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In 1975, I encountered the landscape of Provence, and the area of the Small Luberon mountain, in Southern France. I was very inspired by this landscape; its beauty was enhanced by its conveying a sense of meaning. Farmers have cultivated this land over generations, and the terraces carved out of the hillsides, the lines of vineyards and other crops, the old farmhouses looking as though they grew up out of the land, all this seemed to be both art and like a kind of language. Further, the landscape spoke of a co-creation where human beings create with nature, the terrain, the seasons, and with other persons both present and of the past.

This context was propitious for my development of a specific “Art as Visual Language” approach, in 1978. I was seeking a means of notation for bridging the gap between words and images, or sensory experience generally; I created pictographic/calligraphic marks by which to take note of fleeting impressions, “events of Seeing”, and “eureka moments”. Then, through a sequence of visually enacted steps -- or “working concepts” -- drawn on paper, I wove these marks into a harmonious network referred to as the “Basic-Format”. These “working concepts” serve as an underlying Visual Language through which specific meaning coherences can be expressed, explored, and expanded. 

Art as Visual Language

With this first Basic-Format, over fifty artworks were done, over several years. I also created series from a number of other Basic-Formats (e.g., the Five Landscapes, or Molecules of Thought (1978-79); the Patmos Series (1985); the Appendix Series (1986-87)). (See Articles in Leonardo, Vol. 20, No.3, 1987; and in Kunstforum, Bd. 117, 1992.)

One of the “working concepts” is that of “Matching”: One considers one’s Basic Format, and then looks the landscape to see if one finds a view or configuration which “matches” the forms in one’s own Basic-Format. One draws this Matching view within the Basic-Format: an example is the drawing, “Brook View Within the Basic-Format”.

Finding the Matching view is accompanied by another working concept, that of “Sharing of Meaning”: in seeing forms in the landscape matching one’s own, one can sense that one shares with other people or life forms in that landscape; it is not that one has the same meanings, but rather that one shares in a sense of meaningfulness. This goes along with one of the basic concepts of the Visual Language, that is, that one is involved in a “co-creation” with others -- whether with it is persons in other ways of seeing or cultures other than those of one’s own background, or, even, one “shares” with other life forms. Thus, the Visual Language is a vehicle of “self” awareness in which the idea of self moves away from an ego-centered view. Just as different verbal languages may reflect different senses of the self-object relationship, so too the Visual Language does this, being thus catalytic to imagination and to seeing differently.

One way of expressing this “Sharing of Meaning” is by inserting, into a new drawing within the Basic-Format, items of one’s initial observation of “Events of Seeing”, as one represented them visually through calligraphic marks or “object” representation. An example is the drawing, “Basic-Format, Carved as Anatomical Block, with insertion of the 6 items of the Walk”. 

The philosopher Wittgenstein recommended that we engage in “language games”, in order to de-condition ourselves from the hold which verbal language has on our thinking. The Visual Language is in part such a language game, though at the same time involving a serious and careful perception of one’s relationship with the landscape -- initially of the Luberon of Southern France, as supportive matrix for developing this approach -- and of our self-other relationships within that.I subsequently introduced students to this approach in my teaching in Southern France and elsewhere. (See Teaching)

"Basic Format". colored pencil on paper

"Brook View Within the Basic Format". (9"x12") colored pencils and ink on paper

"Basic-Format, Carved as Anatomical Block, with insertion of the 6 items of the Walk" (9"x12") colored pencils and ink on paper

More works from Art as Visual Language:

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