The natural language of art

“Art primarily is communication” sounds very obvious and plain and not very informative really. But what it means to me is a shifting of the weight of art from the outside “form” to the inside “content”. For me it would be a pitfall to concentrate too much on the form, the physical manifestation, be it image, sound, object or movement. This is a personal choice. For me the physical manifestations are but means to an end and this end is the communication of the content, be it an idea, an awareness, a feeling, an emotion, a story, a principle or a reasoning.

Aesthetics, stressing the appealing or intriguing aspect of the form or physical manifestation, for me also is just a means to an end, again the main goal being communicating something. Aesthetics does define the purity or clarity or attractiveness of the signal, in order to give it discerning and persuasive power. This is a utilitarian attitude towards aesthetics. It tells me not to go beyond its usefulness in the communication process and not to make it an end in itself.

Compared with other forms of communicating, like verbal or symbolic language, gesturing and body language, art for me is a special kind of communication, it has its own characteristics, its own place besides the other forms of communication. Art is focused on a kind of elementary language. This language predates verbal language and human culture in the sense that you see this language of form and color and sound and gesture as a way of communicating everywhere in nature already used between all kind of live forms, both plants and animals. Not primarily as an expression of the joy of living – although that may also be the case – but primarily as a necessity of being part of a living community of other life forms. As we humans are part of living nature, this language is also our heritage.

The more elaborate art-forms we construct with this basic language, the stories we tell by them, they are part of our culture, they are typically human, not to be found elsewhere in nature. But the “words and symbols” of the art language itself, the basic units of expression, like shapes, colors, sound, movement, and the way they interrelate and function on a basic level, are not typically human. They are from a language we have inherited from our ancestors, from nature itself, and we still share it with many other living beings in nature.

You can indicate the difference between this primordial language and a spoken-word language also like this. The primal natural language is in our genes, we are born with it. Later on you can specialize and become more adept in using it, as an artist or an art lover, but for a start you don't have to learn it. Everybody speaks this language from birth. On the other hand, a spoken word language, like your country's language, your mother's tongue, you have to learn.

From this stems an important difference in the way these languages operate. The primordial language acts direct, more physical if you like, it has an immediate effect on you, it goes straight to your core. The spoken-word language operates indirect, it has to be interpreted first, translated into meaning, before you get to the content.

So I would define an artist as a person specializing in using this elementary language to communicate.

As for conceptual art, well, I am not very well into that art form, but in a sense it may be one of the purest art forms in that it does concentrate on the content in its clearest unambiguous definition. In order to communicate the content more clearly, the content itself is reduced to its basic or “pure” message. In conceptual art you still need physical means to communicate, like ink and a piece of paper, or an object, sound or video. In that sense it also uses elementary forms of communicating, but also maybe it can cross the border and become purely abstract? Would that still be art? Or more like philosophy?

Susanne Lacy said she needs her work to have aesthetic value and quality. For me that is an expression of the need to keep primal aspects in her conceptual and politically engaged art. Or stated differently, to keep being an artist.