Speaking about Art

by Loretta Secchi

The evocative and fulfilling function of words.


"We seem to always need to excuse ourselves for speaking about art. But there are many important reasons for not stopping. All arts live off words», wrote Paul Valéry in one of his essays in 1920, and from that statement we propose the idea of the use of words as an aesthetic equivalent capable of translating in words a work of art. Ekphrasis is a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art, as Umberto Eco explains in a recent essay entitled To almost say the same thing. A few months ago, the Istituto Francesco Cavazza launched Radio Oltre, its schedule can be looked up at the following address: www.cavazza.it (in Italian only). The cultural programming of the radio broadcasting will include a cycle of 15 lessons on art history, focused on the iconographic and iconological interpretation of paintings, described according to its values of form, style and content. The works of art were selected because they are renowned and also because of their placing in Bolognese museums, as well as their presence in tridimensional translation at the Tactile Museum Anteros. Historically introduced and than described through the reconstruction of their genesis, meaning and relations to assignors, as well as its cultural context, the paintings will be the object of discussions together with the poetry and biography of the author. This initiative focuses on the narration of the aesthetic values of a work of art, materialized in the mind, with "eyes closed". The evocative and fulfilling function of words, in substitution of visual and tactile perceptions, represents a possibility for intellectual and imaginative knowledge which must not take away the pleasure and the cognitive value of sensory, optical and tactile perceptions. Rather, it can emphasize the importance of the relation between images and content, form and substance of a work of art intended as a reflection of the spirit of an era and of a culture. The imaginative process through which we reconstruct a painting, in its iconic nature, always needs to create space in the mind and in feelings, at the connection of knowledge, the relation between sensory memory and mental representation. The aesthetic experience begins when emotion and reason meet, from which derives an intellectual achievement stemming from the disposition of our soul in the moment in which we learn a content and reinterpret it.

That is, but not only that, the power of imagination, which is never a sterile supposition or auto-referential fantasy. On the contrary, it is nourished from the contact and research of common denominators between collective and individual thought, supported by the experience. This therefore voids the separation between subject and object, and brings both to the uniqueness of understanding true works of art, since it is between thought and art, between spirit and matter. There is an authentic closeness. The convergence of the strengths produced by imagination confirms the translation of the visual representation in words and grants symbiosis between intellective vision and sensitive perceptions. It is also necessary to acquire a methodological competence to evaluate the use of the theory of art and the critical tools necessary to mature the autonomy of judgment. The precise description, though technical, is the narration of the poetry of an artist, of the feeling of the forms endowed with aesthetic value. When speaking about works of art, it is appropriate to associate the history to the thought of a period, presenting its content in contemporary terms. In a fresco by Giotto where the subject is the figure of Christ or in the narration of Neoplatonic mythography, with a connection between arts, literature, history, philosophy, we can retrace the forms of the being, then the categories through which we define joy, pain, beauty, ugliness, storms of the soul and quietness. Feelings perspire in works of art and are often described with great sensitivity by mythological subjects. So, through the knowledge of iconography, we become aware of something that belongs to us in the pain of a mother for the death of her child, in the fragility or the severity of a portrait, in the poetry of a landscape, in the delightful beauty of a goddess or in the truth that is concealed in a myth. Concentrating on the evocative and fulfilling function of words does not mean to elude the irreplaceable value of sensitive visual perception, but to recognize the vicarious and complementary function of the senses. The listening experience of words corresponding to vision teaches most of all the understanding of what finds the best representation in the use of the metaphor, though remaining invisible, respecting the code of shared representation.

Book about tactile works of art

Tactile reading of a relief in chalk