Rethinking word / image relationships in contemporary art

Ovens, Jayne (2000) Rethinking word / image relationships in contemporary art. Doctoral thesis, UN.

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This thesis explores the interaction of word and image through an intellectual framework which engages with artistic practice. By providing an overviev of interarts debates, it is suggested that notions such as the 'sister arts' have tended historically to
privilege word over image. This privileging which has circumscribed word / image relationships is addressed by the Enlightenment thinker Gotthold Lessuig who differentiates between the arts in terms of medium specificity. In problematising the ways in which interarts debates have posited word/image in a dualistic relationship, this thesis exposes the difficulties in establishing an adequate critical discourse for dealing with the conjunction of words and images.
A broadly poststructuralist critical framework is introduced in order to challenge the ideologies and ingrained assumptions that have dominated imcrarts debates. This study will attempt to put into practice a deconstruction of binary relations, by questioning the stability and the authority of language. It will also address the notion of an 'imperialism of language' in fixing the meaning of the visual image.
Drawing upon the work of Barthes, Derrida and Lyotard, this thesis will attempt to find ways of reconfiguring the dialectical relationship between word/image wherein the two are seen to be engaging in dynarruc interactions. It will be suggested that the overcoming of word/image antagonism since the 1960s has begun to shape interactions of theory and practice in the art world itself where the influence of poststructuralist theory can be seen in artistic practices such as Concepwal art. Key issues that will be addressed include representation and meaning, the notion of textuality, framing, and the 'eruption of language into the aesthetic field'.
The intellectual framework is enhanced through a detailed analysis of selected contemporary artists whose work is based on the creative juxtaposition of word and image. These case studies, which focus on Barbara Kruger, Susan Hiller and artists'
books, integrate word and image, theory and practice, in order to consider issues such as a feminine aesthetic, peinture fiminine, a critique of representation, and the interaction of form and content. The case studies will be examined within the context of postmodern artistic practices.
Overall, this thesis engages with the complexities of developing: a suitable framework for visual analysis, one in which word and image are in a dynamic relationship. This study will suggest that many of the issues directly conceming word and image interaction are played out in the work of contemporary artists, and that it is the challenge of theory to attempt to engage with artistic practice.

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