Pictures are Speech.

Pictures are Speech, pencil, monoprint, decorative paper, 28″ X 42″ 1998-2022

Der Fliege den Ausweg aus dem Fliegenglas zeigen.” Showing the fly the way out of the fly-bottle. This is Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (some call the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century) famous aphorism to contextualize the nature of his Philosophy, making language itself, the subject of his Philosophy. To my mind, also attached to Game-theory—a philosophy of action demonstrated in the famous choice-pathway of the 2 prisoners’ dilemma: negotiating the confession—cross-testimony dilemma. Fly bottle?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Getting Ludwig’s fly out of the fly bottle is a dilemma, and I, like Uncle Ludwig, like a good puzzle. My lifetime of puzzling over the nature of Art, and I mean all Art, and then I mean the great puzzle of contemporary Art since 1848. 1848? That was the year revolutionary action spread all through Europe and beyond, and the modern age was born. What is that fly doing in bottle prison, anyway? And I confess, 5’ll get you ten.

Pictures (and language, mean something when they come into use). Wittgenstein was famous for making puzzles for himself, to get himself out of the fly-bottle, out of the fly-bottle of his own mind. “The meaning is in use”, he also famously said, language only means something when it is used. And along with that “Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss mann schweigen.” What you can’t speak about, please shut up…or to that effect anyway.

And here, a word about philosophizing. I confess to any and all dilettantism, for I’m a dweller on the threshold when it comes to deep study. I’m the skipped stone making ringlets as I bounce across the great pond, dropping into the depths to vanish when interest and effort lapses. As a true bricologiste*, I pick up what I find useful to drawing up the plans, for, in this case, an ediface for talking about pictures as language. And I feel an affinity with Uncle Ludwig, for we, both Jews, both gave up a family fortune to pursue an inner calling. Mine, not nearly so great—the calling, yes, the fortune not so great. When I told my grandfather I wouldn’t join the small business empire he had created as a bastion against systemic racism, him fleeing murdering Kosacks—me to pursue Art, he backed away as though I had a catching disease.

Bearing a kind of family resemblances is part of Ludwig’s theory of language; we know meaning because things seem to belong, and not to specific meaning. Making a case, here, gets the ball rolling into Ptah’s skull factory. So here’s this little statue of the Egyptian god Ptah, I saw in SF in 1979 at the Tut’s Treasures exhibit. Ain’t he the truest thing you ever saw when it comes to showing what it feels like when having an idea? Hey! This is the shared architecture of a story we already know, or maybe a pointer to a story we may want to know more about, or maybe to a story we may want to tell. What AM I talking about? This is what artists do in creating images, and here, please, from now on, think of dance, architecture, music, poetry, etc. as vehicles for making pictures. I think of all the arts as having a family resemblence.

Ptah holding the Ankh, the staff of life.

In the case of my picture, Pictures are Speech, like all my pictures, I have no “story agenda” I want to illustrate. I put pieces together because they look good to me. A rightness that is pure intuition. And, like the rules of speech—grammar, I have rules for picture making. The rules start with an invocation of the god Eros—not erotic, but what I like to look at. Attraction. Eros, to my mind is the god of liking. That said, first, I like drawing, watching something appear out of the “Blue”, and here, invoking the god Ptah—The Greeks identified Ptah (Egyptian) with Hephaestus (Vulcan), the divine blacksmith—a maker guy. I like making things.—Ptah is depicted with an azure skull, the blue of inspiration. Out of the blue as the saying goes. My oft-stated method includes “do the next thing”, meaning, do the next thing that occurs to you, no hesitation. No, really, no hesitation. When you do this with as little editing as possible, you are in blue skull territory. Do the next thing became a favorite teaching method as well, even with little ones, for example, with a group of hesitant 3rd-graders, the blank sheet staring back—”make a line, oh, that line is lonely, it needs a friend.” That’s all it took.

When I saw this little statue it hit me smack-dab; inspiration comes right out of the blue dome we all have inside our skulls. The artist’s job is to follow as best you can, the fly flying out of the fly-bottle. Do you like it? That is the question. No more: sein oder nichts sein, être ou non-être, to be or not to be, is no longer the question. Do you like it? Is the question. So, I liked looking at and drawing this woman’s face, here in this piece depicted. I did many drawings of her and they were full to the brim with Eros—not to be confused with erotic, it was something I liked to do. I’m eternally grateful to Wendy Ole, a classically beautiful woman, here connected with her dark power. This is “the final answer” of how I see this picture. This, is after years of thinking about this double-image.

It is a very tricky thing to parse the difference between sexualizing a woman; reifying a human into a fetish-ized version, a commodity, flash-frozen on the shelf, a beautiful bird perched on the stick in a cage. There is a very real longing to express the beauty we can find in, say, this woman’s face, here depicted. The beautiful face is part of the story I want to tell, to see if my pencil could rise to the challange of giving her image real soul. This is simply information about a face recognized, and codified as beautiful. This is old and important, and very topical to talk about these days, as we work hard to give women their place. So, I made this picture in 2 parts, the face full of longing to be, what? Connected, and silent when faced with so much feeling. It is paired with the shaman wearing a bird-hat, grimacing from the effort to perform his magic, connecting this beautiful woman to her own feelings which so often get buried, especially a face that has to carry such weight in this world. The shaman exits stage right, confident he’s done his job well. Some have seen a monster and that’s the role of the shaman, to go to dark monstrous places. He is in it, but not of it, can travel but can return—that’s the shadow-man in profile. The woman welling with tears is full of quiet joy. The hand, traced from my own hand, was placed because this is a secret world of quiet meaning and needs the developing in the photo tank of our minds as we cruise toward a fuller life of interchange and colloquy. I seldom parse my own pictures in this detail, but in this case, “I liked doing it.”

I reiterate, when I created this picture, it came a piece at a time. First came the bird-shaman as a monoprint, squishy paint slathered on a slick surface, then transfered to paper in a press. I had been looking at shaman masks at the time and this just seemed to apear as the brush slid through the paint. Think of finger painting. I mounted it on black paper and when cutting it away, the silhouette of the face seemed to be in the black paper. I was just following my nose. The separate drawings float around on tables set out until they come together and seem to lock into a single species, in an Eco-system of visual logic, my logic, anyway, of…”Do I like it?”

Professionalism comes bearing down on all this philosophizing. I’m obviously not a professional Philosopher (there is such a thing), but I do claim professionalism as an Artist, having been at it for half a century and more, as a producer of other people’s art, as a collaborator with Judith, my wife, as a teacher of art practice, and in the studio every day. My 100+ notebooks are testimony of do it every day, Born to it.

The two pictures together came as a dialogue of difference, the underground world of the shaman and the true life woman, Wendy Ole, who I knew fairly well. They tell a story of our world, I think, as a fortune told.

* Bricologiste—a person who practices creating things or fixing things using what is at hand. MacGyvering, in pop-culture terminology.

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