Pragmatic perspectives on Frank O’Hara and Norman Bluhm’s Poem-Paintings
Created over a couple of Sunday mornings in the Fall of 1960, the twenty-six collaborative Poem-Paintings of the artist Norman Bluhm and the poet Frank O'Hara represent what Bluhm later called a spontaneous 'conversation' between the painter and the poet. In this essay, Catherine Gander adopts a number of pragmatist positions to reconsider these overlooked works as essential examples of verbal-visual interaction that extend their 'conversation' to greet and involve us in a relationship that is at once interpersonal, integrated, and embodied. The works, Gander argues, constitute what John Dewey terms 'art as experience'; in their back and forth exchange of verbal and visual gesture, abstraction and denotation, the Poem-Paintings are the 'cumulative continuity' of 'the process of living', dramatising the shifting, spontaneous and multiple dimensions of interpersonal conversation, and in so doing, indicating a new path toward interconnective and equal exchange between word and image.
Mixed Messages presents and interrogates ten distinct moments from the arts of nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century America where visual and verbal forms blend and clash. Charting correspondences concerned with the expression and meaning of human experience, this volume moves beyond standard interdisciplinary theoretical approaches to consider the written and visual artwork in embodied, cognitive, and contextual terms. Offering a genuinely interdisciplinary contribution to the intersecting fields of art history, avant-garde studies, word-image relations, and literary studies, Mixed Messages takes in architecture, notebooks, poetry, painting, conceptual art, contemporary art, comic books, photographs and installations, ending with a speculative conclusion on the role of the body in the experience of digital mixed media. Each of the ten case studies explores the juxtaposition of visual and verbal forms in a manner that moves away from treating verbal and visual symbols as operating in binary or oppositional systems, and towards a consideration of mixed media, multi-media and intermedia work as brought together in acts of creation, exhibition, reading, viewing, and immersion. The collection advances research into embodiment theory, affect, pragmatist aesthetics, as well as into the continuing legacy of romanticism and of dada, conceptual art and surrealism in an American context.
To fasten words again to visible – and invisible – things
Catherine Gander and Sarah Garland
In this extended introductory essay, Catherine Gander and Sarah Garland suggest new ways of looking at the correspondences between visual and verbal practices to consider their material and conceptual connections in a specifically American set of histories, contexts and interpretive traditions. Tracing a lineage of experiential philosophy that is grounded in the overturning of a Cartesian mind/body split, the authors argue for pluralistic perspectives on intermedial innovations that situate embodied and imaginative reader-viewer response as vital to the life of the artwork. Gander and Garland chart two main strands to this approach: the pragmatist strain of American aesthetics and social politics, rooted in the essays of transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and emanating from the writings of John Dewey and William James; and the conceptualist strain of French-American Marcel Duchamp, whose ground-breaking ideas both positioned the artwork as a phenomenological construction and liberated the artist from established methods of practice and discourse. The ‘imagetext’ (after W. J. T. Mitchell) is therefore, argue Gander and Garland, a site consisting of far more than word and image – but a living assemblage of language, idea, thing, cognition, affect and shared experience.
Taking in recent advances in neuroscience and digital technology, Gander and Garland assess the state of the inter-arts in America and the Western world, exploring and questioning the primacy of affect in an increasingly hypertextual everyday environment. In this analysis they signal a move beyond W. J. T. Mitchell’s coinage of the ‘imagetext’ to an approach that centres the reader-viewer in a recognition, after John Dewey, of ‘art as experience’. New thinking in cognitive and computer sciences about the relationship between the body and the mind challenges any established definitions of ‘embodiment’, ‘materiality’, ‘virtuality’ and even ‘intelligence, they argue, whilst ‘Extended Mind Theory’, they note, marries our cognitive processes with the material forms with which we engage, confirming and complicating Marshall McLuhan’s insight, decades ago, that ‘all media are "extensions of man"’. In this chapter, Gander and Garland open paths and suggest directions into understandings and critical interpretations of new and emerging imagetext worlds and experiences.