting is only in that singular moment. An individual who observes a painting can only see that which is painted, nothing further. We can draw conclusions based on our own experiences, but cannot truly depict the artists intentions.

Considering the Greek/Roman sculpture of the Laocoon and reading Lessing’s work, readers cannot help but wonder if it was it the sculptor who relied on the Virgil’s written work, or whether Virgil relied on the sculpture for his inspiration. All in all, I personally do not believe its of importance as to which came first, but instead that by inspiration and personal experience a poem was written, and a visual art made, both beautiful and everlasting.

Lessing continued

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — psr10308 @ 3:58 pm

Reading Mitchell’s fourth chapter gave a clearer perspective of the argument discussed in Lessing’s Laocoon. After my first reading of the excerpts from Laocoon, I did not understand his intention, and I was really unsure of what his motivations could possibly for stating such claims. From what I could tell, it seemed like a comparative exposition with the intention of placing literature above visual art. Reading Mitchell made clearer the agenda driving Lessing’s arguments. Now I understand Laocoon as a rant for preserving the distinction between temporal and spatial representations as if to be protecting a natural order. What he would claim to be natural is more likely his convictions of propriety or rather what he believes is appropriate. Mitchell suggests that these Lessing’s rules of aesthetic segregation can be interpreted as an appropriation of “proper sex roles” (109) and the mixing of literary and visual art is compared to adulteration of social and gender propriety.

Dr. Hatfield’s reference to Frosts “Mending Wall” works well to depict Lessing’s inclination to preserve clear borders between artistic aesthetics. It reads, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The fence or border gives a sense of security and preserved order. However, “something there is that does not love a wall,” and naturally these borders wear down and are breached by humanity’s spirit for exploration and discovery. Mitchell discusses the modernist concept of spatial form. Modernist poets like the imagists wrote with the intention of crossing these boundaries. Mitchell mentions criticism that connects modernist spatial form to fascism, which is probably at least partly attributable to Pound and his involvement with fascist ideology. Other modernist writers were breaking rules of time and space, such as, Barnes’ Nightwood. Hemingway’s collection of stories and prose sketches, In Our Time, has been referred to as a cubist novel. I think I agree with Joseph Frank who is quoted by Mitchell referring to spatial form as “neutral critical fiction.” However, neutrality is not enough to appease the conservatives of classical order because neutrality allows for deviations from established normality. So, Lessing was not just concerned with literature’s superiority to visual art; he was concerned with keeping everyone and everything in, what he perceived to be, their proper place and proper order.

I enjoyed looking at and reading the emblem books. Of the ones I saw, my favorite was page 32 and 33 of Francis Quarles titled “Woe be to you that laugh now, for ye shall mourne and weepe.” The title reminded me of the smile now cry later masks of drama. Then while trying to read it, I was reminded of part of a William Blake poem, which I thought was interesting since we are reading Blake next week. The poem is “Auguries of the Innocence,” and the part it reminded me of reads:

Every night and every morn

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,

Some are born to endless night.

The form of the emblem books and Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience are so similar, I figure there has to be some connection.

Hidden Agenda Behind Lessing’s Distinction between the Arts

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — hammonds1 @ 3:48 pm

Michael Hammonds

English 430

Professor Hatfield

24 September 2009

Hidden Agenda behind Lessing’s Distinction between the Arts

      W.J. T. Mitchell’s essay from chapter 4 of Iconology “Space and Time: Lessing’s Laocoon and Politics of Genre disagrees with Lessing’s idea that “literature is an art of time, painting an art of space” (95).  Mitchell points out that Lessing, in his essay on the “Limits between Poetry and Painting”, claims that the notion of “ut pictura poesis”, the sisterhood of the arts of Painting and Poetry, is false because of the major distinctions between Time of literature and Space of the visual arts. Mitchell shows that Lessing’s difference of the space and time issue is true when the “signs” of the two arts are consistent and don’t waver in their meaning: “painting <employs> wholly different signs or means of imitation… Forms and colors in space, the other articulate sound in time” with the understanding that signs are equal with their signified” (95). This acknowledgment by Lessing is important for his notion of the separation of artistic space and literary time to make sense, otherwise the differences don’t hold up when the signs are unreliable.  Because of this unreliability, Mitchell shows that Lessing’s distinction between the visual arts and literature are based on the “convenience” or comfort of the artist and the latter’s ideological and historical beliefs of his time. For example, the subservience of women, the “idol worship” of the Roman Catholics, the dominance of the poetry over painting, the French movement toward spatializing literature are revealed as Lessing’s beliefs as he defines and associates the two art forms separately.   Mitchell points out that the philosophical and political issues of Lessing’s argument against ut pictura poesis is one of “exclusion” and male dominance. 

       At first, Mitchell agrees with the obviousness of the differences of painting and poetry in their forms of “medium and reception and content”.  Each art form possesses inherent qualities such as chronology or, narrative for literature and spatial and a moment in time qualities for the visual arts. However, there are times when the two arts mix such as when literature become spatial as it describes a still object for Ekphrasis or painting  becomes  temporal  when shown as a narrative painting. Even, Lessing acknowledges this deviation to be true and says that these are indirect and uncommon moments. Lessing cites the example of one of Rafael’s painting of a curtain showing the illusion of movement of feet or when Homer describes the shield of Aeneas’ part by part, but these incidences don’t define the true intrinsic reality of the arts. These are but “marginal, deviant or exceptional” (96) occurrences as Lessing calls them “dangers” because they upset the true natures of each art form. Mitchell points out that this “danger” is referred by Robert Weiman who sees the rise of fascism as a consequence of the spatializing of literature. Weiman sees this literary invasion into the “iconic” realm as the elimination of the narrative, forward moving, time oriented framework of literature; the “historicity” that heals and cleanses humanity in its journey of life.

       However, Mitchell shows that Lessing’s “natural”, inherent distinction between the “temporal and spatial arts” does not hold up when examined closely.   The distinction is only evident when the arts are presented “directly” to the reader and not represented through inference or implication.  When the work of art is presented indirectly as an “illusory” narrative painting or the spatial quality of literature then the distinctions between the two areas of space and time disappear.  Mitchell therefore shows that the real reason for the distinctions is based on the “convenience” or easiness for the artist to create in his or her field of art whether it is in poetry or painting. Lessing gives this degree of artistic work as the “the impropriety of costly labor” (103).  So in that case, the “borders dissolve” between space of visual art and the time in literature and left open to enter when the artist rises above the first degree into higher forms. Therefore the signs that each art uses to represent and imitate, the “forms and colors of space” and “the articulate sounds in time” are unstable and gives the opportunity for the artist to enter into each other’s realm.  Mitchell points out that the distinctions are not firmly supported and when examined as separate entities, different classifications reveal hidden ideals. 

In furthering his point about the lack of distinctions between space and time, Mitchell reminds the reader that artists have the natural tendency to break free from any limitations:  “It is the fundamental impulse in both the theory and practice of the arts” (98), for artists to naturally strive toward the “impossible” in their creations, and space and time will not hold them back.  Even Lessing, Mitchell points out that he oversteps these boundaries of space and time in his essay.  Artists must have the authority to choose their directions and the Time/space realm is available for their achievement as it was in the classical time of history.  In modern times this binary is in “dialectal” discussion between one another and symbolized in terms as sliding signifiers and not firmly established and classified as Lessing espouses. For when Lessing’s classification of poetry and Painting, time and space are classified other binaries appear and are opened for exclusion and dominance.  

       Mitchell agrees with the obvious distinctions between literature and the visual arts of time, spatial qualities and also with “exceptions” to their basic “homology”.  Poets have always aspired toward the spatial but have “failed” according to Wendy Steiner, for literature is still in its “true essence of the work being found in this oral form” (99) and painting in its spatial form.  Earlier, the visual arts could be interpreted as temporal when a “spectator” may move around the statue or house in time, but the object still retains its spatial position. It is just an illusion of temporal, but further investigation shows the tendency of the two mixing and Lessing’s calls these exceptions as accidental and indirect.  This is when Mitchell also shows that the distinction is a matter of being direct or indirect representation. He further points out that the indirect spatial representation of text and the temporality of painting is not impossible, just considered “inconvenient, difficult” (102).  Mitchell concludes that Lessing’s distinction between Space and Time is not a matter of principle, but a matter of “convenience, economy, and costliness”. The merging can be done if the artist is willing to exert the energy to meet the challenge.

       Since this “natural” division between poetry and painting is really nonexistent, Mitchell points out that “respectability” is given to artists that do enter each other’s realm and take risks.   Their attempt in crossing into each of the two arts territory is acceptable and not frowned upon but is encouraged to do so. By confronting the “challenge” and the artist succeeds toward higher goals and aspirations without the “admission to failure” (99) but the possibilities and possibilities of people who have been excluded from society.   The other positive consequence of breaking down the borders of space and time is the opening up of new interpretations, readings into Lessing’s views about the limitations of each art work. His Ideologies and “value judgments” are revealed and are not unifying but dictatorial.  It appears that Lessing’s attempt to classify the arts in two separate orders have categorized other ideals as inferior or negative in terms  of society.  For one he reveals a bias of poetry over painting by differentiating Space and time; also he divides, male and female, Protestant and Catholic, etc…  What has occurred in Lessing’s classification of painting and poetry are further divisions rather unity between the two arts. (110) Mitchell shows that Lessing’s apparent rules and classifications for the two arts has exposed them artificial and manmade” and therefore arbitrary according to the society in which they are being formalized! 

       It appears that Lessing’s concept of the space and time was established on the grounds of his political and social beliefs of the times.  This bias comes out when Lessing’s analogizes the two arts as being friendly neighbors respecting each other’s borders and not infringing upon one another.  Mitchell points out that Lessing’s argues with three writers: one from Germany, from England and the third from France and has apparently has specifically criticized the Frenchman on the basis of his spatial interpretation of literature.  French artist is Roman Catholic and they are seen as mixing of icon worship in their religious practices and this is the reason for Protestants to do away with statues and “idols” of the Catholic faith emphasizing more the importance of the written word of the bible. Lessing has formed allies with the German and English who he is more aligned with against Corneille, the Roman Catholic. .  The spatial and visual categories of the arts were given the inferior role to the Protestant stance for the “Word”, Logos as superior over the signs of symbols, the Roman Catholics.  The Protestants accuse the Roman Catholics for adapting to the former enemies, pagans in using idols in their worship and relying on the word of God. Lessing seems to have classified the painting with this form of idol worship that must be guided by the written word.   The arts take on a new meaning; even the genres of man and woman, are shown to be unequal in respectability, goodness, and worthwhile in the world.
       In conclusion, the distinction between painting and poetry, space and time do not hold up through close scrutiny.  It appears that they can mix indirectly by degrees, and ideologies are revealed when the two are categorized. The genre of men/woman, body/mind, protestant/catholic, etc appear when shown under these two classifications.  Deeper meaning and appearance seems to be destroyed and negative connotations are exposed when the categories are compared and contrasted such as terms like “monsters”, “sexual deviation”, “and adulterous behavior”.  So Lessing had more opinions in addition to his major one of space and time, painting and poetry.  Words like “iconoclasm, exclusion, domination, irrational, obscene behavior, dumb mute empty illusory. They must be declared “dumb”, mute: empty, or “illusory” Our god, by contrast reason science, criticisms, the Logos, the spirit of human language and civilized conversation – is invisible, dynamic and incapable of being reified in any material, spatial image.” (113)  Lessing really showed a strong allegiance to the ideals that excluded others and their ideals that he didn’t agree upon.  Male and the written word, Reason, Rationality were top in his list and secretly hid them inside the two classifications of Painting and Poetry, Space and time.

The Ethical Tale

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — andrewbelinfante @ 3:18 pm

Andrew Belinfante

To steal from my last post, I want to go directly to the beginning of W.J.T. Mitchell’s article, “Space and Time: Lessing’s Laocoon and the Politics of Genre” and combine the two ideas we share on Lessing. We both used the quote, which states, “If it be true that painting employs wholly different signs or means of imitation from poetry…and if signs most unquestionably stand in convenient relation with the thing signified, then signs arranged side by side can represent only objects existing side by side” (qtd. in Mitchell 95). To follow, Mitchell touches upon the idea that Lessing is more, or less, unoriginal in his assertions.

What I would like to focus on though is applying this text, and Lessing’s text, to the Emblem Books we examined this week as a class. Directly below this paragraph is a picture example of the Emblem Book page I find particularly interesting. Directly related to the claims made about “spatial form” is the idea that pictures and words can be merged and what that does for the idea that objects exist “side by side.” On the other hand, what readers deduce here is often a sense of morality within the text. The question being: How is that relevant when we see these separately, or if we choose to view one first? What does the picture offer us alone? For each person, as Horace shares with us, from last week’s readings, this will be different. The beauty of blogging is that I can ask for responses to my questions. What does it do for you? Do you find morality within the text?

Mitchell furthers his discussion by noting that this information was commonplace for the society in which Laocoon lived and that “Lessing performed the same service, [as many other contemporaries of the day,] for the intermediate world of signs and artistic media” (Mitchell 96). And now, to the point which becomes so clear: other than the fact that Mitchell claims a commonality to exist between those who sit on opposing sides of Lessing’s argument, Mitchell makes clear that, “the whole notion of ‘spatial’ and ‘temporal’ arts is misconceived insofar as it is employed to sustain an essential differentiation of or within the arts….it finds expression even in the writings of theorists like Kant and Lessing who establish the tradition of denying it” (Mitchell 98). What Mitchell is claiming is that time should not effect, or have any bearing, on the way we view these imagetexts.

I am reminded of two different areas of art/image when the situation presents itself. The first, is a series of tractates, sentences, which Judaism holds to high esteem; called Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of our Fathers). An example is, “Two of the crowns are already taken. The crown of Aaron belonged to Aaron and is reserved for his descendants. The crown of royalty belonged to David and is reserved for his descendants. The crown of Torah, however, belongs to all who choose it, and whoever wishes may come and take it” (B. Talmud Yoma 72b). A morality issue. Plain and simple. The relationship, and the question again to pose: How has this sentence, without image, conquered time? Has it conquered time? Is this applicable to Jewish people today after a time where the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, twice?

The second example I would like to offer comes from a contemporary author of experimental fiction. His name is Brian Andreas and he often combines text and image to create his ethic, or teaching. See below this paragraph for his artwork. He is one of my personal favorite authors and in a way is accomplishing much of the same task as the Emblem Books. Notice how he infuses the art with the text, but they can be seemingly unrelated. I encourage you to visit the Storypeople web site for more info on his works.

I want to offer, in conclusion, the same questions to all types of art/media. How do they exist for us in the present and can they transcend time in order to be applicable to our lives today. Do you think that if you were to write a sentence, or draw a picture, or do both together it would apply in a thousand years? In a hundred years?

Space and Time

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — cja4 @ 3:01 pm

Space and Time Lessing’s Laocoon and the Politics of Genre by G.E. Lessing argues on how artist are always trying to push the difference between space and time through poems, sculptures and statues. The first line says “Literature is an art of time, painting an art of space”(95). Although this is true I believe that in some causes literature can be an art of space and painting an art of time. It doesn’t mean in every causes it becomes successful, but I believe that they are sculptures that capture the action from a poem, story or movie.

Argument has been made that literature and visual art are two different arts they don’t ever succeed when they come together. That might be true, but not all the time. Lessing says “A new way of conceiving of the space-time problem in the arts, as a dialectal struggle in which the opposed terms take on different ideological roles and relationships at different moments in history”(98). Everyone moment changes in History, space and time take on different roles in the arts.

One example of difference in moments in history on how women are portrayed in the arts. Lessing argues “Paintings, like women, are ideally silent, beautiful creatures designed for the gratification of the eye”(110).  This might of been the concept in many paintings throughout History including one of the most famous paintings the Mona Lisa.

The women in paintings like during the Renaissance were made to pleasing to the eye and just be peaceful. The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world, but it doesn’t have a lot of action going on. Just a women sitting down and reflects the culture of the day.


But now in contemporary art women are not portrayed as conservative as they did in the Renaissance. An example of  space and time for woman in art would be Faith from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Faith Faith is seen here doing a kick which captures the action shes doing. Many would argue whether paintings and sculptures are seen to capture on the artist message  of the art. Both the statue and painting capture different moments in time, space and History. Before women wouldn’t have been shown doing the action moves as they are now.

Both space and time are captured in different moments wether it be in scuptures, poems, and paintings. Overall the arugement G.E. Lessing says poetry and paitings have a relationship that go together.

Space and Time, coming together

Filed under: Ch. 5 (Mitchell vs. Lessing),OUR JOURNAL — uhchris @ 2:33 pm

Mitchell discusses in his essay “Space and Time: Lessing’s Laocoon and the Politics of Genre” the notions of art in terms of the genres of painting and poetry, the former dealing in space and the latter in time. Mitchell goes onto argue that Lessing’s laws of genre is not to make spatial and temporal arts separate but equal, however to segregate them in their natural inequality where poetry posses a “wider sphere” due to “the infinite range of our imagination and the intangibility of its images” (Mitchell 107).  Mitchell goes onto say that following this logic, that poetry somehow encompasses painting, the logical conclusion “would be no need for painting at all” and that Lessing in fact contradicts himself claiming that “Painting is allowed certain kinds of superior power: it ‘makes a beautiful picture from vivid sensible impressions,’ while poetry works with ‘the feeble uncertain representation of arbitrary signs” (Lessig 73/86); it has ‘that power of illusion which in the presentation of visible objects art possesses above poetry’ (Lessing 135/138); and at certain moments when ‘poetry stammers and eloquence grows dumb,’ painting may ‘serve as an interpreter’ (Lessing (135/138)” (Mitchell 107). Mitchell then concludes that with this, logically speaking we can do without painting, as poetry comprehends all its effects and more.

With the differences of spatial and temporal art aside, Mitchell makes an excellent point about the relations of the arts in that they are “like those of countries, of clans, of neighbors, of members of the same family. They are thus related by sister- and brother-hood, maternity and paternity, marriage, incest, and adultery; thus subject to versions of the laws, taboos, and rituals that regulate social forms of life” (Mitchell 112). I think the relationship between text and image in this day and age are coming together as artist find new ways to blur the boundary lines between spatial and temporal art, as Mitchell mentions earlier in his essay, “[it is] tendency of the artists to breach the supposed boundaries between temporal and spatial arts is no a marginal or exceptional practice, but a fundamental impulse in both the theory and practice of the arts, one which is no confined to any particular genre or period” (Mitchell 98).

-Christopher Osier

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