Probability. On Rhetoric in Art
in: Daidalos 64, June 1997 (Special Issue „Rhetoric“), p. 80-89.
But what does ‚consistency‘ or ‚inner coherence‘ mean for a work of art? Cézanne’s painting Montagne Ste.-Victoire consists of individual, ambiguous flecks of color. On the one hand, they vaguely suggest recognizable objects (mountain, sky, trees); on the other, they are that which was referred to above as ‚functions of the whole.‘ They are daubs of color that enter into an exchange with the other daubs of color in the picture and thus constitute a ‚texture‘ of composition and color. This ‚texture‘ is not defined objectively (as the real spatial relation of tree, houses, and mountain), but is subject to a purely painterly logic. Cézanne carefully balances the two functions of the color flecks. Their recognizability is reduced to such a degree that their concrete ‚meaning‘ often remains obscured, and through this they gain the autonomy that allows them to produce the painterly ‚texture.‘ Only in the interplay between the two functions of the flecks-the depicting and the pictorial-structural function-does something finally emerge that is recognizable as a ‚landscape.‘ Cézanne’s picture is thus ‚consistent,‘ not by reason of its status as record (a faithful rendering of a real, existing landscape) but rather in the mode of its construction in the complex interplay of individual elements. Before a picture can show something, in this case a landscape, it must first ’show‘ itself. It is this process, in which the individual parts converge into an ‚image,‘ that allows us to speak of ‚consistency‘ and ‚inner lack of contradiction.‘ The same can be seen in other landscape representations. Paul Klee’s watercolors use similar structural means to those of Cézanne. Yet by juxtaposing more abstract and more objective elements (ship or plants), not only the individual elements but the picture as a whole begins to oscillate between abstraction and objectivity. Moreover, the exposed white of the paper plays a central role, flooding the picture with light and indeed allowing light to become the actual medium of expression. In Claude Lorrain’s Arcadian scene, on the other hand, the determining factor is balance and, among other things, the proportioning of the individual pictorial weights (e.g. tree or castle hill) on the basis of the golden section. Equally important for the pictorial order is the gentle backlight that carefully articulates the sequence of spaces through the silhouetting of tree, hill, etc. The whole is thus characterized by expansive surveyability which lends Lorrain’s images of nature an ideally constructed appearance. Proceeding once more in the opposite historical direction, we see in Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist an energetically charged field generated by layer upon layer of color traces, which Pollock, in a violent act of painting, sprayed onto a canvas lying on the ground before him. The depths and limits of this „lavender mist“ are unfathomable. We find ourselves confronted with a static restlessness, in which we lose ourselves but which nonetheless bears us up in the evenness of its density. These four different pictures are all images of nature. But when we describe their ‚consistency‘ as a process in which the bare juxtaposition of colors and forms becomes a whole, we gain a more precise notion of the character of their mimetic qualities. What is decisive is not the illustrative relation as such, but the analogy of ‚appearance.‘ To the extent that these pictures by Lorrain, Cézanne, Klee, or Pollock construct themselves as pictorial complexes, they present an ‚image‘ of how the space-time structure of nature is to be understood and experienced. If art succedes in being ‚probable,‘ then it can provide orientation for the interpretation of reality. For this reason, art is also a perpetual school of seeing, in both a literal and figurative sense. It reveals an intersubjective meaning which in rhetoric was described as the sensus communis, as ‚common sense.‘
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