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  • Larry Kaiser

ART IS NOT COMMUNICATION; ART IS MONOLOGUE


"Art has always been a language,a means of communication." So claim art theorists, philosophers of aesthetics, many artists and the lay public at large.

That opinion is now taught as fact in major art schools and universities. Self-styled artists repeat it constantly on art blogs and art forums on the Internet. But a tedious search of texts from famous artist’s discovers almost nothing corroborating or agreeing with the widely-accepted presumption that art is communication. To be fair, and before I develop my argument to the contrary, I will stipulate that there are a few minor characters of the art world that do apparently, somewhat, agree that art is communication. For instance:

Trevor Chamberlain, British watercolor impressionist, says, “I consider that communication is an essential aspect of art…”

Another example (which presumes the role of art is to communicate) comes from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, American poet and artist, associated with the international Fluxus Movement. Comparing paintings to poetry, Ferlinghetti says, “…paintings may communicate even better (than poetry) because people are lazy and they can look at a painting with less effort than they can read a poem.”

Naum Gabo, Russian pioneer of kinetic sculpture, writes, “…Art derives from the necessity to communicate…”

That said, I contend that we (lay and professional alike) will understand art better the more we understand that...

ART IS MONOLOGUE.

Understanding how art is monologue legitimizes the visual artist’s urge to just put it out there, come hallowed elucidation, baffled discombobulation, perplexed denunciation or mute dumbfoundedness.


In theatre, a monologue (from Greek μονόλογος from μόνος mónos, "alone, solitary" and λόγος lógos, "speech") is a verbal (rather than visual) presentation delivered by a single character, most often to show off that character’s individual mental thoughts. Those mental thoughts speak, utter, reveal, display, expose and articulate in the form of:

  • analogies,

  • complaints,

  • observations,

  • reasonings,

  • feelings,

  • perceptions,

  • criticisms,

  • humors

  • and ironies.

  • And–yes, quite importantly—

The monologue, like visual art, like say Leonardo's Mona Lisa, is intended to display (to show off) sharply-honed skills. The monologue, like visual art, may get a response from the audience, but it does not require a response. The monologue, like visual art, is meant to stand alone. The monologue, like visual art, like say Picasso's Guernica, is sometimes meant as a device by which a character and/or the author may Announce a Definitive Stand on a Subject and do so in a dramatic, showy way.

Monologues share much in common with several other literary devices including soliloquies, apostrophes, and asides. Monologues, like visual art, can be similar to poems and epiphanies. Soliloquy For example, like some visual art, a soliloquy involves a character relating his or her thoughts and feelings to him/herself and to the audience without addressing any other characters. Apostrophe Monologues, in the form of an apostrophe, like some visual art, like say Duchamp's Fountian (the urinal), may address an imaginary person, inanimate object, or idea as if that character were actually present. Asides Monologues, in the form of asides, like some visual art, are shorter (or smaller, in the case of visual art, such as sketch books) and are not intended to be heard by other characters (or fellow artists). Linking Monologue From the standpoint of that kind of art known as breakthrough visual art, it is interesting to note that one of the key purposes of Ancient Roman monologues was to indicate the passage of significant amounts of time, especially between scenes. This type of monologue is referred to as a linking monologue, in art possibly thought of as works that link an older era with a new era. Entrance Monologues Speaking of eras and passage of time, "entrance monologues" and “exit monologues” may be analogous to art that heralds the entrance to a new era and art that sums up a current era. Audition Monologues Lastly, even audition monologues are comparable to some visual art. Theatre actors may be called upon to use monologues for audition purposes. Audition monologues (much as a visual artist’s portfolio, or a single example shipped to a gallery or submitted to a juried show) demonstrate an actor's ability to prepare a piece and deliver a performance.

I submit that the attributes and purposes that define monologue in live theater also define the essence of visual art, curtail several current counter-productive art exclusions, proscriptions, stymies and taboos, and they present a sharp set of tools as thinking- and talking-points for painters and sculptors.


Think of Any Era’s Culture as its On-going Stage Play; and think of the art works it features during that era as that era's or play’s identifying monologues (its logo, its brand, its insignia, its tag, its imprint, its hashtag).

Artists:

If you must think of your art as being communication, think of it as communicating not with contemporaries but with future generations, with history. Pick up your brush or chisel or paint or clay and first think, Now, I step before the audience and deliver my monologue. Make your monologue excellent and memorable, and use it to say...

Upon This Issue In This Time and Place in History Here is Where I Stand

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