Text and image

We tend to think about our lives in terms of narrative, of teleology. We refer to our story; we talk, write, tell. It occurred to me that there is another way of expressing our lives which departs from (without invalidating or disavowing) a linear narrative: and for now I will use the word collage. Of course this idea is nothing new. If I affix images, objects and words to a wall, a “story” may emerge without an authoritative narrative. If I can approach this from another angle: I was recently looking at the paintings of the French “academy” painters Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) and William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). I admire both painters for their skill and nuanced stories in paint: I find it interesting though to juxtapose these works with the paintings of their contemporaries, the impressionists, and to explore the contrast (not only painterly and thematic, but psychological and psychical). The spaces which open up when juxtaposing these works of art fascinate me. For now, I simply use this to illustrate the contrast between narrative (or storytelling) and impression. (The term “Impressionist” was originally an insult inspired by Claude Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise” (1872). But what if the impressionist way of seeing is closer to our way of encountering the world? Without the imposition of the voice of an authoritative narrator, but rather an invitation to see the light playing on landscapes and cathedrals, on gardens and water? The 20th century saw a greater and greater movement away from the academicians (we have the post-impressionists, the expressionists and so on). Van Gogh, Klee, Rothko, each in their way express this idea for me, of articulating an inner vision without an imposed story – the painting no longer a prescriptive linear narrative, but an image inviting a glimpse of the artist’s soul, his or her vision. (20th century poetry, dance and theatre all similarly opened up new ways of seeing).

And so back to my tenuous thread of thought: what if I experience and express my life as a collage of impressions rather than a story? (Can a Rothko canvas say more than a thick biography?) Or is this to move towards madness? (Are the mad lost in a landscape of chaotic, broken, shard-like, impressions?) I find that in discussions about theology and philosophy there is this insistence on teleological inquiry, what Jack Miles in his book Christ: a crisis in the life of God referred to as the insistence of attempting to look through the stained glass window rather than at it.

Is it possible that we might speak by covering our walls with the metaphorical postcards and letters and drawings and musical notations and objets trouve and photographs and memories and hopes which together form an open, non-linear, impressionistic vision? It might not be enough, it might be a partial vision, and like the BBC docudrama The Impressionists, we might need to “interview” our subject. For now though, the collage fascinates me…

 

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