Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Visual Murmurs
Suzanne Li Puma
"I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence." – Plato, Phaedrus
Are visual experiences "quieter" or "louder" than linguistic ones? How do artworks approach, mimic, or refuse the conditions of speech? To what extent is language, in the twentieth century, an illuminating frame of reference when interpreting or writing about specific artistic practices?
This course will explore how the works of artists, art historians and theorists in the 20th century have addressed these questions and arrived at a diverse range of responses, both voluble and barely audible. We will consider a mixed collection of artistic practices: from street photography of graffiti (Brassaï, Helen Levitt), to Cubist collage (Pablo Picasso), Pop Art (Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol), experiments with line-language in drawing and print (Mira Schendel, Gego), Surrealist words and images (Joan Miró, René Magritte), and feminist performance art (Anna Maria Maiolino, Ana Mendieta), among others.
As we spend time with these various practices we will consider how language–or its refusal–might serve as a disruptive or critical term in relation to the visual, plastic, or sensory dimension. We will ask how each artist re-defines or re-imagines what it means for an inanimate surface to "speak" or to refuse speech. At the same time, we will consider the writings of art historians and theorists on the question of the "linguistic turn" and its effect upon how one perceives, interprets, and writes about works of art.
As this is the second course in the Reading and Composition series, we will place an emphasis on the acquisition of the skills required for researching and writing a 10-to-15 page undergraduate term paper.