Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Narrative is primary? .... I have my doubts

When I was young I went to Paris to see the Museum of Modern Arts there. One piece which I will never forget is an ugly thing with a toilet, a neon toilet seat, a pipe going across the floor, up the opposite wall finally disappearing behind a venetian blind. The thing which I hated (more than was reasonable) was the 6 pages of explanation which the artist had fixed to the wall, explaining the piece.

I thought that art was a communication and thus the 6 pages simply highlighted the fact that the artist had failed.

Maybe this early trauma [:))] has lead to me having trouble with “narrative”. I also hate fashionable terms and jargon.

Now, in the story of the emperor’s new clothes, the emperor was told a story, and stupidly he let the story influence his mind to such an extent that he disregarded the visual information he was getting in favour of the narrative he was told.

If someone plants an ugly plant (there are ugly plants in SL) in front of an ugly wall and tells me that the cement for the mortar in the walls was mixed with the tears of angels, and the plant was taken from the garden of the Queen of Sheba, and the whole installation was to highlight the plight of prisoners being tortured by fascist regimes..... I trust I will say “thats hell of an ugly thing you have there”.

Imagine a train wreck... imagine a photographer taking a doll to the site.... imagine the photographer placing the doll in front of the wreck so that he/she can get the image of the childs toy with the destruction in the background.... yukk.

These are a few of the problems I have with “narrative”.

If narrative is “primary’ as has been suggested recently then we could all be in trouble.

I much prefer enigma to narrative.



  1. VERY interesting, Ms. Nishi. I should point out that contemporary art is built on the foundation of lengthy (6 pages is nothin!) explanations.

    But you see... right there... at the very end of your post, you created your own narrative: Enigma over narrative. Now, simply write 6 pages on that topic and you might have the beginning of an art concept / movement / perspective. ;-)

  2. !!!!Narative! I'm having a hard enough time trying to accept the idea of a "concept"

  3. @Bettina....heheheh...great idea as long as all six pages were blank.

    @Snowy, you can join my new movement then..:))

  4. soror . . .agreed. I feel that some written narrative is/can be part of the work, but to paraphrase William Eggleston (photographer) from documentary, "William Eggleston In The Real World": "words and photography have nothing to do with each other."

    (Photography, read as visual art.)

    That's extreme but to me but if you need to much 'blah blah blah' you're just spinning, distracting or propping up the lame.

    (I've likely been subject to too many critiques where students were better talkers than photographers.) :p

  5. Yes, I studied architecture and too much weight was given to post-design rationalisation.... crap is crap no matter how well it's "justified"...

  6. Hi Soror,
    I am going to repeat what Bettina has already very cleverly pinpointed above:
    Enigma = Narrative.
    Just as Metaphor = Narrative.

    So, when I say that narrative is primary, I am in no way talking about a "story" with a beginning a middle and end. But moreover (and even more importantly) I am most certainly not talking about intellectual vapidity which hides behind 6 pages of multi-syllable undecipherable gibberish. If anything, I mean the exact opposite of that when I emphasize narrative. I have in fact been trying to talk about a visual language which transcends the spoken/written word in my emphasis to "narrative". Obviously I seem to have failed quite miserably... Which would give me even more reason to not to rely on the spoken word!

  7. ahhh..well.. if everything = narrative, then we are certainly in trouble, verbally.

    While I fully understand that film work and comics, books and the like which rely on narrative are not exactly what you meant, I did feel that the word was used to indicate some sort of understanding, mental understanding, which I am strongly against, and you seem to be also.

    I realise that even the title of a piece of visual art has a narrative (story) element to it, but hopefully no implied understanding.

    My personal favourite definition of art "long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses" implies a certain confusion like a Zen koan. A "short circuiting" of the intellectual capacity we use to arrange ourselves in the world.
    A sensory enigma rather than the word Enigma.

    Are the stories you want to make up when visiting Karnak, or meeting Nonnatus's birds, implied? or simply an effort by our brains, unable to leave things stand.

    An attempt to make sense of sense impressions?

    I did not want to make up a story, but just soaked up the visual pleasure at let it stand as seen.

    It may just be that narrative is not the right word, after all it does mean story.


  8. I do not think that everything is narrative - in fact, I would dare to suggest that very little which is put into words ever actually is?

    And I would have to be an extremely superficial sort of a person to wish to make up stories when I look at Karnak or Nonnatus' birds in a way that would try to make sense of them.

    Your wonderful Zen quote "long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses" already suggests narrative in that in it is embedded the very notion of temporality and process.

    Yes narrative does indeed mean story (in it's strictest sense)- where I think we differ is in our definitions of what a story is. For me (amongst much else) it is primarily a vastly complex set of verbal, half verbal and non-verbal elements which conglomerate, to quote the same exact phrase once again, to create a "long, immense and deliberate derangement of the senses".

    But you are right: The word "narrative" is insufficient. I need to think of something better I suppose. Part of my usage stems from my interest in Jung who does use it somewhat along these lines when he talks about archetypes and fairy tales...


    I cannot help but add that I am extremely suspicious of "visual pleasure" as a standalone attribute.

  9. well.... I'll have to go a lie down in a darkened room with a wet towel on my head...:))
    I'm a little mystified.

    You are right about visual pleasure..... but my unconscious loves it