space between words and images

“Gradually we begin to tire of passively observing the TV screen from this side. We want to check out the interior of that other room directly, with our own eyes. We want to speculate upon its meaning based on something more concrete. And so we decide to transport ourselves to the other side of the screen.


It’s not that difficult once we make up our mind. All we have to do is separate from the flesh, leave all substance behind, and allow ourselves to become a conceptual point of view devoid of mass. With that accomplished, we can pass through the wall, leap over the abyss. Which is exactly what we do. And then the world is reconstructed. And all of this takes but a blink of the eye.”


Haruki Murakami, ‘After Dark’

2 aspects of abstract art: one is to treat it as describing real objects in an abstract way, the other is to think of it as an attempt to describe something that is not directly perceived – something that is not seen to be real but is intuited to be real. In a sense, all that abstract art seeks to do is make things real.

The first case boils down to trying to describe something by not directly describing it, always going off in tangents, and expecting the observer to understand how these tangential ideas together imply something about the object. This approach can be extended to the point where there is no object, just the tangents. The result is art that purports to have meaning, but contains no clues about what that might be; in which case, the question ‘what is the point of this’ will always remain unanswered. The problem is not that the question has no answer, it is that in reality, there is no question. There is just paint on a surface.

Confusion arises in the second case; something is purported to be ‘not real’ but it is described in real terms – i.e. a work of art, that is obviously real and has material substance. Even ‘conceptual’ art has substance, even if it has been reduced to just a title, which is words that need to be printed or spoken. Even thoughts have substance, otherwise they would not exist, so pursuing a purely abstract line will always fail, since the abstract ceases to be abstract once it is given substance.

If it is possible to separate the visual image from the words that are used to describe it, then at least the contradictions that arise when trying explain something in words do not apply anymore; but we would have to imagine a means of thinking that did not rely on or translate itself into words. Another question comes out of this: does separating the image from the words imply that everything is equally valid? If you remove all non-visual language, then does everything loose a certain amount of meaning in equal measure, in which case, would communication be possible?

An idea for abstract art that is, at the very least, internally consistent: it is images that cannot, should not and will not be described in words. The only way in which abstract art can exist is for no words to be written about it – abstract art will only be real in a world in which images are not bound up in words. The entire machinery of the art industry and the means by which people are exposed to art are cleaned out, there are only images, with no words attached to construct a false context. How could you describe these images without words? How will you know that one image is more valid than another? Without words can we tell whether we are looking at a lie or a truth? Is there equal truth in words and images, as long as they are separate? How could that space be described?