The use of text in art is a device which has spanned the centuries. Contemporary artists use texts to allow a re-synthesis of language philosophers contemplate the way we use language. Langaue refers only to itself but we understand the difference and can associate the signifier (picture/idea) signified (descriptive language) and the sign (the object) even though the idea of say a chair is probably referring to any chair. Contemporary art uses language to create a broader framework and invites the viewer to create a new codex.


Round Table Discussion

The use of language to describe art is inherent in terms of descriptive reference. We communicate the codex of art using a particular reference to the structure of language.


  • Point
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Tone
  • Texture
  • Colour
  • Rhythm
  • Mood
  • Process


Language creating a metaphor for both physical and phenomenological experiences. Exampled as the word table is not ‘the table’ it only refers to the table. We understand that the word ‘table’ concurrently refers to a particular type of object, all tables, and to the actual object in front of us, at the same time.

Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist, was seminal in the linguistic and semiotic development and the structural elements that build language. His theories explain the concept that language is a self-contained system which gives meanings based on differences. A binary system built on a negative approach i.e. black/white, yes/no, here/there. Contemporary learning leans towards the theory that language is a reflection of the brain, it is a reflection of how the brain is made.

Foucault talks of language in terms of finding a ‘system of discourse’ which displays a ‘range’ the extremis being this idea that men and women use language differently. For instance if you transpose they language of a woman to a man the language will not sound masculine, it will sit oddly. Also that authority lends power. A sergeant Major shouting an order gives the words credence, more so than if the words are whispered by a subordinate.

Presentation slides not posted to date: Notes on presentation

Barthes romantic writing is not about a person but his love affair with language

Using language to search out the world around you – through poetry or pop songs

Language is constantly developing from medieval language to modern texting, people break with convention to develop new descriptive codex.

Bruce Neumann works in neon (see here from previous blog)

Neumann using language eg from Wittgenstein ‘a rose has no teeth’

Clever and witty, thinking about the language used.

You do not use your teeth to say the word,. The soft petals of the female parts

The romanticism of a rose which in a contemporary world is now so commercialised it has become almost cheesey

Jenny Holtzer – use of text on buildings. Seeing text out of context create a new synthesis.

Duane Michaels (great blog on him here) again changing the context of the image by adding unexpected words.

Sophie Calle – Received a letter from her boyfriend who was breaking up with her. She sent this on to 100 women across a wide demographic (including a parrot) and build her work on the replies. Utube from Venice Biennale here

On Kawara – art work from his stamped postcards ‘I got up”

We cannot use language to describe something unless we have the words to do it. Conceptual art uses a language that may not be accessible we cannot comment without a  context or the viewer is prepared to consider more than the obvious and remove the ‘frame’ Derrida style.

Wittgenstein believed that language is the elite of the universe – we show our appreciation of the Tailors work by wearing his suit. That lived experience is beyond language. Wittgenstein redefined his theory of language having spent some time as a gardener and having time to think contemplatively .

Quote from Rothko – On presentation! – however this discussion was about the idea of publishing works posthumously – that an artist may well have had private thoughts, if they had wanted to publish they would have done so themselves (or there would be a paper trail to prove they had tried). Is publishing posthumously something we should rethink.

Umberto Eco – “When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”  A polymath and a deep thinker said that language can make something out of anything.

Eco writes in a beautiful language. There is something magical (no pun) in his work on Foucault’s Pendulum