Nana has been busy exploring, of late, a course run through the University of Edinburgh by Esther Cohen of Pitclay Creative (see Blogroll). ‘Introduction to Visual Language: A Practical Approach’ was founded on the premise that there is a visual language through which we commonly construct our aesthetic, and that this language can be studied and analysed in its own right and for its own sake. Understanding the elements of this language, its ‘tokens’ in linguistic terms, and studying its syntax will help us to ‘read’ and ‘write’ more effectively in the visual medium.
To this end, we were introduced week by week to sets of ‘visual elements’, ‘structural components’ and ‘processes and methods for practice’ and encouraged to play with them, slowly building our fluency.
This playtime was admirably controlled so that we were limited to the elements under examination at any one time. Initially working only with paper in two contrasting tones and a limited number of geometric shapes, we were encouraged to discard any ‘themes’ that emerged; flights of fancy and imagination that might begin to dictate form or content. This was purely ‘grammatical’, and we were gently guided back to the strictures of the exercise whenever we became distracted.
As a means to producing polished or meaningful art work this was, therefore, hopeless. That was not the goal. Rather the fun was in the constraint, the stripping back to basics to see what emerged or remained. As a test of the original hypothesis, however, this was hugely successful. We were able to work with these elements, components and processes in the way one might work with vocabulary, syntax and form in a poetry workshop, composing the equivalents of ‘This sentence no verb’ and Chomsky’s famous ‘Colorless green ideas sleep furiously’.
Practices like working in series echoed the notebook practices of creative writing, always working from the last fragment to help construct the next.
A study in both discipline and disciplines, this course was well worth attending and yours truly’s visual products are reproduced here. But the real treasure is in the reflection.
If we are simply dealing with different tools for inscribing human thought and emotion, different ‘languages’ of humankind, the very fact that they share the feature of being grammatically governed at once reflects the constraints of humanity, and allows for acts of translation. But are visual art and writing really such diverse practices? After all, they are both acts of ‘orthography’ in a broad sense; of inscribing, recording.
Or does the practice of recording bring nothing to bear?
What happens when we compare and contrast forms of language that eschew inscription, like sign languages? They too have grammar and syntax, constructions that are socially determined as more or less successful. They too have aesthetic.
Nana wonders whether there are comparisons are to be found in the ideation as well as the practice and the product……