Is There a Discourse of the Artist?


My interest in the question of a "discourse of the artist" came from a sense of the power of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films to provoke effects of the unconscious in myself and in colleagues of mine who have been deeply moved by his films. In watching his films, I have found a place of opening and questioning that is perhaps analogous to the a-temporal effects of the analytic space. In addition, if the unconscious is the experience of rupture between perception and consciousness, of "another scene" where the missed encounter is played out, does the artist then disturb the equilibrium of the societal ego by staging an involvement with the audience that is beyond mere representation? In terms of the unconscious as a social tie, does the artist serves a social role parallel to the private role the analyst plays with his patient? Does the artist help keep open a gap against the closure of group identifications within society? I will use Lacan's commentary on Las Meninas to aid me in describing the power of Kieslowski's work for our own time and suggest by extrapolation the implications for a "discourse of the artist" .

In Lacan's seminars, he discussed the artists Cézanne, Holbein and Velasquez. In each case the fil rouge which connected Lacan's thought was the idea of shifts in perspective leading to ways in which the artist had produced a work that evoked the experience of the "gaze". In Seminar XIII, in discussing Velasquez' Las Meninas, Lacan identifies the "picture within the picture" which we see Velasquez working on, as the Vorstellungsrepräsentanz , the representative of the representation. Lacan very clearly distinguished representation as being on the side of signification, whereas the "representative of representation" as being on the side of the signifier. In Las Meninas the "picture in the picture" is painted by Velasquez at the conjunction of two perspectives which are impossible in one space. Lacan said the "picture in the picture" as the "representative of representation" casts uncertainty on other "representations" in the painting. These other "objects" take on this disturbance of perspective in a domino effect, which allows many elements of the painting to take on this "representative of the representation" effect. This destabilizing of the visual space of the painting allows for displacements and condensations of images in the painting. An endless series of questions arise about the relations between the elements in the painting. People have talked about this painting for 350 years! What grounds the artist's ability to do this is a masterful knowledge of his craft and an appreciation of a beyond of representation. With Las Meninas, it is Velasquez' ability to construct an impossible melding of perspectives that keep the viewer is suspense.

In Kieslowski's film Three Colours:Blue , there is a famous series of sudden disruptions of the visual. There is a fade out to blackness in the middle of a scene, the music continues, after several seconds we come back to the scene as we left it. We, the audience, are literally put in the dark. An absence is rendered present. The fort-- da is put into narrative, a literal rupture between perception and consciousness accosts us. After each rupture in visual continuity, we return from wherever we were to see Julie, the protagonist, whose husband and child have been killed. Each time, she is able to say something that has be up till that time had been unspoken. These scenes from Blue are like the "picture in the picture" of Las Meninas in that both render the "reality" of the illusion of the work of art as an element within that same work of art . In Blue the black screen reminds us this is just a film but, at the same time, an effect of illusion is still sustained. It is a bold attempt on Kieslowski's part to reach beyond representation. On more of a clinical level, it is also a visual rendering of the passage from unspoken to spoken in a process of grieving.

When serious artists use all of their knowledge as artists to attempt to render something beyond representation, they are structurally placing themselves in the position of evoking the gaze for their audience. They do not transmit their knowledge directly to the audience. Velasquez used his knowledge from the arts of perspective and from other domains of artistic technique. Kieslowski used his command of the instruments of cinema and his way of working with the many other crafts people in film. All their work went towards realizing effects in the audience. This is similar to the analyst who must have knowledge (S2) of many kinds which are transmitted to him in the learning of his craft. But he cannot use this knowledge directly, it only sustains his attempt to stay in the position of "objet petit a". Similarly the artist cannot simply tell you what he means or transmit his knowledge directly.

Therefore, perhaps there is a discourse of the artist which contains the same elements, "a/S2 ---> $/S1" , as the discourse of the analyst but is played out in the social field primarily at the level of the gaze and the voice. The "$", the split subject, would be members of the audience such as myself who, when confronted by this division of ourselves evoked by the work of art, start to make commentaries such as this one. Lacan's contribution to the field of esthetics would appear to be in the service of better understanding how the artist achieves his effects. Moreover, such effects are inextricably bound up with the unconscious; structured like a language; "another scene" ; the place where "the representative of representation" lies beyond in the field of the gaze.

My aim in this text was not to interpret Velasquez or Kieslowski but to pay homage to a power they transmit within the field of the unconscious and to question how their work communicates with us at a level beyond representation in what might be called the "discourse of the artist".

Toronto, Canada
Après Coup