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Words + Images: Alchemy of Language Into Visual Art

Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961 by American artist Larry Rivers will be the subject of this essay. I am interested in this subject since it focuses on a virtual art artwork that, as a whole, represents an instructive diagram. The subject thoroughly knows visuals and words through the alchemy of language into visual art. Larry Rivers created artworks that constantly integrated words and images as an artist and writer intimately involved in transnational pictorial and linguistic interchange (Cras, 2016). Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961 (figure.1) is a notable illustration of the above approach linked to the long-term language interests pervasive between writers and artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s. On the other hand, this provides a fresh and multidimensional account of the link amid what is seen (picture) and what may be expressed (words).

Larry Rivers Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961

Figure 1: Larry Rivers Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961.

How we perceive the link between images and words, particularly their precedence sequence, impacts our perception of human experience and knowledge. Privileging images above words implies that language, as a profound conceptual and linguistic framework, enables comprehensible expertise, allowing us to recognize a sense piece as an image in the first place. To value words over images implies that we must initially meet the universe in its sensory proximity and uniqueness earlier; thus, we can cognize and codify our experiences using language. Parts of the Face, as we’ll see, destabilize this opposition twice as much. By failing to give precedence to either image or word, the piece creates a ‘tautological’ or self-referential interaction of word and image. Any issue of priority among them is severely unresolvable.

Furthermore, the expressive features of the artwork that produce an emotive power refractory to the slightly discursive-figural path of understanding outperform the dynamic union of word and image. Additionally, the work’s destabilizing consequences humorously challenge the didactic educational framework of standardized language learning; the stiff trace lingers in the painting’s commanding harshness of black lines of description. Parts of the Face brings into an inquiry of specific institutionalized kinds of education while imagining new creative ways of learning and experiencing.

Joseph Kosuth Neon 1965

Figure 2: Joseph Kosuth Neon 1965

The concept of creative tautology can be used to Parts of the Face. Paintings that are tautological fall into two categories. They are self-referential in the first place. They are fundamentally important to understand the relationship between text and figure, or word and image, the link between visual form and language. Integrating these two characteristics allows us to go to one advanced phase. In a tautological painting, self-reference is vital to the effort communicated through the relationship formed between word and picture (Ross, 2014). Therefore, a repetitious work is intrinsically twofold, a piece with both language and visual components. Understanding the precise words and images relationship that comprises that work’s field of self-reference is critical to addressing any specific part of tautological art. Usually, this relationship takes the system of identification, in which word and picture coexist, as in Joseph Kosuth’s Neon 1965. (Figure.2).

Nevertheless, relationship between language and visual art in self-reflexive works of art can consider taking additional differing arrangements. For example, the incommensurability fitted between figure and text in René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe series (figure.3) or in Jasper Johns’ False Start (1959), the unresolvable strain between the connotation and visual beauty of color words. (Figure.4). Suppose ‘tautological’ refers to the earlier type of self-reflexive effort that advances to identifying relationships amongst pictures and words. In that case, ‘anti-tautological’ refers to the latter self-referential kind of work that breaks this identification connection.

René Magritte Ceci n’est pas une pipe 1926

Figure 3: René Magritte Ceci n’est pas une pipe 1926

Johns False Start 1959

Figure 4: Johns False Start 1959

Consequently, there appears to be a form of reversibility in the relationship amid image and word, an ambiguity in their command of precedence that explains the humorous dynamic of the images and word doublets. Such a shift in perspectives powers Parts of the Face’s tautological domain of self-reference. On the one side, the general populace’s importance of the word also enables the image to emerge as a visual art of our view through its labelling function. In contrast, the private predominance of the picture as the unique ground or founding example might support the studied definition of the word.

Nevertheless, parts of the Face reveal an interplay of energies of a different kind, rendered manifest by what escapes or fights the recognition synthesis of name and characteristic, in conflict with this vibrant repetitive union. The active lack of a well-formed picture may be seen in the unclear sections of the painting, in which the crudeness of coat in its extensive and sloppy administration is preserved and shown. Unless the piece’s tautological attribute encapsulates understanding of the meaning in the game of shared situation amid both the language and pictorial arts of the Face, the signifying impastos and bursting at the seams colour fields generate a practical and valuable charge quite distinct from the cerebral black lines of description. Wouldn’t the conclusion imply a clear aggression, a spectacular projection of the sign dividing up and differentiation of the parts of the Face underneath where the creative paint would either escape or, by corrupting a label less symbols, quickly resist? Without a doubt, the painting’s experience is imbued by the contradiction of painting in its core materiality, wet splashes of color or compressing bulk, before it is employed to convey or describe a picture. Rivers achieves a dynamic identity relationship between image and word while also presenting (and exceeding) the expressive limitations of this creative tautology.

A tautological painting is a self-reflexive work that accomplishes self-consciousness by establishing a discernible link between the pictures and text in the work. Kosuth’s neon art is an exact form of tautological art (Neon 1965; figure.2). In this case, the tautology is immediately evident because Neon is made up of the name ‘Neon‘ and the material, neon. In other terms, there is a self-reflexive identification of heading, shape, and substance: a piece titled Neon adopts the term ‘Neon’ as its visual form. It uses the sense described by that word just like its composition. Therefore, the identification of words and visible objects assures the reality of the self-reference because the piece is a pictorial rendition of language explanation declaring a manifest quality of the art, as is a creative tautology in particular (here, it is material composition). Furthermore, the unification of the linguistic and visual art is so instantaneous, the coextension of words and images so perfect that the words appear to have supplanted the images entirely, claiming the whole visible system of the piece. According to curator Nancy Spector, Kosuth created “rigidly theoretical work stripped of all structural appearance; intellectual provocation substituted sensation as words supplanted pictures and objects” by employing “language itself as his medium.”

The tautological union of word and image appears to be acquired at the cost of the visual in Neon. Not only is language granted precedence, but visual art is stripped of all autonomy, and the visual as a whole is degraded to a substantial substrate material that can only corroborate the reality of the language sign (Sylvester, 2005). The work’s lesson, or, to use Kosuth’s terminology, its “art proposition,” would appear to be that not only in physical knowledge profoundly facilitated by ideas. As Parts of the Face by now implies concerning acknowledgement but that the notion itself is the only piece of understanding, at least in the context of painting. Rather than speaking of the uniqueness of words and images, it would be far more exact to talk of the identification of words qua significant symbols and words qua visual art, as the identification of what the words state (its logic, ‘Neon’) as well as what the words reveal its tangible materialism, neon tubing. In addition to its traditional duty as the state, language gains the ability to generate visual art, and the brilliance of Kosuth’s work resides in allowing the word to express this dual power simultaneously.

Moreover, by announcing and affirming itself simultaneously, language makes the reality of what it expresses visible; and it is the exact art that allows language to accomplish this dual role. Although Neon guarantees the fact of its creative repetition by subjugating images to words, prior findings of anti-tautological portrait, specifically Johns’ False Start 1959 (figure.3), achieve the opposite result by decisively separating any connection concerning the visible art and language sense. The piece is made up of vividly sensitive bursts of colour and colour phrases spread in diverse ways. Many of these words (implying a random sequence) are painted in different colors than the words; for example, the word ‘Red’ appears in orange letters, misidentifying the color spurts where they are positioned (assuming the phrases are to be considered brands).

False Start preserves a self-referential disjunction between the meaning and image of words. The words constitute, as custodian Harry Cooper puts it, ‘anti-calligrams,’ a carl being a classic style of writing (word, poetry) in which the letters or lines are organized graphically to produce an image of their topic matter: ‘In False Start, for each of the colour designations, portrayed in colour is a calligram, a fusion of word and picture, however these fusions signal divorce instead of a relationship of words and images. They are calligrams that are not calligrams.’ Self-consciousness in non-tautological art, like in artistic tautology, is instantly apparent. Nevertheless, as suggested by the artwork’s label, it now becomes self-falsifying instead of self-validating. Johns does it here if Kosuth subsequently distinguished between words as a good sign and words as a visual shape. If in Neon, identification comes at the expenditure of images, in False Start, alterity comes at the cost of goal (Mitchell, 2005The words lose their value as language signals and fade into silence as simply visual arts, organized in an apparently random sequence, situated at varied viewpoints with variable degrees of readability, often stacked atop and sometimes semi-occluded under blown paint. As a result, it appears that there is an inverse relationship between color discordance and the utterance of words, with the end result being as silent as they are arbitrary and worthless.

The anti-carl signifies anti-tautological art, whether it be a self-reflexive synthesis mixture of words and images or a calligram. René Magritte, according to the historian Michel Foucault, has achieved the creative anti-carl more well than anybody else, beginning with the first piece in his Ceci n’est pas une pipe sequence, an ink painting from 1926. (figure.4). Foucault interprets the painting, in which a hatching image of a pipe hangs above the scrawled sentence ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe,’ as the result of an undiscovered method in which Magritte creates and then unties a pipe calligram. The proposal may come as a surprise because, at first look, the image above and words beneath seem to be associated with an image and a legend, regardless of the pessimism of their relationship. To properly comprehend Foucault’s standpoint, we need to look at the visual rationale of the calligram.

A calligram attempts to discover what it symbolizes twice by using characters’ dual nature as symbols (components of language content) and lines (components of visual art). When considered in their visual aspect, the exact words that talk about the object (speak its significance) immediately portray it. The text in its exterior shows as the figure, whereas the image in its interiority is displayed as a word. The calligram, like Neon, therefore imbues verbal with dual control because words display makes visual arts, in their role as appearances, exactly what they identify make understandable in their function assigns. Nevertheless, there is one crucial distinction: language in a calligram cannot wield this dual power concurrently since the visible art does not give up its self-sufficiency regarding the language signal. For language to be displayed as a picture in a calligram, the character must be perceived in its silent materiality deprived of being interpreted as a sign. As Fourcade put it, “the text must communicate nothing to this staring subject who is a spectator, not a reader.” Shape vanishes as long as he starts to learn (Foucault, 2020). The calligram never talks and depicts at the same time.’ Even though both are formed of characters, contain the same theme, and appear to support one other on the surface, there is an irreconcilable diversity and even shared exclusions between words and images in the calligram.

In Ceci n’est pas une pipe, Magritte clearly describes the inherent conceptual frameworks between language and visual art. Whereas the hand-drawn essence of the authored expression, imageries of words set beside the piping system, and the handwritten manner of the strained pipe, an image in the form of composing hints at an earlier interaction of words and images that recommended cohesion is now divided open. The disconnection of the two components, the deficiency of characters in the painting, the refutation demonstrated in the text’ attest to their consensual disconnection. Nevertheless, in disentanglement the furtively constructed calligram, Magritte has devotedly externally validated the physical in compossibility of words and images inherent in the calligram itself. The calligram (when practical) is just an essential strategy for concealing the considerable gap between sense and sensibility. It is intended for exchange on the ambiguity of letters as plastic symbols. Instead of presenting an anti-calligram in the way that Johns eventually realized, Magritte demonstrates how each carl is now anti-tautological, wrecked from the start by the inherent non-identity of words and images. If creative redundancy is self-deprecating in False Start, it is ridiculous in Ceci n’est pas une pipe. If true self-reference is still possible in a redundant work after Magritte, it will be the result of a force or capture relationship between language signal and visual art that lowers one to the other, as in Neon’s dominance of image byword.

Ultimately, we may recognize Rivers’ particular contribution to examining image-word interactions in 20th-century painting with Parts of the Face. Rivers provided a middle ground amid the excesses of Kosuth, who forfeited images to reveal the self-satisfying reality of verbal, and Johns, who devoted sense to liberating images from the words that would deceive them. Parts of the Face accomplishes a vibrant cohesiveness of words and images, created by an alterable prioritized connection between the characteristics illustrated and the brands that identify them. The definition thus appears likely, rather than entirely verbal, via the broad acknowledgement of a sensible version. Despite this unification and from the start, the tautological circuit’s twofold capture is dissatisfied by an expressionistic getaway. Vertically dripping colour and permanently damaging impasto silently convey the productive power that surpasses the exceptional service ending of the language experience, intellectually stimulating the latter’s visual representative framework. Like Johns’ and Magritte’s, Rivers’ picture rips up the unity of aesthetic tautology. Parts of the Face, on the other hand, visibly expresses the sensation that is indestructible and outside of the interplay of wrong and right, yet False Start enforces the self-deceit characteristic of the anti-carl. In contrast to Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, which just hints at a calligram’s mysterious remodeling before leaving it perceptibly undone. Parts of the Face displays the synthetic union of words and images at the same time, causing the actually representative figure to self-decompose into an expressive abstract notion.

Therefore, portions of the Face enact artistic tautology while also constructively destabilizing it. Furthermore, the piece questions didactic instruction and undermines its ostensibly dominant sense judgments in the same creative motion. That kind of pedagogy is reductive, but it also prohibits an imaginative way of teaching and learning by enforcing a specific source of acquaintance and recommending its integration via reiteration. Moreover, by assuming this awareness to be self-evidently correct, the honourable disguise the circumstances of awareness creation, concealing the relationship between power and wisdom. This is proven in the last half of this analysis, which demonstrates that, despite its art conceptual intricacy, Rivers’ work is more than just art questioning itself as art; but weighs significantly on the relationships between ideologies, visual arts and history

Work Cited

Bowman, Russell. “Words and images: a persistent paradox.” Art Journal 45.4 (1985): 335-343.

Cras, Sophie. “Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961 by Larry Rivers.” (2016).

Foucault, Michel. This is not a pipe. University of California Press, 2020.

Mitchell, William J. Placing words: Symbols, space, and the city. MIT Press, 2005.

Ross, Leslie. Language in the visual arts: the interplay of text and imagery. McFarland, 2014.

Sylvester, Christine. “The art of war/the war question in (feminist) IR.” Millennium 33.3 (2005): 855-878.


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