Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics

By Ananta Ch. Sukla | Go to book overview

15

Representation, Representativeness, and Non-Representational Art

CHARLES ALTIERI


I

Kasimir Malevich spoke of his Suprematism as offering a mode that “represents … the signs of a force” and of his representing “the energies of black and white” so that they serve “to reveal the forms of action.” Piet Mondrian made similar statements about representing “balanced relations … which are the purest representation of universality, of the harmony and unity which are inherent characteristics of the mind.” 1 If we were to take such statements as naive or desperate evocations of neo-Platonist spiritualism, we would have a good deal of company among art historians. But we would ignore both the distinctive conceptual intelligence of these artists and the challenge they offer us to develop a concept of representation capacious enough to incorporate what we usually consider as “presentational” strategies. The aesthetics developed as a response to these presentational features—in Suzanne Langer, in the British tradition inaugurated by Fry and Bell, and even in much Heideggerian discourse about immanence (some of it mine)—will not suffice in itself. At best, it pertains only to the Romantic heritage. And though it explains immediacy of response and the effects of form, it has no interpretive category for the various rhetorical aspects that distance us from what is presented and guide our interpretive reflections on it.

It is thus all too obvious that conventional ideas either of representation or of presentation will not suffice as a general account of art’s powers to implicate extratextual dimensions of experience. Both concepts, I think, are too concerned with the direct relation between signs and world—either as resemblance or as direct experience. I propose instead a rhetorical view that emphasizes the self-

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