Re-Theorising and Envisioning Text as Image: A Concept in Practice-based Research in Painting

Topics: Art

Aesthetic Theories of Art

Why have aesthetic theories of art, which were propounded after modernism, failed to affect and compel a large follower ship in the new direction (among the visual artists themselves) set by its priest Clement Greenberg? This may be because artists lack the understanding of the theories of Greenberg at the first instance, they over time concentrate on their practice than anything written in a book (a letter from Cezanne to his friend Emile Bernard in 1888) that makes the assimilations of theories into art practice difficulty to understand.

The problem with an artist in the academia is not essentially their practice or ability to democratise their art into contemporary issues, but rather, the ability to integrate their practice with textual matters, which is much needed to sustain a definition of a scholar in the university environment.

Why has the MFA degree essentially in Nigeria continuously produced artists who neither understands the importance of Kantian and other theories nor their place in the theorisation of forms and images? Perhaps because the MFA degree essentially is designed to concentrate on individual understanding and development of Art practice base on the personal conviction on what art is and its true interpretation and understanding of the artistic context.

Painting vs Theory

Artists have been left with endless questions regarding themselves and their practice. Society has become engrossed with the notion of individuality that strives to express authenticity or originality. The contemporary idea of Painting has continued to show that art, particularly painting, is “a thinking space”.

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In this light, Painting creates ideas that materialise into colours and narrative content for dialogue with hard matter or de-materialised objects; and then as a consequence theory becomes necessary in contemporary dialogue with paint or painting as a medium of “thought”.

The clear understanding of theory does not ultimately help in any way in the creation of artworks. These theories, however, position the artists’ creations as objects of authorisation. Artists should, therefore, strive to understand the meaning of theory and how it affects their creation. The theories of Clement Greenberg (1909—1994, he was probably the most influential modern and post-modernist theorist of the twentieth century European Art discourse.) imbibe the formalist theories of Immanuel Kant (1724—1804). The understanding of their principles is key to artists who must live and work within the academic space. In this context, a PhD becomes necessary for the making of “a visual scholar”.

Even though the over-beaten argument about whether or not it is appropriate for research degrees to be extended to the discipline of fine Arts has not yet been put to rest, the main issue is to understand the logic behind engaging doctoral studies in the studio. Irokanulo and Ndubuisi (2011. 68) have argued that the basis of a doctoral degree in the studio is intended to produce an artist in the academia who can process the ability to create through theoretical frameworks. The authors think that that would indeed be the future of the visual artists in the academia. On the one hand, one knows that the Langerian School states that art is not definable by rational discourse. Art according to her is a form of symbolic discourse, and its elements are not linguistic but sensual perception and understanding. On the other hand, one believes that basic awareness of theories would help the relationship between text and image.

What this paper, therefore, aim to sustain is the understanding that “art practice is image-text” and “image-text” is art practice. This idea is realised when we come to terms with the fact that “art”, especially Painting is a medium of thought that dematerialises and at some other times materialises a given idea in a space. It is a process of existence in a contemplative space that connects us with the social and political ideals in a materialised and dematerialised world and realises these with colours in a tactile space. In this vein, Descartes (1596—1650) once infers, how do we know that we exist, “because I think, therefore I exist”.

Painting makes us thinkers, which realises its elements within a space, lines and colours in this context, philosophical matters are realised within the body of a painting or the framed. The idea for the artist to come to terms with this has met strong oppositions by some scholars that seem to have disagreed with the idea. One of the antagonists in this context (James Elkins 2006) cannot see how this concept of Leonardo (meaning a scholar that processes the ability to create, write and theorise ideas) would work; rather he thought that the idea in the “visual arts which the artist struggling to understand text as part of the visual arts” would disorient the visual artists away from their practice, but sadly enough he has not been able to advance a new idea in this context. In the same vein, a humanist, Ugiomoh (2012. 56), once said in his Inaugural Lecture delivered at the University of Port Harcourt that when one goes to an art school, one is expected to see images, not text, that artists are involved with image or form creation along not meddling with text and that the thinking of the doctorate degree in the studio should not be encouraged as the MFA degree is sufficient to equip the artists in the academic, even in the face of this debate, these two antagonists of a research degree seem to disagree with one another at some points. Elkins believes in 2013 (in what do artists know?) disagreed that an MFA degree is sufficient to equip the artist scholar in the university. For him the degree lacks basis and the foundation of basic theory. Neither does he think that the degree can be compared to other degrees in the humanities like sociology or perhaps classical studies. However, paintings among other visual arts works exhibit unity and logic, and present systematic thought. Hence, philosophy and art can present ideas fashioned as text or colours on canvas or even on stone. An idea is an idea.

Philosophy of Art

Language is constructed based upon the perception of an object or image in space. In justifying this thinking, it is important to note that a generic way of understanding language is to look at the history and the evolution of writing itself; therefore, text and image work hand in hand depending on what one is looking or thinking. Before the invention of “alphabets”, objects like the “Inca quipu”, or drawings have been accepted as speech. Mitchell, an American theorist (quoted in Irokanulo 2014: 23) insists that the distinction between art and language is overdrawn and that interesting artworks are image-texts. In a clearer voice, Paul Carter (2006) insists that art is a material thinking of a language that is made visible by colour, clay or stone.

What then is philosophy apart of its ethical nature or principles? “Philo”- is quest for or research for, while “sophy” means “truth” (actually, ‘love of wisdom’, but somehow translates to truth). “Philosophy” is the embodiment of truth that springs forth from all subjects from science to art and religion. How does a painting or any form of visual arts represent truth, which is sublime, and a product of the essence of time? According to Derrida (in Bernstein 1992: 124), the truth in painting focuses on the logic of the content as a way of interrogating the idea that art has an essence and integrity in virtue. He further throws light on the argument of duality of things that there exists a rigid and unalterable line (frame) marking off what is forever inside art as operative language from what is outside of it, which is the secular language. In the movement between Odutokun’s paintings and the philosophical account of them, we already have before us an example of the kind of crossing between inside and outside, regulated without stop, which Derrida implies. Gani Odutokun (1946¬¬—1995) was a foremost exponent of the Zaria Art School who propounded and expanded upon the “Accident and Design” principle in painting. He allowed his paintings to follow the dictates of accidental design before seeking the imagery within the colour flow. His art is characterised by broad brush-strokes, colourful composition and daunting imagery, most times quite aesthetically pleasing to the senses. Odutokun paintings engage the theories of Kant within the context of liquidise paintings.

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Re-Theorising and Envisioning Text as Image: A Concept in Practice-based Research in Painting. (2021, Nov 15). Retrieved from

Re-Theorising and Envisioning Text as Image: A Concept in Practice-based Research in Painting
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