Postmodern terms – Decenter to Gynophobia

These Postmodern definitions are a useful gauge to see how academics construct their sentences. The list is compiled by theorists who have set their own standards to the meaning of each word and its terms. It may be wise to double check on the usage to see if the word actually exists in a precise contemporary dictionary.


Decenter – to look at the world through another’s eyes or to include the other’s perspective within one’s own vision of things.

Deconstruction – A term that, for all practical purposes, was introduced in the literature by Derrida. It means to undermine the conceptual order imposed by a concept that has captivated our imaginations and ways of seeing things. (See Shawver, 1996) see “deconstruction quilt” return

Deconstruction quilt – a visual representation for deconstruction and differAnce. Click here to see an image of the deconstruction quilt and read a related article. return

Deductive logic – a way of reasoning from one set of statements to another. It has the form: If this is the case and this other thing is also the case, then we can conclude, without direct evidence, only our reasoning, that this third thing is the case, too. People use deductive logic in a loose way when they think and talk, but it is used in a highly formalized way in philosophy circles. There, in the last century especially, the rules of logic become quite complex and the deduction (the reasoning leading to the conclusion) follows rules that are so formal that they are often thought to be, or hoped to be, a kind of mathematical calculus. Note that deduction does not require any factual or observed information. One can deduce something false if one reasons with false ideas or premises. Contrast “deductive logic” with “inductive logic.” return

Deduction - in ordinary language, a deduction is just reasoning your way to a conclusion. In philosophy, however, it has a more technical sense, and means that the reasoning conforms to the rules of deductive logic.

DifferAnce – This is a term coined by Jacques Derrida, father deconstructionism. (However, Derrida does not capitalize the “A”.) Derrida explains “differance” as that which is different and deferred (put out of mind). It’s a philosophical term that causes many people headaches and Derrida does not explain it in an introductory way. However, in many contexts, you will have a rough understanding of what is said if you think of the differAnce as the shadows of our understanding, something we know but forget and need to be reminded. Or, you might think of it as the cultural Unconscious, something that the whole culture puts mostly out of mind. Click here for an article on differAnce. Click here to see the deconstruction quilt, which will also help clarify the meaning of differAnce. Arguably, the differAnce is a source of our creativity. Mostly we forget it, but sometimes people think of these largely unconscious aspects of life and weave them creatively into new moments of understanding. return

Dialectic – In classical Greece, a process of discussion that is illustrated in Plato’s dialogues was called

Dialectic. It is a way of questioning and conversing and reasoning. Kant referred to the “transcendental dialectic” as metaphysical reasoning that tried, without success (or possible success) to figure out what the truth was beyond our senses. The German philosopher, Hegel, applied the term to a process of development in which one idea (the thesis) begets its opposite (the antithesis) and the two come together to form a synthesis. Marx built on this Hegelian notion of dialecic in his version of dialectical materialism. return

Dialogic – having to do with dialogue. A dialogic theory of therapy would be one which emphasized the importance of there being room for different opinions to be expressed. return

Discourse analysis – inquiry that leads us to reflect critically and creatively on our common ways of life. return

Differend – Lyotard’s term for a dispute resulting from the fact that one party cannot voice her complaints (or points) because the other insists on speaking within a different language game or genre of discourse (such as one person speaking within narration and the other within speculation). People who are caught in differends find themselves in difficult conversations. Such difficult conversations result from people using terms in different ways while presuming they are using terms in the same way. return

Dominant discourse – A Foucaultian term that indicates a certain way thinking and talking is the most common and most accepted way. Often it implies an institutionalized way of thinking about things. return

Dominant narrative – a term that Michael White and David Epston seem to have picked up from Jerome Bruner. return

Discourse – sometimes this term refers to any kind of talk, but often it refers to particular unified ways of talking that represents a kind of conversation scroEss texts from different but related communities. return

DANDY: See flâneur.

DAGUERROTYPE: See photography.

DASEIN: Literally “being there,” Dasein is Heidegger’s term for the manner in which beings relate themselves to the world around them, but from which they are existentially alienated (see alienation, existentialism). Dasein is divided into three modes of possible existence — factuality, existentiality and fallenness. The first of these needs no explanation. The second refers to the state in which beings achieve knowledge of their purpose in life and the resultant authenticity. The third refers to the inauthentic existence of those who do not realize their purpose. The usefulness of art in this scheme is a function of the drive towards existentiality. For further explanation, see aletheia, open.

DATE STAMP: Freud’s analogy between day-dreaming and poetic invention did not presuppose that a given fantasy always had the same latent meaning. Instead, it could be marked with a date-stamp of sorts which would indicate the cuurent impressionism to which the fantasy was linked. In the past or the future, the same manifest fantasy could have some other significance altogether. See psychoanalytical criticism.

DAY-DREAMING: In an important essay entitled “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” Freud argues that art and fantasy have a similar function, to give expression to desires and impulses that cannot be satisfied in a straightforward way because of social norms, personal repressions, or what have you. Those interested in the idea would be well advised to consider how a work of art differs in significant respects, if any, from other symptomatic expressions of psychic life.

DEAD METAPHOR: A metaphorical (see metaphor) cliché which, through age or frequency of use, is understood as literal, with its figurative level forgotten or unrecognized. See, e.g., touchstone. The history of art is riddled with dead metaphors. The average viewer rarely thinks of the vanitas theme when regarding a still-life, and the photographs of authors on book-jackets frequently exploit poses derived from standard portrayals of ancient philosophers. One of Karsh’s portraits of Pierre Elliott Trudeau plays very cleverly with the latter example.

DEATH OF ART: See teleology.

: The term derives from an essay by that name in Roland Barthes’ celebrated Image Music Text, where he presented the notion of a text as something without a fixed meaning apart from that produced by readers in the act of reading. Other notable challenges of unique and stable authorship appear in the writings of Walter Benjamin (“The Author as Producer,” in Understanding Brecht) and Michel Foucault (“What is an Author?” [reprinted in many anthologies, among them David Lodge's Modern Criticism and Theory]). The notion has become an orthodox expression of most postmodern criticism, especially that falling under the headings of reader-response. See also aura, Derridean, dialogism, discursive practices, Kristevan, interpretive ingenuity, power.

DECODING: The discovery of latent meaning behind manifest meaning. See code.

DECONSTRUCTION: Jacques Derrida’s extraordinarily influential critical (see criticism) practice which begins by acknowledging, along with Sausserian linguistics, that language — a category which now includes visual art — does not consist simply of names applied to determinate things. It is instead a series of signifiers and signifieds creating relations that we understand to be things. Because these putative things are really relations, there is nothing present “behind” a sign to guarantee its legibility — i.e., certifying that one will understand its meaning without ambiguity (see metaphysics of presence) — preventing any possibility of achieving a determinate, definitive reading of a text. In fact, since the meaning of a text is often metaphoric, there is no point in even attempting to distinguish between denotations and connotations, with the result that close inspection of the possible significances of a text will generally reveal an aporia, a moment at which the illusion of determinacy collapses because of some internal contradiction. This moment of collapse is the point at which the text supposedly deconstructs itself. Many postmodern artists certainly use these ideas quite consciously (e.g., David Salle as a general theme, Micah Lexier specifially with reference to the new masculinity, etc.), or they can be said to operate with deconstruction as part of their horizon of expectations. Frequently, however, the practice is applied to earlier artists (e.g., Van Gogh in Derrida’s Truth in Painting), which thus demands very precise articulation, lest one give the anachronistic impression that those artists intentionally foresaw Derrida. The loophole is that deconstruction is a condition of language, so it doesn’t matter if a given artist was aware of it. Paul Berman’s Debating P.C. offers a more succinct, if somewhat belittling definition: “interpeting literature in order to show the impossibility of a definite interpretation.” See absence, différance.

DECORUM: An academic principle that a given subject should be presented in a suitable style. E.g., noble figures should be presented with a dignified mien in stable compositions, while revellers can be depicted in more dynamic settings. The conception was especially important to the French academic neoclassicism of Poussin’s era.

DECOUPAGE: In film studies, an occasionally used synonym for the type of editing that analyzes a setting by first showing an establishing shot and then breaking it into a succession of closer views. It is effectively the opposite of montage.

DEDUCTION: A valid argument in which one cannot assert the premises and deny the conclusion without violating the laws of thought, particularly that of non-contradiction. For example, in the categorical syllogism “All humans are mortal; Michelangelo was human; therefore, Michelangelo was mortal,” one cannot deny Michelangelo’s mortality without contradicting one or the other premises. Cf induction, interpolation.

DEEP STRUCTURE: See deep structure and surface structure.

DEEP STRUCTURE AND SURFACE STRUCTURE: A basic problem in linguistics is how speakers can recognize meaning in utterances which they have never heard before and how they can recognize identical meanings in different structures (e.g., “Bonheur painted this picture” and “This picture was painted by Bonheur”). The Chomskyan answer is that all competent speakers have an innate (see innateness hypothesis) understanding of a finite set of abstract rules which determine all basic structural relationships. Combining this deep structure with a set of transformation rules and any new information allows the speaker to produce new surface structures (i.e., sentences which can be understood even though they contain information which is entirely new to the listener). See generative-transformational.

DEFAMILIARIZATION: According to Russian literary formalism, defamiliarization is a key device with which art prevents us from simply indulging in mental habits. It does this by refusing verisimilitude, drawing attention instead to alienated or estranged aspects of a thing which closure causes us to overlook or suppress. The practice was especially prevalent among early twentieth-century photographers and the painters in their circles (e.g., Edward Weston, Georgia O’Keeffe; in Canada, some Bertram Brooker, Edwin Holgate). Cf baring the device.

DEFICIENCY: Disadvantage, loss, and the like. The term is used frequently in neurology, where it might offer an analogy to certain types of deficiency in interpretation. For exploratory examples, see excess, interpretive agnosia.

DEFINITION: See definitional rules, extensional definitions, intensional definitions, stipulative definitions.

DEFINITIONAL RULES: In informal logic, those rules which enable one to determine meaning. It is presumed that a competent speaker will (1) specify the essential characteristics and/or indispensable traits of the thing being defined, (2) will provide sufficient material — i.e., will include neither more nor less than the term being defined, and (3) will avoid emotive load. E.g., as a definition, “Abortion is murder” is insufficient (2) because it tells us nothing about the characteristics of abortion (1), and it is clearly emotively loaded (3). Though nothing is certain, the best way to prepare a definition is through genus and differentia (see intensional definitions) — i.e., to identify the class of things to which the object belongs (see extensional definitions) and then to characterize meaningful differences between it and other members of its class. E.g., Maurice Denis’s frequently paraphrased aphorism “a painting is a flat surface covered with colour” is not sufficient because there are other flat surfaces covered with colour that are not paintings. A better definition would first say that painting belongs to the class of fine arts (the exact nature of which is itself currently under dispute) and that it differs from sculpture or dance or theatre in such-and-such ways.

DEFINITIONS OF ART: Ellen Dissanayake’s What is Art For? (a shorter version of which appeared in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism [Summer 1980]), tries to avoid partisanship by simply listing the various ways art has been understood through history: (in no particular order) the product of conscious intention, self rewarding activity, a tendency to unite dissimilar things, a concern with change and variety, aesthetic exploitation of familiarity and surprise or tension and release, the imposition of order on disorder, the creation of illusions, indulgence in sensuousness, the exhibition of skill, a desire to convey meanings, indulgence in fantasy (cf day-dreaming), aggrandizement of self or others, illustration, the heightening of existence, revelation, personal adornment or embellishment, and so on. In a brief review of new cave paintings discovered in France in 1995, critic Robert Hughes wrote: “art — communication by visual images — … is, at its root, association — the power to make one thing stand for and symbolize another, and to create the agreements by which some marks on a surface denote, say, an animal, not just to the markmaker but to others” (“Behold the Stone Age,” Time [February 1995]: 42). See also art, functions of art.

DEICTIC: A word which shows or points out directly another part of the statement in which it occurs. In “The artist dropped his brush; his hands shook…,” “his” is a deictic. Similarly, “this,” “that,” “these” and “those” are deictics. In the form deixis, the term is used in Norman Bryson’s Vision and Painting to designate a painterly surface signifying the activity of the artist, which he sees as a satisfying refutation of perceptualism.

DEIXIS: See deictic, expanded field.

DÉJA LU: French play on the phrase “déja vu” meaning what is described under the heading always-already-read.

DÉJA VU: The illusion of familiarity in a strange place or the feeling of having “already seen” something which one is supposedly encountering for the first time. The idea has been extended into the act of interpretation as the always-already-read. See also political unconscious.

Aristotelian term for that type of rhetoric used chiefly to persuade an audience. See also epideictic, forensic.

Anyone who uses false claims, fallacious reasoning (see fallacy) or cultural prejudices in a bid for fame or power. The term is sometimes used by both sides to describe their opponents in the debate over political correctness.

: From the French demande. See desire.

DEMOTIC: Northrop Frye’s term for the style of ordinary speech, as opposed to conventionalized hieratic style. The term has potential usefulness in discussions of folk culture, popular artifacts, and the putatively high art influenced by them. An instance of the latter is Courbet’s Bonjour M. Courbet, deriving in part from an image d’Epinal.

DEMYSTIFICATION: Removal of the mystery; rendering less obscure; decoding. In postmodern contexts, the term has a spin that ranges from correction of social injustice to empowerment of those who have been traditionally suppressed.

DEMYTHOLOGIZE: Near synonym of “demystify” (see demystification).

DENATURALIZE: To deconstruct (see deconstruction) familiar notions which we take for granted or unreflectively consider “normal” or “natural.” This is a basic procedure in much postmodernism.

DENOTATION: The literal meaning of a word, as opposed to its connotations. Roland Barthes (see Barthesian) maintained that denotation was simply the last of a series of connotations, enforced as a closed meaning (see closure) by more or less political interests.

DÉPENSE: Basically, a Bataillean term for expenditure.

DEPOLITICIZE: When one discusses an artwork or any other thing without reference to the political and social circumstances informing its creation, one depoliticizes it. This is a particular problem when the artwriter’s only concern is aesthetics. See critique of institutions, mediation.

DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY: The scientific study of human behaviour as the result of largely unconscious processes, as in Freudian and Jungian thought. See psychoanalytical criticism.

DERRIDEAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Jacques Derrida. See deconstruction, différance, four term fallacy, frame, hymen, leipsomena, metaphor, metaphysics of presence, supplement, trace.

DESCRIPTION: Discourse intended primarily to produce a mental image of something experienced, as opposed to explaining it (see interpretation). See also ekphrasis, illustrement, language.

DESIRE: An urge towards the acquisition of some object (or experience) that appears to promise satisfaction of the urge or enjoyment in general. The role of desire in the creation of art and in supposedly objective artwriting has been under investigation since at least the time of Nietzsche, who asserted that unfulfilled desire was behind the creation of even the virtuous Madonnas of Raphael. Paradoxically, while some feminist camps are therefore highly suspicious of it, those who espouse (l’)écriture féminine find it a good strategy for challenging patriarchy. Desire appears in Lacanian writing as a unremitting drive, rather than as individual acts of wishing, which he characterized as “demand” (demande, in French). Biological need occurs in all organisms. In humans, a demand may or may not be satisfied in the instance at hand, but the basic drive — the desire — is never satiated and will always recur. Language, as the primary mediator between individuals in the realm Lacan called the symbolic, is thus a ceaseless articulation of desire rather than demand. See also appetitive drive, libidinally driven.

DESTABILIZE: A near synonym of denaturalize, with additional spin in the direction of active dismantling of oppressive institutions like canons. See also critique of institutions.

DESUBLIMATION: Herbert Marcuse’s once influential The Aesthetic Dimension argues that aesthetic form allows a given (social) reality (or the reification thereof) to be sublimated and thus transcended. In turn, this process engenders in an audience a rebellious subjectivity — a desublimation of the audience’s perceptions, creating a potential indictment of the dominant ideology. Art is thus a dissenting force.

DETERMINACY: The state of having defined limits or of having such an unequivocal, irreducible meaning that all objective members of an audience will come to the same conclusion, regardless of differences between their emotional responses. Still worthy of consideration in this regard are the writings of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. (see meaning), Giovanni Morelli (see connoisseurship), Stephen Pepper (see appetitive drive, consummatory field), Meyer Schapiro, and so on. The idea is challenged strongly by all postmodernism critical approaches. Cf indeterminacy.

DETERMINANT: A cause (see causality). Determinants may be further described as organismic, environmental, or situational to indicate where the determinant comes from — the organism itself, its environment, or some antecedent condition that stimulates behaviour. These terms, derived from psychology, are clearly analogous to the subcategories of context.

DETERMINATE: Having set limits; established; definitely settled. See determinacy. Cf indeterminacy.

DETERMINISM: Any of a number of beliefs, both religious and philosophical, that behaviour is predestined or driven by antecedent causes to such a degree that free will is largely an illusion. Cf indeterminism.

DETOURNEMENT: Sometimes translated as “diversion,” which has unfortunate connotations, détournement is the process of turning something aside from its normal course or purpose in an artistic context. While it is typically used as near-synonym of assemblage or collage in a Situationist context, it also describes any process of reinvention, reuse, or reinscription of meaning. As a result, outside of Situationist contexts, détournement means any move from the literal to the figurative. See for an essay on the Situationist context.

DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: The branch of psychology which studies the growth and maturation of human behaviour, theoretically at all stage of life. The one extended attempt to apply related ideas to artwriting was Suzi Gablik’s Progress in Art, the reception of which was mixed.

DEVIANCE: See inexhaustibility by contrast.

DIACHRONIC: Pertaining to change over a period of time, as in linguistics. For example, a diachronic art history is one which follows developments from decade to decade or century to century. In contrast, a synchronic study would examine the constellation of events surrounding a given object of study (i.e., context), ignoring antecedents and consequences.

DIALECT: A regional variety of a language, distinguished by accent, grammar, pronunciation, and/or vocabulary. Not to be confused with dialectic or dialogism. Cf idiolect.

DIALECTIC: In Socrates (via Plato), dialectic (also “dialectics”) simply meant argument in the form of question and answer. After slight variations proposed by Plato, Aristotle and Kant, Hegel reframed dialectic in the form still familiar to us today — the process of reasoning by argument and counterargument, or contradiction and reconciliation: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Marxist thought took this one step farther, distinguishing between objective dialectic (that which holds true of nature) and subjective dialectic (the reflection of objective dialectic in human thought). More loosely, dialectic means any systematic reasoning that attempts to juxtapose and resolve contradictory ideas.

: A book contains things that are spoken in the past, as it were, and because it cannot be actively questioned, it is always construed as authoritative. This is why it is necessary, from time to time, to ask audiences if they believe everything they read. In a similar spirit, Susanne Kappeler’s Pornography of Representation argues in favour of dialogism over monologue. As part of an ongoing feminist critique of representation, this process would entail replacing the traditional, one-way path of a message from sender to receiver (cf information theory) with an anti-authoritarian dialectic in which more than one voice could be heard. None of the participants would be a subject presumed to know — i.e., an unquestionable authority — so objective knowledge would be replaced with shared subjectivity (see intersubjectivity). There are striking similarities between this and the genderlects identified by sociolinguists. See also pornography.

: In Marxist thought, dialectical materialism was conceived by Friedrich Engels as an extension of the principles of historical materialism beyond historical and social circumstances into human thought. It was named by Georgy Valentinovich Plekhanov and further developed by Lenin into the idea that the universe evolves in a manner analogous to revolutionary thought.

: An increasingly popular idea, often understood simply as multivocality, but actually introduced in Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination as part of a critique of Saussurean linguistics. Bakhtin thought Saussure’s rather abstract system was devoid of social context, and he argued that a speaker’s utterances were always directed at others, who in turn would produce countering utterances, as in a dialogue, hence dialogism. Rather than having a relatively fixed significance, a sign was more of a changing field, a centre of contention between speakers in different voices (see heteroglossia). Further, because these voices are produced by different social conditions, the dialogue is profoundly ideological. There are all sorts of artists whose works could be discussed in related terms (see carnivalesque), and the ideas are sufficiently fashionable that a session was devoted to it at the 1993 College Art Association conference in Seattle. See also contingency, narrative analysis.

Division into two, especially in matters of classification, although many use it as if it were an exact synonym of binary oppositions. The latter, however, entails polar opposites, whereas the former does not have to.

DIDACTICISM: Any practice the principal motivation of which is to teach. It might be useful to ask oneself if the purpose of a particular critique is to make a description, an interpretation, or a didactic message. If it is the latter, it might further be useful to ask if the message is that of the work (as in, say, environmentally conscious art) or of the critic. While some schools of thought find didactic work to be overbearing and self-righteous, others demand it as a component of “good” art (e.g., some types of Marxism). See also post-pedagogy.

DIEGESIS: An old term for an utterance, in whatever form (descriptions, narratives, propositions, etc.) that makes no evaluation and draws no conclusion. Roland Barthes reintroduced the word in The Responsibility of Forms and elsewhere to distinguish what is shown ( mimesis) from what is told. See also story. The adjectival form is “diegetic.”

: General guides usually begin by saying this is an untranslatable French neologism, and then they immediately translate it by saying that it combines connotations of difference and deferral, and sometimes other things as well. The term is Jacques Derrida’s, and although he claims it is “neither a word nor a concept” in the seminal essay “Différance” (in Speech and Phenomena and frequently elsewhere, it is abundantly clear that it has become both in contemporary discourse. Central to deconstruction, différance begins with Saussure’s acknowledgement that signification can only proceed if there is a difference between signifier and signified. If there were no difference, there would only be redundancy, not signification. Paradoxically, because there is difference, there is always a space — Derrida sometimes says spacing — of sorts between signifier and signified — a gap, an aporia — which means that while one meaning or set of meanings is currently foregrounded, another is temporarily put on hold — i.e., deferred. If we conceive of the foregrounded meaning, to use another’s terminology, as only a meaning effect produced by a filtering process, différance simply demands that we also consider what has been filtered out, thus opening interpretation to all sorts of possibilities denied by positivism. While Derrida holds his interpretive ingenuity in relative check, some of his followers leap quickly from deferral to confabulation. In any case, the notion has become so fashionable and influential in current artwriting that few ask whether it is valid. In evolutionary terms, refusal to let go of the deferred meanings could be seen as a flaw in cognition (cf interpretive agnosia), inasmuch as it could entail distortion and great confusion. We answer this criticism by remembering that Derrida is a philosopher, not a practical critic, and as the heir to Nietzsche (see Apollonian, Dionysian) and Heidegger (see Dasein) he is addressing issues which go beyond normal cognition. This would explain why traditional thinkers see his decision to place difference and deferral on equal grounds as both willful (see will-to-power ) and more telling of Derrida himself than of the object of inquiry (see authentic, existentialism). See also absence, dissemination, hymen, macula, metaphysics of presence, trace.

: Contrast, dissimilarity, distinction, variability, etc. The term is important in postmodern thought for two specific reasons: first, it is a central concept in Saussurean linguistics — Saussure’s most quotable quote is “in language there are only differences without positive terms” — and second, it represents that which androcentrism, Eurocentrism, and so on fail to recognize — i.e., the possibility of the other to whom the “norm” does not apply. E.g., men oppress women because men fail to recognize sexual difference; Protestants oppress Jews because Protestants fail to understand cultural difference; etc. See also alterity.

: See definitional rules.

: Adversity, complication, inconvenience, obstacle, etc. Once considered completely undesirable, since George Steiner’s On Difficulty and Other Essays, it has been seen as appropriate in certain literary contexts, chiefly for the generation of a sense of involvement, even complicity, in the audience. Some artworks exploit difficulty for a variety of related effects (e.g., installations by Ian Carr-Harris, paintings by Mary Scott), but whether it really works this way on the level of theory and criticism is something to be debated.

A momentary turning aside from the main topic, thus disrupting the sense of narrative unity. Digressions have a lengthy history in literature, but the term is rarely used of the visual arts. Nonetheless, it might be applicable to images which have a similarly violated unity, like the abrupt transitions in both space and iconography in Spanish Baroque paintings which feature genre in the foreground and religious content in the background. One might say that digression appears as the central theme of the work in certain contemporary productions which splice a variety of images together quite arbitrarily (e.g., James Rosenquist, David Salle).

DIONYSIAN: Friedrich Nietzsche’s designation for the disorderly, irrational, orgiastic and unconscious side of human nature.

Two vertical panels hinged together in the centre. Ivory carvings with religious motifs so arranged were common in late Roman times, as were panels with Christ facing his mother in the late medieval era. For more complicated multi-panel works, see altarpiece.

: A. D. Coleman’s article of this name (in Artforum [September 1976]) identified an approach to photography in which the photographer was more like a film director or theatre designer than a traditional photographer. Emphasis was put on making, rather than taking photographs. To some extent, the principle is akin to auteur theory. Examples are widespread, including Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, William Wegman, Laurie Simmons, Laura Simpson, and innumerable others.

: See suspension of disbelief.

: Generally, a discussion or conversation. More specifically, a mode of expression — originally verbal, but now applied by analogy to other forms. In postmodernism, a discourse is usually the manner of discussion peculiar to a political party, a profession, a scientific method, and/or a social group. In other words, discourse is not an absolute, but a relative term which means “the language with which this particular group describes (evaluates, etc.) its conception of truth as seen through a particular ideology.” Thus “the discourse of power,” for example, would mean to a Foucauldian “the way language and linguistic structures are used to keep political power in the hands of dominant institutions.” Similarly, “the discourse of orientalism” would mean “the way language is used by Eurocentric interests to displace its own racism, sexism and displacement. See also discursive practices.

: See rhetoric.

1. The exposure of unknown facts to change the unfolding of events in a narrative. See also narratology. 2. A legal term indicating the systematicgathering and exposure of the facts about a case. The systematicnature of the procedure should be emulated in verifiability, although it rarely is, except in the works ofparticularly thorough DISCURSIVE: This means both “pertaining to digression” and “pertaining to discourse.” It can thus mean either meandering thought or analytical reasoning. “Discursive thought” usually means propositional thinking in contrast to feelings orunreflective thought driven by emotion. For a description of thecontrast between discursive thought and presentational symbol.

Timothy J. Reiss’s Discourse of Modernism argues that discursive activity — the flexible, complex and contextually-relative conceptual processes involved in the writing and reading of a text — has been suppressed by what he calls “analytico-referential” discourse, a dominant cultural model of putative objectivity and realism. An example in art is the notion that a painting’s apparent realism implies that it is the real, rather than the product of a particular artist in a particular social formation (see perceptualism). Analytico-referential discourse thus eliminates what other linguistic theorists call enunciation.

Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction presents an image of literature as “a name which people give from time to time for different reasons to certain kinds of writing within a whole field of what Michel Foucault (see Foucauldian) has called ‘discursive practices’.” He then goes on to say that the purpose of literary criticism is to discover the “kinds of effects which discourses produce, and how they produce them.” For example, reading a textbook to learn about giraffes is one thing; discovering the practices by which discourse is structured and organized is quite another. Analysis of discursive practices is rhetoric by another name. For an application and complaint relative to artwriting, see textbook.

DISFIGURING: Title of a 1992 book by a/theologian Mark C. Taylor (see a/theology) concerning a postmodern aesthetic strategy that involves radically refiguring and disfiguring modernist works in order to point to their absence of secure signification (see indeterminacy). Taylor discusses numerous artists and architects (e.g., Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Moore, etc.) in this regard, but his real motive is to expose an unnameable aporia which represents God in some inexplicable way.

Impartiality, objectivity, a lack of bias, and the like. Not to be confused with a lack of interest, disinterestedness implies that an investigator has no personal interest in whether the result of, say, an experiment turns out to be true or false. Whether it is due to a general tendency towards anti-authoritarian positions or a distant recognition of the indeterminism of quantum mechanics, postmodern thought is usually suspicious of disinterestedness, for reasons given under subject presumed to know.

DISPLACEMENT: The removal of something from its normal position and/or its replacement. There are three variations on the idea in contemporary discourses. First, Freud saw it as one of the basic processes of dream-work, in which, say, an intolerable desire is displaced from the literal to a figurative expression (cf latent, manifest). For example, a desire to kill one’s father (see Oedipus complex) might be displaced into a dream of insulting him or doing him less drastic harm. This sense of displacement is still used in psychoanalytical criticism; a typical example is Liebert’s study of Michelangelo, in which the sculptor’s putative desire for his mother is displaced to images of the Madonna. Developing from this is the second variation, displacement as the psychic origin of metonymy (see concatenation relation, selection relation). A third variation is the cultural displacement suggested by Edward Said, in which one culture projects what it is unwilling to recognize in itself onto another, “lesser” culture (see orientalism and cf colonialization).

Any of a variety of approaches desiged to forestall closure and maintain open-endedness. The term is often applied to Roland Barthes (see plaisir) and Julia Kristeva (see jouissance), but it is as easily applied to Norman Bryson (see gaze and glance).

: Dispersion, derived from the sowing of seeds. Derrida has made special use of the term, punning on semen (seed) and sema (sign [see seme]) to evoke the idea that signification is a relatively loose scattering of seed/signs, rather than a determinate endeavour. Linking sema to dissemination is, of course, a species of folk etymology.

DISSONANCE: See cognitive dissonance.

DISTANCE: See aesthetic distance.

DIVERGERS: See convergers and divergers.

DIVINE AFFLATUS: Poetic inspiration of an ecstatic sort. The idea was taken very seriously from Plato onward, but postmodernism generally regards it disdainfully, for reasons analogous to those under the heading genius.

: Ruled by rigid principle, dogmatic, unreasonably adherent to the canon, biased, narrow-minded, and the like.

: In literary studies, “document” refers pretty much to anything in print; as Holman and Harmon’s Handbook to Literature puts it, “from this perspective the first edition of Paradise Lost is on a par with a telephone directory or a speeding ticket.” In artwriting the reverse is more likely to be true: where a monument is the work in and of itself, in its physical uniqueness (thought not necessarily autotelic), a document of necessity refers to something other than itself, as in documentary art.

: Any artwork (particularly documentary film and documentary novels) the purpose of which is to record and/or comment on some content, often political or social, by accumulating factual detail. Many conceptual art installations of the 1970s were overtly documentary — e.g., Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Project, Joseph Kosuth’s various Reading Rooms, Hans Haacke’s Guggenheim Trustees.

DOGMA: Beliefs held to be true and beyond question or debate. Originally the term meant religious truth, but it is now mostly used as a pejorative.

DOME: A vault, usually with a circular plan and approaching a hemispherical shape, as if one spun an arch three hundred and eighty degrees about its centre. The evolution of the various attempts to resist the thrust of a dome constitutes one of the more important threads in architectural history. The most famous domes in history are probably the so-called Treasury of Atreus, the Pantheon, Hagia Sophia, and St. Peter’s, although there is no shortage of fascinating and eccentric domes — especially when they are neither circular nor hemispherical, as in S. Ivo della Sapienza or the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in Turin.

DOMINANCE: Ascendancy, centrality (see central), forcefulness, power, priority, a higher (or the highest) stage in the social hierarchy.

DOMPTE-REGARD: Literally, “tame-gaze.” Jacques Lacan invented the phrase to describe how his conception of a picture functions psychologically. For further details, see gaze and glance.

DONNÉE: The given. Henry James introduced the term to indicate the raw material, by analogy with raw data in science, with which any author must start. The presumption is that a donnée is a fact. Some writers seem to present as given instances of folk etymology and sheer confabulations.

In linguistics, one of the principle characteristics of most languages is a two-fold structure, the first being the level at which phonemes (sounds, meaningless in themselves) are brought together into morphemes (arrangements of sounds into the small meaning-bearing components of words), and the second being the syntactic level at which relations between words are produced. One of the problems facing early attempts at a visual semiotics was whether or not visual language possessed a true double articulation. Fernande Saint-Martin’s conception of the coloreme was in part an attempt to by-pass the problem.

DOUBLE ENTENDRE: The reverse of a pun. Where a pun is a play on different words with the same sound, a double entendre is a play on a single word with two or more meanings. Double entendres usually have a suggestive or off-colour connotation. Cf ambiguity.

DOUBLING: According to Rosalind Krauss (“Corpus delecti,” in L’Amour fou: Photography and Surrealism), a duplication of a particular signifier, less to allay the consequences of the signified than to point out that language is a social construct. The idea derives from a famous essay by Freud on the head of Medusa, where it means that one counters the anxiety of a castration threat by displacing it (see displacement) with multiple (i.e., doubled) phallic symbols veiled in a variety of other forms. Krauss moves from there along lines suggested by Bataille and Derrida (see Bataillean and Derridean). Cf l’écriture féminine.

DOXA: Greek for “opinion” but now generally understood to mean consensus shaped by ideology. In Outline of A Theory of Practice, for example, Pierre Bourdieu defines doxa as “theses tacitly posited on the hither side of all inquiry.” Cf folk etymology, heterodoxy, orthodoxy.

: In the theatre, conventions representing real details that would be too difficult or costly to produce onstage or simply as shorthand devices to propel the narrative forward. The audience recognizes these details as conventions but suspends its disbelief (see suspension of disbelief). Standard examples range from groups in situation comedies of four or more people awkwardly seated on only three sides of a table to science fiction aliens who speak English and Madonnas who look Florentine instead of Jewish (cf enallage). Similar conventions operate in art and art history — to the extent that both employ narrative development — but they are rarely articulated as such. Examples for art, just as in television and the theatre, include the illusion of a character contemplating him- or herself in a mirror when the sitter had to have seen only the reflection of the artist (cf Velàzquez’s Rokeby Venus) and the aside (and potentially the now-diluted desire to épater le bourgeois). See also artwriting, rhetoric. See also dramatic propriety.

DRAMATIC IRONY: Ironic (see irony) meanings recognized by an audience but unrecognized by one or more of the characters in a narrative. This is standard fare in television sitcoms, with the audience laughing at the witlessness of one character or another. In art, the term could be applied to examples ranging from Caravaggio’s various Cardsharps and Fortune Tellers to Margaret Bourke-White’s At the Time of the Louisiana Flood.

DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE: Originally a poem in which one speaker addresses a silent listener in terms calculated to give insight into the speaker’s experience and spirit. It is fairly uncommon now because it seems rather stagey, although one recent example in film is The War of the Roses, in which Danny De Vito tells the whole story to a wordless Dan Castenellata. Although Suzi Lake described her Are You Talking to Me? — a series of large-scale photographs of her head, some slightly twisted and distorted — as an attempt to establish a dialogue (cf dialogism), it amounts to a monologue in which the viewer has become the silent listener. One might be able to say much the same of Cindy Sherman’s work.

DRAMATIC PROPRIETY: A type of decorum in which an action, a thing, or an utterance is judged only by whether it fits the context (i.e., whether it is in character) and not by reference to some external criterion. Courbet’s oft-quoted “Show me an angel and I will paint one” is the rejection of the propriety of a supernatural being in an era of increasing empiricism.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE: The characters in a narrative (or a list thereof). For example, the dramatis personae of Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio would be Baudelaire, Buchon, Champfleury, Courbet himself, Napoléon III, Proudhon, and so on. In old salon guidebooks (livrets), descriptions of academic paintings were often so lengthy that they effectively constituted a dramatis personae as given at the front of a printed play.

DRAMATISM: Kenneth Burke’s name for his relation of the patterns in literature to those of Western language. In doing so he came up with the idea that narrative is inherently like sentence structure: it always involves a subject, a verb, an object and/or an indirect object — i.e., an agent does something to someone. He supplemented this with a simple five-part structure which was thought to characterize all developments: act (the deed), agent (the doer), agency (how done), purpose (why done), and scene (where done). This could clearly be applied to painting, especially genres like genre, history painting, and mythological painting.

DRAME BOURGEOIS: A slightly more recherché version of bourgeois drama.

DREAM-WORK: The processes by which unconscious desire (i.e., repressed wishes) is “translated” into acceptable content in a dream. Freud distinguished three such mechanisms: condensation, displacement, and secondary elaboration. Dream-work is central to psychological criticism, and the first two have been developed further as the psychic mechanisms making conscious, creative metaphor and metonymy possible (see also concatenation relation, selection relation).

DRIVE: Translation of the French pulsion, as it appears in Lacan’s work. Following Freud, Lacan distinguished between “instinct,” a complex of usually unlearned (i.e., biologically encoded) behaviours characteristic of a species, and “drive,” meaning an analogous, but entirely psychosocial phenomenon. The mainstream psychological community uses the terms “primary drive” and “acquired drive” to indicate these senses of “instinct” and “drive,” respectively. For a specific instance, see scopic pulsion.

DUALISM: 1. The Platonic doctrine that the universe is composed of two basic substances, mind and matter. 2. The subsequent philosophical and psychological positions that mind and body are separate entities and/or processes. See Cartesian interactionism, consciousness, homo duplex, monism, psychophysical parallelism.

DUALITY OF STRUCTURE: Synonymous with double articulation.

DUMB SHOW: Pantomime, originally in the context of a play, but extendable to many early Christian and medieval representations in which religious narratives are acted out, as it were, by figures in conventionalized poses and exaggerated, stereotypical facial expressions. Although virtually all paintings are pantomimic, in a sense, certain later images of theatrical groups and situations — including acrobats, commedia dell’arte figures, harlequins, and the like — could also be so described. See, for example, Gillot’s Quarrel of the Cabmen.

DUOLOGUE: A play with only two speakers. There is no reason why paintings like Overbeck’s Germania and Italia or Broc’s Death of Hyacinth — both of which feature two figures — could not be so described.

DURÉE: Henri Bergson claimed that experience of the world was a flowing, inseparable continuum that could not be divided into a sequence of individual moments of apprehension. As such, reality was experienced as duration, or durée, which could be grasped best by intuition, rather than the rational intellect. In a superficial way, the idea is illustrated by some of Cézanne’s paintings and those of the analytical cubists. Some of the time-based video pieces of Allan Kaprow and others might also be discussed with reference to the idea.

DWM: Dead white male. (Sometimes also dead white European male.) This is a derogatory reference to the study of the humanities as a Eurocentric canon made up only of the privileged and the powerful. People oppose this by calling for the inclusion of women, non-whites and the dispossessed.

DYNAMIC CHARACTER: A character who changes within a narrative.

DYNAMIC EQUILIBRIUM: Piet Mondrian’s term to characterize the universal balance achieved by forces in motion. The idea is rather like the yin-yang of Eastern thought, in which all imaginable things can be reduced to paired relations, like light/dark, male/female, good/evil, all of which exist by virtue of their opposite. Mondrian’s choice of elementary pictorial language, however, is clearly quite different from the yin-yang’s apostrophes chasing each others’ tails.

DYSFUNCTIONAL: Impaired or abnormal functioning. One hears often of dysfunctional families, for example.

DYSPHEMISM: The opposite of euphemism; conveying a message in a manner that is disproportionately negative. E.g., “piss off” frequently replaces “go away.” Images that place great emphasis on negative aspects might be so described, as in Otto Dix’s The Trench.

DYSTOPIA: The opposite of utopia; an extremely disagreeable place (construed as an era, a political state, or even a state of mind). Dystopias are usually obvious, as in Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, but there is something more suggestively dystopic about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Street, Berlin paintings or Margaret Bourke-White’s At the Time of the Louisiana Floods.
ECHO: See visual rhyme.

ECLECTICISM: The composition of something by selecting details and stylistic features from a wide variety of sources. Nineteenth-century architecture, for example, was eclectic in its rather derivative adherence to the manners of bygone eras, as in Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, and the like. Postmodern architecture is more ironically eclectic, as in Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans.

ECONOMY: The organization, structure or mode of operation of a group; more specifically, the system of exchange within an identifiable group, whether the exchange be of money (economy in the widest sense) or of some more ephemeral thing, like meaning (see signifying economy). When some reference is intended to a smaller, marginal or veiled system of exchange within a dominant economy, it is often designated a sub-economy. See also general economy.

(L’)ÉCRITURE: “Writing,” but with connotations taken over from the death of the author to the effect that what is written is an open-ended (see open-endedness) text, with multiple possibilities of meaning beyond those intended by the author. Some writers use the word “scription” to indicate much the same idea.

(L’)ÉCRITURE FÉMININE: A type of writing which rejects intellectual paradigms of logic and logocentrism — such as intellectual neutrality, disinterestedness — and so on, in favour of allusive, divergent, and expressive associations — like the body, desire, and a sense of connectedness. Although Hélène Cixous’s “Laugh of the Medusa,” Signs (Summer 1976) is considered the key source, Chantal Chawaf put it this way: “Isn’t the final goal of writing to articulate the body?… Language through writing has moved away from its original sources: the body and the earth.” See language, thinking as yet not thinkable. Cf fleshless academicism.

EFFECT: Something that invariably follows a cause (see causality); the consequence of inflection; and/or the overall emotional or dramatic impact or tone of an artwork. See also meaning effect.

EFFECT OF THE REAL: In art and literature, the creation of a fictive world that appears to be seen through a transparent window, rather than as the result of a particular individual’s creative behaviour or the processes of an audience’s enunciation. The basic challenge offered to this position in artwriting is described under the heading perceptualism. The phrase itself derives from Roland Barthes’ essay by that name in the journal Communications (1968).

EGO: Generally, one’s conception of the self. More specifically, in psychoanalytical thought, one of three main divisions of the psyche. The ego makes distinctions between the self and the not-self (i.e., the environment) and in the process mediates between the primitive, infantile mind ( id) and the moral mind ( superego).

EGOCENTRIC: Considering the ego as central, as in simple selfishness or in developed philosophies or ethics which give priority to self-interest.

EIDETIC IMAGERY: Mental images with extraordinary vividness, as if actually perceptible.

EIDOS: Term for the Platonic conception of the essential (see essentialism Forms or Ideas underlying all experience.

EKPHRASIS: Synonym for description.

ELABORATION: A tactic in rhetoric by which a theme is progressively argued by gradual repetition with emendations, alterations, and the like. Visual equivalents are easy enough to imagine. See also secondary elaboration.

ELEGY: A solemn meditation on death and the like, particularly when presented in a gravely formal manner. Antonio Canova’s Tomb of the Archduchess Maria Christina in Vienna’s Augustinerkirche is notably elegaic.

ELEMENTAL: Pertaining to the four basic elements (air, earth, fire, and water) and, by analogy, anything fundamental, rudimentary, or expressive of the basic forces of nature.

ELISION: Omission of a component, usually of a word or a part thereof (as in contractions like can’t). In medieval imagery, illuminated texts frequently had elisions signalled by a short line above the contraction.

ELITE CULTURE: See high culture.

ELLIPSIS: The omission of one or more words whose sense can be easily supplied. For example, in “Bernini’s sculpture reached the zenith of Baroque exuberance, his painting the nadir,” the identity of the missing word in the second clause is signalled by “reached” in the first. Discussion of the mechanics of ellipsis might clarify how a specifically visual trope works.

EMBLEM: A picture associated with a motto, usually moralizing in tone. An example is a popular print showing King Midas, unable to eat because his touch turns everything to gold, accompanied by the words “both rich and poor.”

EMBOURGEOISEMENT: The suppression of difference in class by attributing to all members of a society the values of the middle class (the bourgeoisie). See hegemony, ideological effect.

EMOTION: Psychological and/or physical reactions to stimuli subjectively experienced as feelings. See betraying versus expressing emotion, unique aesthetic emotion.

EMOTIVE: See mind-set.

EMOTIVISM: Also known as emotive theory, emotivism holds that value judgements are neither good nor bad but simply expressions of emotion, like laughing or fear. Where simple subjectivism offers a statement like “Walter De Maria’s Earth Room is good art” when what is really meant is “I like it/esteem it/approve of it,” emotivism sees “Walter De Maria’s Earth Room is good art” as an honest (or dishonest) and appropriate (or inappropriate, etc.) statement of the speaker’s feelings, but it cannot be either true or false. Ayer started the idea in Language, Truth and Logic (see also boo-hooray theory) and it was further developed by C. L. Stevenson in Ethics and Language, where it was linked with the rhetorical desire to persuade with or without valid argument. Given that so much popular talk about art includes often wooly value judgements, some consideration should be given to these issues.

EMPATHY: Now loosely the same as “sympathy” – - i.e., identification with another’s feelings — but careful users usually stipulate empathy as an imaginative projection of one’s own feelings into an event or object. One should perhaps be suspicious of the latter, inasmuch as it can easily produce meanings that are read into an artwork.

EMPHASIS: Any of several means of drawing special attention to some feature(s) of an artwork for aesthetic impact.

EMPIRICAL: Derived from observation, whether through anecdotes or through controlled experiment. See empiricism.

EMPIRICISM: Popularly understood as the philosophy that all understanding must derive from or be indebted to actual experience. Empiricists assert that the mind is not invested with a priori categories or concepts (see Kantian, platonic) from birth but is instead a blank, receptive surface, as it were. The prime movers were Berkeley (see immaterialism), Hume (see constant conjunction) and Locke (see tabula rasa). Cf logical positivism, positivism.

EMPOWER: To enable; to give recognition to; to facilitate self-expression, particularly of marginal groups within a dominant culture.

EMULATION: Thus can mean either “imitation” or the “striving to equal or exceed.” As a contemporary technological term, it also means a device allowing a program written for one computer to be run on another computer or a musical instrument which records sounds digitally for playback, manipulation, etc. See sampling.

ENALLAGE: A figure in which there is an exchange of grammatical forms, as in instances when nouns are used as verbs — e.g., “toe the party line” — or when past and present tenses are switched. The application of the latter idea to visual imagery should be obvious to those who have always found peculiar the representation of, say, the Madonna and Child as if they belonged to the race and era of the painter, rather than to history.

ENCLOSED RHYME: A rhyme in the form “a.b.b.a.” Rudolf Wittkower has pointed out similar structures in Italian architecture.

ENANTIOMORPHS: Mirror images, in effect, as a left hand is to a right. As simple as the idea seems to be, it has been used in such difficult Kantian philosophical questions as “is space relative or absolute?” Students of visual art might care to examine a once-popular conception — similar to some aspects of information theory — that whatever a viewer experiences before an artwork is the exactly reconstituted emotional expression of the artist.

ENCODING: In information theory, the conversion of a message into a form that can be transmitted along a channel. In postmodernist artwriting, the idea is discussed more frequently from the point of view of code and decoding.

ENCOMIUM A class of art (or artistic endeavour) having a characteristic form or technique In Greek literature, enthusiastic praise, delivered in soberly formal terms, of anyone or anything aside from the gods. Any decidedly glorifying treatment of a subject’s visual representation could be described as encomiastic. Sometimes it backfires, as in the rather absurd sculptural cases of Canova’s Napoleon and Greenough’s George Washington.

ÉNONCÉ: See enunciation.

ÉNONCIATION: See enunciation.

EN PLEIN AIR: See plein air.

ENTELECHY: The actuality or truth of a thing, rather than its potentiality. In Aristotelian thought, entelechy was used to distinguish the soul from the body (see mind-body problem). In vitalist thought, entelechy is an unobservable, hypothetical agent that directs organic processes. Bear the idea in mind while considering holism, possibilities, and teleology.

ENTHYMEME: A syllogism with a hidden premise. For example, in “Artists should be seen and not heard. Be quiet, Pablo,” the minor premise that Pablo is an artist is suppressed but understood.

ENTROPY: Originally from the study of thermodynamics, entropy has been used in a variety of ways in other disciplines. In certain sociological circles, for example, the original definition of entropy as the degree to which energy in a system is available to do work becomes a description of how social progress slows and finally stops because social change uses up energy which cannot then be retrieved for reuse in further change. Related is the psychoanalytical usage, in which psychic energy cannot be transferred from the object in which it is originally invested. A more straightforward application of entropy as the tendency of ordered systems to degrade into a state of inanimate uniformity can be seen in the writings of artist Robert Smithson. Related to this is the usage in information theory, where entropy is a measure of the apparent disorder of a system, so that the more there is known about it, the less entropy it seems to have. I.e., entropy is understood as the number of possibilities, which decreases as knowledge grows.

ENUNCIATION: In theories as diverse as Lacan and speech-act theory, an énoncé is the thing uttered (e.g., a statement), whereas an énonciation is the act of uttering it. In some contexts, enunciation is construed as the interpretation or performance of a text conceived of as a discursive activity, rather than as the isolated act of a single individual. Enunciation is neither the writer producing an unequivocal meaning nor a reader understanding an unequivocal significance. It is the network of conceptual processes involved in the production and reception of a text, including the effects of contextual factors. The term is most clearly defined by Tzvetan Todorov in Les Genres du discours: “A discourse is made not of sentences, but of enunciated sentences, or more simply, of énoncés. Now the interpretation of this énoncé is determined on the one hand by the sentences enunciated, and on the other, by the énonciation itself. This énonciation includes a speaker who enunciates, a listener whom one addresses, a time and a place, a discourse that precedes and follows; in brief, a context of enunciation.” See also reader-response.

EPAGOGE: Greek for argument from induction.

éPATER LE BOURGEOIS: To shock the bourgeois audience, to flout conventional moral or aesthetic norms, to startle through unconventional behaviour. This is a basic component of anti-art, but it has lost much of its force. See avant-garde, bohemianism, dramatic conventions.

EPHEMERA: Published matter intended to last only for a very short time (from the Greek ephemeros, “lasting a day”), like broadsheets, leaflets, pamphlets, and all manner of cheaply produced visual materials. Museologists and art conservators rack their brains over how to preserve visual art produced without high technical standards, serving to meet ephemeral needs, as in some Dada, say, or in preparatory drawings.

EPIC: A long narrative, usually in the form of a poem or film, in which the stories of a number of characters are traced against a background of sweeping historical importance, as in Leon Uris’s novels. The term is only rarely applied to the visual arts.

EPIDEICTIC: Now rarely used Aristotelian term for the type of rhetoric used chiefly to please an audience, as in encomium. See also deliberative, forensic.

EPIGRAM: A concise aphorism with moralizing overtones, which ensures that they will have a rich history in visual illustration. A notable example is Landseer’s Man Proposes But God Disposes.

EPIGRAPH: The inscription of a motto or similar on a coin, relief, titlepage and the like. The study of such things collectively is called epigraphy.

ENCOMIUM: A sudden manifestation of divine insight, as in Bellini’s Ecstacy of St. Francis. When the term is used figuratively to indicate a sudden intuitive insight, especially in popular criticism, readers should cautiously note whether the writer is seeking to persuade through emotional rhetoric.

EPIPHENOMENALISM: The doctrine that consciousness is a product of neural activity in the nervous system (i.e., an epiphenomenon of material existence). See mind-body problem.

EPIPHENOMENON: An accessory or accompaniment to some phenomenon, but considered incidental to it and not a causal factor in its development. It might be worth considering whether certain types of art criticism really consider specific artworks basically ignorable epiphenomena of the systems under examination. For example, one of the commonly repeated complaints regarding Serge Guilbaut’s How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art was that it said virtually nothing about art per se (cf interpretive agnosia). In Grounds of Dispute, John Tagg defends himself against Donald Kuspit’s similar objections by stating that criticism has lost its object — i.e., that as criticism is socially marginalized, it loses its institutional security and its privileged methods and soon comes to realize that its object never had an independent existence but was constituted by criticism itself (see constitutive). While this is certainly an important issue, it places sole emphasis on context and tends to treat the artwork as an epiphenomenon instead of as autoptic evidence. See also insufficiency.

EPISODE: An incident which, when taken as a step in a sequential series of incidents — regardless of the order of the sequence — constitutes a narrative. The individual scenes in the iconographic programs of medieval churches could be so described. The word is also used as a loose synonym for “installment,” as in an episode of a sitcom.

EPISODIC: A literary term applied to structures of stringed episodes which do not necessarily follow a logical pattern or even seem to develop the plot. The Fragonard Progress of Love paintings in the Frick Gallery could possibly be described as episodic.

EPISTEME: A Foucauldian term, deriving from epistemology and “-eme” (the smallest significantly distinctive unit of a structure, like a morpheme, phoneme, seme or sememe), to mean something along the lines of “distinctive units of the social institutions (e.g., relations of power) which give shape to what we think of as knowledge.” Foucault himself wrote more allusively in The Order of Things: “what I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the episteme in which knowledge … manifests a history … of its conditions of possibility…. Such an enterprise is not so much a history … as an ‘archaeology’.” John Tagg’s Grounds of Dispute reads much as a series of essays exploring one such episteme, the discursive field (see discursive practices) created by the intersection of art history and cultural politics. See space.

EPISTEMOLOGICAL HEDONISM: In the first issue of Swift (1997), a newsletter of skepticism and debunking of claims of the paranormal, professional magician Jamy Ian Swiss characterized credulity and uncritical acceptance of unrepeatable and unprovable phenomena like astrology, spoon-bending, UFOs, etc., as “‘epistemological hedonism,’ i.e., if it feels good, believe it.” Needless to say, this is anathema to skeptics.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Philosophy concerned with theories of knowledge — i.e., what knowledge is, how it is obtained, how reliable it is, and so on. The basic opposition is between rationalism and empiricism, but there are all sorts of intermediary positions. Not the least of them is Kant’s synthetic a priori, which allowed for an account of art, among other things. Cf skepticism.

EPISTROPHE: See palilogy.

EPITAPH: Inscriptions and the like marking a burial place.

EPITHET: A characterizing word or phrase appearing with or in place of a name or thing, as in Homer’s “rosy- fingered dawn.” They need not be disparaging, although they often are in satire. See transferred epithet.

EPITOME: A summary or typical example of something. Chartres Cathedral might be called the epitome of Gothic church design, which would mean not that it represents the best of what was available, but that it is typical of what was available.

ÉPOCHÉ: Suggestions anyone?

EPONYM: A name so closely linked to a characteristic, a place, or some other general thing that it comes to stand for that. Examples are Machiavelli (deceit, treachery), Romulus (Rome), Bowdler (bowdlerize), and so on. The principle operates when artists’ names are used to characterize general tendencies in the arts.

ERISTIC: Fond of wrangling, as in people who argue for the sake of argument. The word is sometimes used in place of polemics.

EROTIC: Pertaining to sexual love or desire. Although one commonly finds “erotic” ditsinguished fundamentally from pornography, the dividing line between the two is by no means as clear as etymology would suggest (i.e., erotic from eros [love], pornography from porne [sexual servitude]). As a result, there is considerable debate regarding the definition and role of the erotic in such things as appetitive drive, the critique of representation, the erotics of engagement, people who are libidinally driven, and so on.

EROTIC-FOR-MEN: See erotic-for-women.

EROTIC-FOR-WOMEN: Phrase coined by Joanna Frueh to distinguish the conventionally erotic, which she sees as really erotic-for-men and therefore an expression of scopophilia. She argues that erotic-for-women has more to do with the sense of touch because this is the primary way women explore their sensuality, whereas men see the principle sign of their sex. See her “Erotic as Social Security,” Art Journal 53.1 (Spring 1994).

EROTICS OF ENGAGEMENT: Jane Gallop’s term (in Art in America, [November 1984]) to designate a sexuality that resides not in the object — e.g., within a nude human figure — but in an intersubjective dynamic — i.e., the encounter with that object. She uses the notion to ask if psychoanalytic criticism looks for sexual subject matter, however deeply disguised, or if it finds all subject matter sexual. Mainstream Freudians describe the experience of the male child as a move from dependency on the mother to detachment from her in the recognition that she has been “castrated” (see castration). Gallop describes psychoanalytical criticism as an analogous rebellion against the object’s power and assumption of superiority over it due to its “lack” — i.e., its need for interpretation.

ESEMPLASTIC: Samuel Taylor Coleridge invented this word to indicate the faculty of the mind that can fuse unrelated things into a poetically organic unity. It is a useful idea, but postmodernism is generally suspicious of the aesthetic (see aesthetics) holism it implies.

ESSENTIAL COPY: Norman Bryson maintains that artwriters who look only for realism in a painting overlook historical and social dimensions in favour of the esential copy — i.e., the empty verisimilitude of the painting’s ability to convince the viewer that it “is” the thing, instead of “meaning” the thing.

ESSENTIALISM: Any of a variety of notions concerning the primacy of essences — i.e., permanent, unchanging, “real” identities that lie “behind” appearances — rather than the temporary, changing, specific manifestations themselves. The most common essentialisms are the Platonic doctrine of universal types and the originally Aristotelian doctrine that things in a particular category all have at least one common characteristic without which they could not be members of that category. Essentialism is frequently attacked in postmodern writings as a kind of wooly wishful thinking, especially when it is thought to have been produced by unreflective racists or sexists. A regrettably common example might be something along the lines of an art criticism which insists that women’s work is essentially feminine — meaning that it is lacking in certain supposed formal strengths and is preoccupied with “minor” subject matter, like pastel-coloured flower paintings.

ETHICS: Popularly, the (moral) standards which a particular group sets to distinguish acceptable behaviour from unacceptable behaviour. Philosophical ethics has a long and complicated history. See meta-ethical, normative ethics.

ETHNIC: Deriving originally from “ethnos” (nation or people), ethnic once meant any social group bound by race, customs, language, values, etc. Its current use to indicate any visible minority in a Eurocentric (see Eurocentrism) culture is often a thinly veiled reflection of an older use meaning “heathen” (non-Christian, with a spin meaning uncivilized). The word should be used with care. Cf ethnocentrism.

ETHNIC CHEERLEADING: Dinesh D’Souza (see illiberal education) used this phrase to characterize the worst aspects of required courses for the purposes of enforced multiculturalism. In fairness to D’Souza, whose extreme conservativism is easy to caricature, it should be pointed out that he did not mean every course in non-Western culture, but only those which evoke a kind of Romanticism instead of clear analysis of what makes a particular culture truly worthy of study.

ETHNIC DOMAIN: Susanne Langer’s once influential Feeling and Form (see also presentational symbol), in asking what certain types of art were for, proposed that the space created in an image or in architecture was not real but “virtual.” By extension, architecture especially created an image of the world which was actually an expression of the self and the relations of the self to others in an ethnic domain of sorts, a system of functional relations in which signs play a less important role than the embodiment of feeling — ” the symbol of humanity to be found in the strength and interplay of forms.” Ethnic, in this scheme, is not to be understood as “heathen.”

ETHNOCENTRISM: The tendency to see one’s own ethnic group as the norm and all others as marginal.

ETHNICITY: Ethnic identity, or the discourse which concerns it. See also hyperethnicity.

ETHNOGRAPHY: Generally, social or cultural anthropology. Among studies of art, the most overtly ethnographic are those which deal with general patterns in non-Western cultures, rather than with artist and object-centered interpretations, so that individuality and uniqueness are less highly prized than epitome. See also ethnology.

ETHNOLOGY: Sometimes synonymous with ethnography, ethnology is also sometimes distinguished from it by being less focussed on the data-gathering of field work and participant observation and more concerned with the historiography of cultures.

ETHOLOGY: Originally a branch of zoology, ethology counters behaviourism by arguing that certain types of human behaviour are innate genetic developments that had survival value in evolutionary terms. Some of these ideas are creeping into aesthetics in the form of a supposedly universal “behaviour of art,” a kind of investment of value and meaning in what is otherwise valueless and meaningless by means of play and ritual. This supposedly ensures the survival of the organism by making special. Ellen Dissanayake’s What is Art For? is the only lengthy study to attempt this approach.

ETHOS: The distinguishing characteristic, usually of a social group, particularly when it is a case of moral values or beliefs. By extension, in Aristotle’s Poetics, the character projected by a speaker, writer, artist, etc. See also evidence, implied author.

E-TOPIA: Title of a book by William J. Mitchell (not to be confused with W.J.T. Mitchell) describing the kinds of changes he anticipates will take place in urban spaces as a consequence of the digital revolution. Mitchell foresees the home as a space in which people both live and work, redefines “public” space as any of a variety of types of electronic “meeting” areas, anticipates decentralization of the production and distribution of goods, and do on.

ETYMOLOGY: The study of the origins of words. See folk etymology.

EUPHEMISM: The opposite of dysphemism; an expression of an disagreeable state of affairs in mild or oblique terms calculated to avoid unpleasantness or offense. E.g., “to pass on” is frequently used instead of “to die.” Inasmuch as day-dreaming and dream-work are supposedly palatable expressions of something which cannot otherwise be tolerated, both are euphemistic. Clearly, then, much Surrealist art could also be so described.

EUROCENTRISM: The tendency to see European culture and history as the norm and all others as marginal. It is a frequent complaint of postmodernism that what pretends to be disinterested objectivity in, for example, ethnography is actually the veiled self-interest of a white, anglo-saxon hegemony. It is clear, then, that first-year art history textbooks like Janson’s History of Art and Gardner’s Art Through the Ages are generally Eurocentric, despite recent valiant attempts to include more non- Western material. See also Foucauldian, postmodern catechism, power.

EVIDENCE: A legal term indicating the facts about a case that can be introduced as premises to determine a reasonable conclusion (see argument, circumstantial evidence). A great deal of published art criticism has glibly come to conclusions that are not based on what the legal world would call admissible evidence. See hearsay. There are various types of evidence: autoptic (the thing itself, like a murder weapon), character (pertaining to ethos, sometimes not admissible), exculpatory (tending to prove innocence), exemplars (forensic and other materials, like fingerprints), expert (reliance on authority figures in a given field), inculpatory (tending to prove guilt), material (objects, substances, measurable data), oral (testimony of witnesses), rebuttal (arguing against the relevance or reliability of another interpretation), and so on. Most of these conceptions have loose analogies in various types of criticism, though they are rarely addressed as such, and similar standards of acceptability, however flawed they might be, have not been articulated.

EX-CENTRIC: Those who have been pushed from a central position or marginalized by a dominant ethnic group, institutional practice, or ideology. The artwork of Black American women like Betye Saar and Faith Ringgold and that of North American Native artists like Jane Ash Poitras and James A. Luna is thus said to be ex-centric because it is produced by voices that have been traditionally suppressed. It is accordingly not to be confused with “eccentric,” which means “deviated from accepted conduct.”

EXCESS: In psychological and neurological circles, an excess is the opposite of a deficit. While a cognitive deficit is an impairment of mental function preventing the patient from forming a complete representation of experience in consciousness and thus deriving meaning from it, a cognitive excess is a superabundance of meaning that originates with the patient, not in the outside world. Paranoia is a good example: a car that just happens to be parked down the street might be interpreted by the paranoiac as a sign of his having been followed. Meanings read into artworks are equally a matter of excess. This observation casts an interesting light on the connotations and use of excess in writings on base materialism, indeterminacy, metaphor and polysemy.

EXCULPATORY: See evidence.

EXEGESIS: Interpretation, understood chiefly as explanation, originally of the Bible, but now of any text.

EXEMPLARS: Something to be imitated

EXEMPLIFICATION: A representational or typifying form or model

EXEMPLUM VIRTUTIS: Term used in Robert Rosenblum’s Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art to describe artworks whose themes are moral lessons or examples of virtue which should be emulated. The theme is particularly common in neoclassicism.

EXERGUE: A small space for an inscription, originally on coins and medallions, but now also on any other object, visual or verbal. Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (see deconstruction, grammatology, quotation) has an introductory exergue of quoted material.

EXPERT: One who is supposed to have special authority, experience, knowledge, skills, and the like. See also evidence, subject presumed to know.

EXISTENTIAL CRITICISM: Criticism which downplays or undermines traditional themes and conventional methods, especially those purporting to use scientific disinterestedness, in order to investigate more personal, existential issues, as outlined under existentialism. Probably the most famous proponent is Jean- Paul Sartre.

EXISTENTIALISM: Existentialism is a heterogeneous cluster of philosophical ideas which have the common element that existence precedes essence. This mean that there is no overarching meaning in the universe beyond that which we choose to create through our actions. Endowed with consciousness, humans are confronted with the knowledge that the world is basically absurd — i.e., it simply exists, with neither justification nor organised structure which could yield to rational analysis — and this knowledge usually produces feelings of alienation, discomfort, fear, loneliness, and the like. Necessarily, the exploration of these feelings will be subjective, peculiar to each individual who endeavours to live an authentic existence (see authenticity) through acts of self-definition. The names most frequently associated with existentialist thought are Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Gabriel Marcel, but there are distinct existential strands in the thought of currently influential figures, like Jacques Derrida.

EXPANDED FIELD: Rosalind Krauss (in October 8 [1979]) argued that persistent attempts to describe miminalism and earthworks according to the logic of modernist monuments were misleading. Instead, she noted that scultpure could be defined in terms of what is was not: “not- landscape” and “not-architecture.” Borrowing freely from mathematics (Klein) and structuralism (Piaget), she then expanded the field of discourse by noting that “not-landscape” was really a way of saying “architecture” and “not-architecture” was a way of saying “landscape.” (Such a relation is called a deixis.) She argued that if sculpture could be situated relative to “not-architecture” and “not-landscape,” there was reason to assume that there would another term situated in a similar manner relative to both “architecture” and “landscape.” This she called “site-construction.” Finally, she noted that if “site-construction” could be both “architecture” and “landscape” — and a sculpture could be neither — then “architecture” had a relation of contradiction, sometimes called a schema, to “not-architecture,” “landscape” to “not- landscape,” and so on. She used the term “marked sites” to designate the position between “landscape” and “not-landscape” and the term “axiomatic structures” between “architecture” and “not- architecture.” More important than simply inventing a useful new terminology, Krauss’s article was an early contribution to the rejection of historicism, which she saw as an endless attempt to mitigate difference and diminish newness, in favour of a postmodern celebration of difference.

EXPENDITURE: A gift, loss, or payment through use of a resource. The idea crops up frequently in sociology, particularly where it concerns exchange rituals like the famous potlatch of the Northwest Coast. Using the word dépense, Georges Bataille added to this a Nietzschean, dionysian eruption into normal life of uncontrollable forces giving expression to man’s base nature (see base materialism). Ejaculation and excretion, for example, were just different kinds of expenditure and, as such, could be understood as part of the same sorts of sociological structure. (See the Bataille anthology Visions of Excess.) Something of the idea of expenditure also plays a role in deconstruction inasmuch as potentially new meanings of texts can always be produced: the illusion of a stable, determinate meaning is thus expended.

EXPRESSING: See betraying versus expressing emotion.

EXPRESSION THEORY: Probably the most popular and long-standing notion of art is that it is the expression of the artist’s emotion. Although such a simple expression theory stretches back as far as Plato, the first person to make the idea a criterion of systematic aesthetic inquiry was Eugène Véron, who wrote in L’Esthétique (1878) that “art is the manifestation of emotion…by expressive arrangements of line, form, or colour…[and/or] by a series of gestures, sounds, or words governed by a particular rhythmical cadence.” While Leo Tolstoy, Benedeto Croce and many others have made significant contributions, the most thorough development of expression theory is generally agreed to be that of R. G. Collingwood. Collingwood distinguished very carefully between art and craft on the grounds that true art involved the genuine expression of an emotion and its recreation in the spectator. He also argued that true expression was not a simple matter of having an emotion and showing it (see betraying versus expressing emotion), because expression meant a coming to self-awareness. One of the implications of this line of reasoning is that art lies in the mind rather than in the object. Despite substantial differences in other regards, principally regarding how much Romanticism is acceptable (see bohemianism), a wide variety of aesthetic attitudes has held this to be a truism for many years.

EXPRESSIONISM: Any of various styles and/or movements in art giving priority to the expression of inner experience, particularly where the manifestation is conspicuously deformed or paralinguistically altered (see paralinguistic).

EXPRESSIVE: Vague, overused adjective indicating vivid or especially apt descriptions, depictions, performances, and the like, of personal moods or sentiments.

EXPRESSIVE THEORY: More or less a synonym for expression theory, used in the literary criticism of M. H. Abrams.

EXPRESSIVITY: Dictionaries define this as the quality of being expressive (in addition to an obscure genetic reference). Paul Ricoeur, however, has used it in “The Problem of Double Meaning” in The Conflict of Interpretations to describe not the expression of a particular emotion, but the fact that language says anything at all. Following A. J. Greimas and others, he says that there is no mystery in language — i.e., the structural rules for determining meaning are accessible to all — but there is a mystery of language: “namely, that language speaks, says something, says something about being. If there is an enigma of symbolism, it resides wholly on the level of manifestation, where the equivocalness of being is spoken in the equivocalness of discourse.” He concludes by asserting that philosophy’s task is to reopen discourse to the expressivity of being. See also extralinguistic.

EXTENSIONAL DEFINITIONS: Definitions which identify members of the class of things named by that term ( for example, visual arts means painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, etc.). Such definitions link our experience to the world. Without them, all words would be circular.

EXTRALINGUISTIC: Paul Ricoeur uses this word to refer to the expressivity of being: “while linguistics moves inside the enclosure of a self-sufficient universe and encounters only intrasignificant relations…, hermeneutics is ruled by the open state of the universe of signs.” The term is thus not to be confused with paralinguistic.

EXTRINSIC: External; extraneous; not forming part of or belonging to a thing. In some artwriting, contextual information is characterized as extrinsic. For instance, information concerning the social circumstances under which a given artwork was produced might be dismissed or downplayed by a critic or art historian who exploited only artistic biography and who intended to demonstrate his subject’s genius. Obviously, methods which emphasize social circumstances (e.g., Marxism, feminism) would argue that such “external” conditions are not really external at all but constitutive of the work of art. Cf epiphenomenon, intrinsic.

EXTROVERSION: See personality types.


FABLE: Any brief tale or fictitious narrative, especially when peopled by talking animals or objects and aimed at teaching a moral lesson. The word is sometimes used as a synonym for plot (see also fabula).

FABULA: Latin for conversation, play, or story. Some writers substitute fabula for plot.

FALLACIES: Most specifically, any of various types of argument in which invalid reasoning is used. See four term fallacy, informal logic, maldistributed middle, post hoc, ergo propter hoc, validity. More loosely, however, the word is used to indicate any error (real or imagined) or wrong-headed belief, as in affective fallacy, biographical fallacy, genetic fallacy, intentional fallacy, pathetic fallacy, stratigraphic fallacy.

FALSE COGNATES: See faux amis.

FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS: A much used term originating with Marx, indicating the failure of the typical human mind to develop any sophisticated awareness of its rooting in historically specific circumstances. Instead of being conscious of how its abilities, contents, habits, and patterns are shaped by circumstances, such a consciouness is not really a material consciousness at all but only conceives of itself as such. Sometimes the term is used as a synonym of ideology, but its origins appear to have been in Marx’s conception of “inverted consciousness,” which is the result of reification. E.g., religion is produced by society, which promptly forgets the fact, seeing religion as independent and productive of society.

FALSE FRIENDS: See faux amis.


FALSIFICATION: According to Karl Popper, a more useful process than verification in distinguishing science from non-science. Universal claims like “all swans are white” cannot be verified because one can never collect all swans to prove to it. However, one can falsify the statement simply by producing one black swan. Science thus can never reach a point at which it can claim, without risk of error, that it has reached the final truth. Of course, the history of science bears out the principle with its frequent revisions, refinements and refutations. By analogy, art history might be profitably considered less as a series of objectively true interpretations than as a series of possibilities which one must eventually subject to falsification. Unfortunately, this only rarely seems to happen. See also corroboration.

FANCY: At one time a synonym of “imagination,” fancy was distinguished from it and made subordinate in late eighteenth-century academic thought. Joshua Reynolds, for example, associated imagination with true genius and fancy with mere taste. As a result, where imagination means the power to create something unprecedented, fancy has come to mean a certain resourcefulness in manipulating the already given.

FANTASTIC: There is no unequivocal consensus, but “fantastic” is sometimes used to indicate an imaginative, subjective world of inner expression that transcends mere fantasy or science fiction. One might describe Oskar Kokoschka’s The Tempest (Bride of the Wind) in such a term.

FANTASY: Any conscious break with reality, whether in the relatively benign forms of caprices and daydreams, or in the more psychologically charged delusions and hallucinations. In psychological criticism, fantasy can be either creative or adjustive (i.e., compensatory).

FARCE: A narrative depending on improbable situations, outlandish characters, grotesque language and imagery, rather than on well-wrought plot and the like. The term usually carries a spin of “low comedy.” When presented in the form “farce-comedy,” the term implies high comedy (of serious moral, philosophical or other import) that occasionally makes use of farce elements, as in Woody Allen’s later films. Performance and installation artists growing out of the conceptual art of the 1960s and ’70s often use farcical elements in their work: examples include Laurie Anderson (sparingly), Blue Man Group, Gilbert and George, General Idea, and Pat

FASCIST FEMINISM: A brand of feminism which is thought by its opponents to be symptomatic of right-wing politics, central dictatorial control, or simply a profound lack of critical self-consciousness. Those who believe affirmative action is reverse discrimination, rather than genuine equal opportunity, would be so inclined. Public policies of hiring only women, as in the instance of the Ontario College of Art in the early 1990s, have been so described. Hannah Wilke seems to have been the first to use the phrase in her art. In the mid 1970s, mainstream feminists disliked her self-portraits with allusions to pin-up girls and she responded with the slogan “Marxism and Art/Beware of Fascist Feminism.” More recently, Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae has made similar charges. She even described Gloria Steinem simply as “Stalin” in an interview on 60 Minutes.

FAUX AMIS: False cognates, as in the French “assister à” (to attend) versus the English “assist” (to give aid). For an example specific to artwriting, see herstory.

FEELING: See meaning (sense 1).

FEELING-ORIENTED: See personality types.

FEININ: A term which implies the remapping of existing iconography to inject a sensory faculty of a present history overlapped over annals of history. (Feininology) is a homogenization of the self and it attempts to breathe life into the epochs of time where meaning is questioned by the manifestation of its infinitive placing.

FEMICIDE: Title of a 1992 book by Jill Radford describing the misogynous killing of women by men. See feminism, misogyny.

FEMI-NAZI: Derogatory term for fascist feminism, popularized by abrasive radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

FEMINISM: Although some dictionaries define “feminism” simply as the advocacy of the rights and equality of women in economic, political, and social contexts, there are actually all sorts of feminisms and feminist practices. Moreover, some feminists disagree profoundly with others. Where Heidi Göttner-Abendroth calls for a matriarchal aesthetic that transcends historical specifics, for example, Linda Nochlin once wrote that such a feminism was essentialist and the antithesis of historical action. The two basic types of feminist interpretation are what Elaine Showalter called feminist criticism and gynocriticism (works about women versus works by women). Deeply affecting the forms these approaches take is a wide variety of responses to Freudian and/or Lacanian thought, hermeneutics, linguistics, and Marxism, among others. Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler’s Feminist Dictionary (1985) gives a thorough picture of the myriad possibilities. Feminisms have become very nearly the dominant orthodoxy in certain circles, prompting a controversial critique of some feminist strategies as pseudoscientific propaganda. See, for example, Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism? See also backlash, bi-sexism, l’ écriture féminine, fleshless academicism, hymen, masculism, matriarchy, new masculinity, patriarchy, sexism, subject presumed to know, victimarchy, woman as the not-yet, etc.

FEMINIST CRITICISM: Showalter’s term for criticism of the artistic productions of male authors, especially (but not necessarily) in their treatment of the image of women and in their relations to a female audience. See also feminism, gynocriticism.

FETISHISM: 1. Originally, a fetish was an object in which a spirit was embodied or which had magical power. The term was adapted by anthropologist E. B. Tylor (in Primitive Culture) to mean a veneration or near-idolatrous worship of such objects. (For a related but specialized use of the term, see commodity fetishism.) 2. In psychoanalytical theories, fetishism is a pathological condition in which the fetishist, unable to acknowledge an attraction for some threatening or forbidden object of desire, finds gratification by displacing the impulse onto the object’s possessions or nonsexual body parts. A frequently repeated illustration is the case of a young boy who sees a nude woman for the first time, only to be shocked by the absence of a phallus. Castration anxiety traumatizes him to the extent that he will “provide” the woman with a symbolic phallus, which is typically the first more or less phallic shape he sees when he averts his eyes — her foot or a shoe. Both sense of fetishism appear in art: for sense 1, some connoisseurship certainly entails the fetishism of artworks; for sense 2, one need look no further than Surrealism, which frequently capitalized on fetish objects like shoes (Salvador Dalí’s hat designs), carpet beaters (Hans Bellmer’s Doll photographs), feet (Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’or), and so on.

FICTION: Under construction. In his Gospel Fictions, Randel Helms characterizes fiction as “a story written to affect the present, rather than to describe the past.”

FIELD: A physical plane; a sphere of activity; a context; a discourse; the totality of an individual’s perceptions in a given period or the psychological representation in consciousness of same; and so on. See also consummatory field, discursive practices, expanded field, field dependent, field independent, field theory.

FIELD DEPENDENT: One who cannot ignore irrelevant data in a perceptual field is said to be field dependent. When one uses the idea in a critique of artwriting, one must be careful to ascertain that the data are genuinely irrelevant to a particular task. (How one defines “task” here is crucial.) A person who is constantly reminded of, say, William S. Burroughs by some feature of a Die Brücke woodcut is clearly field dependent because of the anachronism involved (Die Brücke preceding Burroughs by decades). The situation would not be so clear cut if the same person were reminded of Burroughs by Laurie Anderson, whose debt to Burroughs she has acknowledged.

FIELD INDEPENDENT: One who can ignore irrelevant data in a perceptual field is said to be field independent. Field theory argues that such a person is behaviourally normal, whereas a field dependent person is not.

FIELD THEORY: In Principles of Topological Psychology, Kurt Lewin tried to alter Gestalt theory in a manner that would account for individual motivations. He argued that because an individual lives in a personal field, parts of which are of no use or interest (see field independent), experience is highly selective and much perceptual data is simply ignored. To account for why a given thing will be of interest to person X but not to person Y, Lewin invented positive and negative valences — the former indicating importance and attractiveness, the latter the absence of same — and vectors – - inducements toward or away from some object. With these basically linear concepts, Lewin mapped out human behaviour. Marxist theory argues that the circumstances of production impinge upon the mind of an artist, but it rarely articulates why two artists in roughly similar circumstances often produce fundamentally dissimilar works. Field theory might provide an alternate explanation.

FIGURATION: An act of representation in figures.

FIGURATIVE: 1. Any expression of one thing in terms of another thing, by means of language that rejects the literal in favour of a figure of speech or a trope. Strangely, audiences often forget to consider the figurative in visual images — particularly photography — even though they readily recognize that common speech is riddled with figurative expressions like “she was on cloud nine.” Visual images are no less figurative, ranging from pure conventions like personifications to more imaginative tropes. 2. Artwriters sometimes use “figurative” simply to mean that an image contains recognizable images (i.e., that it is not abstract or non-objective). Since this usage does not distinguish between literal and figurative in the sense given above, it is considerably less precise.

FIGURE: A numerical or other symbol; a written or printed character; a graphic representation of a form; a figure of speech; etc. See also figurative.

FIGURE POEM: Another name for carmen figuratum.

FIGURE OF SPEECH: Any use of language that replaces a literal expression (e.g., “he was angry”) with an indirect one, like the conventional statement “he was beside himself.” Tropes are generally more inventive and individual figures of speech. (They were once called “figures of thought” to distinguish them from more conventional expressions, but that usage is outdated.) Some literary critics have argued that there are “figures of sound,” meaning such things as alliteration, poetic repetition and rhythm. A hypothetical “figure of sight” could go either way, being either a matter of formal repetition or figurative language in visual imagery. (I hesitate to imagine what a “figure of smell” might be.)

FILIOPIETISTIC: Pertaining to an excessive reverence of ancestors or tradition. Some coffee-table type books which praise artists unreservedly as geniuses could be described as filiopietistic.

FINE ART: Visual art considered primarily for its aesthetic or theoretical character, including its meaning and significance independent of practical application, as opposed to commercial art. See also high art (culture).

FIXATION PAUSE: Brief moments between saccades during which the eyeball is not moving and something comes into focus. The meaning of a printed word is conveyed during such a moment, giving some idea of the rapidity with which meaning is constructed by a succession of perceptual instants. Saint-Martin’s conception of the coloreme exploits the phenomenon in an attempt to contruct a uniquely visual semiotics.

FLANEUR: A flâneur is a type of dandy — that is, a male figure of fashion or one who adopts exaggerated clothing habits — common from the mid-nineteenth century or so. The word derives from the verb flâner, which means to stroll idly. Artists interested in turning away from classicism and romanticism to the depiction of everyday life were drawn to the image of the flâneur, who usually appears with a conspicuous top hat and other fashionable accessories. Notable examples are in the works of Constantin Guys, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, Gustave Caillebotte, and Edouard Manet. The latter was something of a flâneur himself, and there are many stories of his accompanying aristocratic hauteur. The fashion for strolling to see and be seen is most closely identified with the Second Empire in France, and the construction of the Grands Boulevards around the then-new Paris Opéra gave plenty of opportunities.

FLAT: Although it is an oversimplification of Clement Greenberg’s position, artists and artwriters of the 1960s and early 1970s agreed with his assertion that the essential characteristic of painting was its flatness. This led to post-painterly abstraction on the one hand and to minimalism on the other. See formalism, modernism.

FLAVOUR: A predominant quality or characteristic, as in the exotic flavour of a Delacroix painting.

FLESHLESS ACADEMICISM: Under construction. Basically the notion that a critical method (i.e., academicism) can be objective and rational (i .e., fleshless), instead of driven by desire (i.e., by the body, or flesh). Certain feminist writers (e.g., Chantal Chawaf) believe this to be impossible.

FLOATING: Barthesian term for the slipping away from significance into signifiance (sic).

FLYING BUTTRESS: See buttress.

FOIL: Originally, a slip of shiny metal placed under a translucent jewel to increase the amount of light it reflects. By extension, the term is commonly used in literary criticism to refer to characters whose personalities contrast those of the protagonist in order to show the latter in a better light. Similar examples can be found in art. For instance, David’s Death of Socrates includes a number of men barely able to contain their grief; they serve in part as foils to the stoic resolution of Socrates to put himself to death. The term works for formal analysis as well: Brancusi often designed bases for his sculptures which functioned very much as foils for the forms they supported (e.g., Bird in Space).

FOLK ART: Traditional representations, usually bound by conventions in both form and content, of a folkloric character (see folklore) and usually made by persons without institutionalized training.

FOLK ETYMOLOGY: Where etymology, deriving from the Greek etymon (true), is the study of the literal meanings of words according to their origins (or first recorded usage), folk etymology is the unsystematic application of similar principles, sometimes leading to errors, faux amis, and fanciful connections where there are none. One might make the mistake, for example, of assuming that “doxy” in “orthodoxy” (literally, “straight opinion,” implying correctness and goodness) is related to “doxy” (“woman of loose morals”). The assumption of relation ignores the words’ different origins (the Greek “doxa” and the Middle Dutch “docke”). Related abuses of word origins can be found in deconstruction (for example, dissemination), hyphenation and certain neologisms (for example, herstory). Cf confabulation.

FOLKLORE: Traditional customs, fables, legends, myths, proverbs, sayings, tales, and the like. Folklore has had a direct influence on literature and art. Examples of the latter range from the illustration of Dutch proverbs by Terbruggen to Kandinksy’s veiled Russian folktales in his early abstract art.

FOREGROUND: 1. Noun. The part of a field of vision that is closest to the audience. 2. Verb. To give priority to one aspect of a thing over another. See also baring the device.

FORENSIC: Aristotelian term for that type of rhetoric used chiefly to condemn the actions of others. See also deliberative, epideictic.

FORE-PLEASURE: In “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” Freud argued that writers convert their fantasies into literature by softening their egostistical character and “bribing” the reader with aesthetic pleasure. Indirectly autobiographical, literature is desirable because it serves to release “yet greater pleasure arising from deeper sources in the mind…, putting us in a position in which we can enjoy our own day-dreams without reproach or shame.” He called this mechanism fore-pleasure or the incitement premium.

FORGERY: The direct imitation of another artist’s manner for the purpose of defrauding an audience. Because fraud is involved, foregry is not to be confused with appropriation. Cf source analysis.

FORM: The constituent elements of a work of art independent of their meaning (e.g., the colour, composition, medium or size of a flag, rather than its emotional or national significance). Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value, and their corollaries — and secondary features which are the relations of the primary features with one another — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. See formal, formalism.

FORMAL: Pertaining to the form of a work; not to be confused with “ceremonial” or “stately,” since formal elements can be quite informal in character.

FORMAL ANALYSIS: The study of a work of art with reference to its form, rather than to its content or context. See formalism, new criticism.

FORMALISM: Any of several types of art-making or criticism which foreground form. Because generic formalism was once institutionally entrenched as the most powerful critical approach, artists frequently produced works which catered specifically to it, rather than to self-expression (foregrounding content) or social responsibility (foregrounding context). Particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s, art-making was often discussed purely as solutions to formal problems. This explains why some writers see modernism as more or less synonymous with formalism. Critic Clement Greenberg (see flat) is frequently cited as a prime mover, but formalism can be traced back through Clive Bell (see significant form) and J. A. M. Whistler (see art for art’s sake) to Immanuel Kant (see autonomy). See also baring the device, defamiliarization, taxonomy.

FORMAL LANGUAGE: Any uninterpreted system of signs, as in formal logic. For an example, see hermeneutic spiral equation.

FORMLESS: See informe.

FORMULA: A cliché in narrative form; any immediately recognizable sequence of events, particularly common in romance novels, televisions sitcoms, and the like. The same principle applies in visual art exploiting similarly unchallenging narratives, like Paul Delaroche’s Tudor history paintings.

FORMULAIC: An adjective describing anything prepared to formula.

FOUCAULDIAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Michel Foucault. See death of the author, discourse, discursive practices, episteme, gender, order, panoptic, politics, power.


FOUR TERM FALLACY: Informal logic that is defective because the middle term of a syllogism shifts sense in such a way as to introduce an irrelevant element. For example, “all battle-axes are shiny; Picasso’s mother-in-law was a battle-axe; therefore, Picasso’s mother-in-law was shiny.” (Here, the so-called fourth term is the pun or double significance of the concept “battle-axe.) Some of the tactics of deconstruction are founded upon similar fallacies. Derrida’s Truth in Painting, for example, manipulates the gait implied by Van Gogh’s painting of old boots until it becomes both a sign of what it is (a step, a stride; pas in French) and what it is not (also pas). Some will protest that Derrida’s text is not about logic, which simply underlines that it is not effective argument. It would be interesting to consider what alternatives are left. Is it simply creative writing (and therefore a revitalized type of subjective impressionism) with a pronounced existentialist motivation?

FRAGMENTATION: Postmodern discourse, because it lacks uniformity, is often said to be fragmented — i.e., broken, discontinuous, incomplete, open-ended, etc. Fragmentation is thus desirable because it avoids closure.

FRAME: Although a frame can be anything composed of parts fitting together (like the physical frame of an athlete or a building), the term most often indicates an enclosing border or boundary, both literally and figuratively (see figurative, literal). In literary studies, it is common to find the idea applied in the frame-tale or framework story, both of which refer to a story told within another story, as in Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is told via the letters of a northern explorer. The most important application of the basic principle in artwriting is in “Passe-Partout” in Derrida’s Truth in Painting. There the frame is used as a metaphor to explore questions of mediation and meaning. Who is telling what within what? Another sort of frame is the passe-partout itself — i.e., a matte within another, larger frame — whose bevelled edge metaphorically facilitates turning from one level of meaning to another.

FRANKFURT SCHOOL: A mix of Marxist approaches to economics, philosophy, politics and sociology that has exerted various wide-ranging influences on modern thought and aesthetics. The school is so named for the Institute for Social Research founded in the University of Frankfurt in 1923. The main participants were Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin (see aura), Jürgen Habermas (see postmodernism), Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse (see desublimation).FREUDIAN: Pertaining to the psychoanalytical studies of Sigmund Freud, usually with a heavy emphasis on the roles played by childhood trauma, the development of sexuality, and the putative existence of essentialist symbolic forms. The latter is a commonplace in most (if not all) psychoanalytical criticism. See also anxiety of influence, castration, cathexis, condensation, date stamp, day-dreaming, displacement, doubling, dream-work, ego, fore-pleasure, hysteria, id, latent content, manifest content, oedipus complex, pathography, presentiment, secondary elaboration, sublimation, superego.

FREUDIAN CRITICISM: Criticism emphasizing orthodox Freudian ideas. There are other sorts of psychological criticism which make use of Freudian ideas but for reasons that Freud had not foreseen. See, for example, erotics of engagement.

FUNCTIONS OF ART: Introductory books and study guides on art history usually give a variation of the following as the basic functions of art: to adorn, to beautify, to express, to illustrate, to mediate, to persuade, to record, to redefine reality, and to redefine art. Ellen Dissanayake (see ethology) adds that art serves as therapy, gives meaning to life, gives unselfconscious experience, provides paradigms of order and/or disorder, and trains perception of reality. See also art, definitions of art.

FUNDAMENTAL IMAGE: A predominant image, aspect or unifying characteristic of a text, apart from a distinct and repeated metaphor or other trope, which would be called a controlling image.

FUSION OF HORIZONS: Gadamer’s term in Truth and Method for the fundamental differences (and/or the reconciliation of same) between the perspectives of author and audience. Cf horizon of expectations.


GADAMERIAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Hans-Georg Gadamer. See fusion of horizons, hermeneutics, prejudice, timelessness.

GANZ ANDERE, DAS: The “wholly other,” which Georges Bataille developed into his theory of heterology. The phrase occurs in the religious writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth, but it is most intimately associated with the theologian Rudolph Otto, whose The Idea of the Holy describes it is as the inexplicable otherness of God.

GAZE: See gaze and glance.

GAZE AND GLANCE: Norman Bryson’s Vision and Painting critiques realism in painting because its apparent invisibility as technique and as meaning in a social formation appeals to an ahistorical, disembodied, programmatic “gaze.” In contrast, he describes the “glance” as anchored in history, in body, in desire, and in improvisation. The latter is preferable because it allows for an aesthetics of disruption. The terminology has become quite fashionable and can be found nearly anywhere. See also essential copy, perceptualism, social formation. Cf anchoring gaze. Jacques Lacan’s use of the word “gaze” is more abstract and psychological, describing the fact that individuals are caught up in the scopic field of others (see scopic pulsion). The gaze is thus fundamentally different from the eye because the former is a network of relations while the latter is simply one point. Moreover, that one point is a scotoma, so individuals are blind to themselves. For Lacan, a “picture” — especially one which uses traditional linear perspective — is a kind of trap for the gaze, inasmuch as it puts the viewer into the hypothetical position of the eye, even as it is also inevitably social and psychological. He invented the phrase dompte-regard (as a play of sorts on trompe l’oeil) to describe this function of the picture as a gaze-tamer. Images which deform perspective, as in anamorphosis, fail to trap the gaze and thus are more revealing of desire. Not surprisingly, the famous skull in Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors becomes, for Lacan, a phallus.

GEISTESGESCHICHTE: The history of ideas, or intellectual history. Wilhelm Dilthey argued that if the natural sciences explain events as the results of causal laws, cultural science should explain events in terms of the meanings and intentions that people give them. These meanings and intentions, however, are informed by historical and social change, particularly the total global outlook peculiar to a given period (see Weltanschauung). Geistesgeschichte made inroads into art history in Max Dvoràk’s Idealism and Naturalism in Gothic Art. Dvoràk saw Medieval art as the visual manifestation of a particular attitude towards Christian spirituality, rather than simply as an effect of contemporary theology. I.e., theology did not cause changes in art; art and theology were both caused by the Weltanschauung. See Zeitgeist.

GENDER: J. P. Chaplin’s Dictionary of Psychology lists “gender” simply as “sex — male or female,” while “gender identity” is given as “one’s sense of being male or female.” In contemporary artwriting, “gender” usually means the latter of these two. This is almost always given additional spin by allusion to the ideas of Michel Foucault (see Foucauldian), who described gender not as biological identity but as the result of various processes of socialization.


GENDER SYMMETRY: The presumption that for each characteristic of one gender there is some complementary opposite in the other gender. This line of reasoning is now disparaged because it lends itself easily to essentialism. E.g., if men are strong, women are weak. If men are competitors (see competition, report-talk), women are collaborators (see collaboration, partnership).

GENDERLECT: Gender-based differences in conversational style. The two basic genderlects are rapport-talk and report-talk. One wonders if the idea might be used to revise essentialist definitions of gender-based aesthetic sensibilities, as in matriarchal aesthetic.

GENERAL ECONOMY: A term of Bataillean origin, but most recently used by Steve McCaffery in North of Intention to indicate “the distribution and circulation of the numerous forces and intensities that saturate a text.” It is thus basically a synonymn for the interrelations of content and context. See also economy, horizon of expectations.

GENERALIZATION: A common structure in informal logic: some members of a group have characteristic X; therefore, members of the group in general have characteristic X. Obviously, a valid generalization must be based on a representative sample that is of reasonable size and is free of bias.

GENERATIVE-TRANSFORMATIONAL: In Syntactic Structures and elsewhere, Noam Chomsky asked how anyone could understand a sentence they had never heard before and how they could generate new sentences which would be intelligible to others. He proposed the existence of a linguistic deep structure (see deep structure and surface structure) with a finite number of so-called “rewrite rules” which allowed competent speakers to predict or “generate” an infinite number of possibilities. Then he proposed a set of “transformational” rules allowing speakers to analyse and reorient sentences (e.g., changing a passive verb to an active one), which in turn facilitated the production of any number of new surface structures. A speaker’s level of understanding of the generative-transformational properties of language, even if intuitive, determines his or her level of what Chomsky called “competence,” while a particular utterance was a matter of “performance” (see language and parole). The idea has two potential applications in artwriting: the first is in asking whether variations on a given theme — for example, the femme fatale of the late nineteenth century — were intelligible because of a historically specific deep structure (in which case linguistics overlaps with Geistesgeschichte); and the second is the more abstract consideration of why (or whether) visual imagery is intelligible at all. (For food for thought on the latter point, see perceptualism.)

GENETIC FALLACY: The presumption that because a certain condition obtains today, it must always have been such, and vice versa. E.g., that people evolved from some kind of apes indicates that people are now higher apes. Similar structures lie behind many popular assertions about the nature of art. That art was once a matter of technical expertise or decoration is thought to be proof that it is so now. In an era of historical relativism, such statements smack of essentialism.

GENEVA SCHOOL: Influential literary school of thought which asserted that a text is the existential expression of an individual consciousness. Accordingly, Geneva school criticism is relatively uninterested in the text as a physical object and more interested in its affective properties. See also affective fallacy, phenomenology.

GENIUS: One of the more overworked conceptions in traditional artwriting, “genius” originally referred to an attendant spirit or tutelary deity of the sort seen sprinkling holy water in Assyrian reliefs. It has become synonymous with transcendant intellectual or creative power and as such is a cliché in basically Romantic descriptions of divinely inspired artists outside history (see pseudotranshistorical). In postmodernism, nothing is seen as outside history, and all conceptions of genius are discarded or at least made secondary to such things as the social formation. See also bohemianism, divine afflatus.

GENRE: A class of art (or artistic endeavour) having a characteristic form or technique

GENRE CRITICISM: Criticism which foregrounds genres.

GENRES: 1. The various categories of subject matter in the traditional academic hierarchy, in descending order of importance: history, megalography (representations intended to glorify or idealize excessively some event, person or thing), mythology, religion, portraiture (including the portrait historié, a portrait of an historical figure playing the role of a character from history, literature, mythology or theatre), genre (see sense 2, following), landscape, still-life, and rhopography (representations of trivial bric-à-brac, including such things as the remains of a meal, garbage on the floor, etc.). 2. A little confusingly, one of the genres is “genre,” the depiction of everyday life, ordinary folk and common activities. Cf bourgeois drama, drame bourgeois, intrigue.

GENUS: A general kind of something

GESAMTKUNSTWERK: German expression for complete or total artwork, usually associated with Richard Wagner’s theatrical integrations of drama, music and spectacle. The idea is applied by analogy to any grandiose work in which a variety of arts contribute to a shared goal, as in the blended architecture, painting and sculpture of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Ecstacy of St. Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel.

GESTALT: German word meaning “configuration,” “figure,” or any whole pattern with characteristics different from its parts. E.g., the tune of a song is such a pattern because it does not appear in the individual notes. (Leonard Meyer is the strongest Gestalt writer on music.) Similarly, a sentence’s meaning does not inhere in the individual words themselves but in the relations between those words. (H. J. Muller is the strongest literary figure in Gestalt literary criticism.) In art history, Gestalt figured prominently in discussions of Minimalism in the 1960s. It could be used in any number of contexts, however, since all it demands is that any individual element of a work be treated not as an absolute term or fixed meaning but as a relative one — a variable whose meaning depends upon its relations with other elements in the overall configuration. E.g., the cat at the lower left of Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience plays a very different role relative to the meaning of the work than does the cat at the foot of the bed in Manet’s Olympia. Because certain relationships are filtered out by the context at hand (see meaning effect, structural semantics), a Gestalt approach evokes closure by definition. It is thus opposed to the open-endedness of deconstruction and its derivatives. See Gestalt factors, Gestalt psychology.

GESTALT FACTORS: Conditions which create the perceived effect of a unitary figure (closure) rather than a relation of parts. The most frequently mentioned are contiguity, contrast, proximity, and similarity. For example, eight vertical lines will read as four bars if they are arranged in pairs rather than evenly spaced. Such effects are routinely discussed in artwriting involving the psychology of perception and are, as a result, mostly a matter of visual patterns. However, the same principles can be applied to meaning, as in Gestalt above.

GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY: The study of human behaviour and experience as a whole phenomenon. Consciousness, for example, cannot be studied analytically because the analysis would break it into parts which would cease to bear any resemblance to it.

GIFT: A sociological term relating to exchange rituals (e.g., potlatches) and the like in tribal culture. Georges Bataille borrowed the term from Marcel Mauss and gave it a characteristic spin in his discussion of expenditure.

GLANCE: See gaze and glance.

GLOBAL: General; comprehensive; embracing all factors within the field at hand.

GOLDEN SECTION: A mythical proportion which was once fashionable in discussions of compositions with pretensions to perfect harmony and eternal gracefulness. Unfortunately, it can be found just about anywhere one chooses to look for it. It is usually expressed as “(a:b as b:[a+b])” or “the subdivision of a line or any other figure, area, etc., such that the smaller part is to the larger part as the larger part is to the whole.

GOUACHE: See body colour.

GRAM: See grammatology.

GRAMMATOLOGY: Grammatology originally meant only the study of writing as the systematic presentation of meaning in graphic codes and representations (see I. J. Gelb, The Study of Writing). Since Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (see Derridean), grammatology has taken on a far more philosophical tone. Traditional discussions of language maintain that speech existed prior to writing. Derrida argues the opposite. While the smallest meaningful unit of speech would be the morpheme, the smallest unit of writing is the “gram,” the mark or trace. The individual grams of a writing have no essential meaning resulting from an actual bond with the things they describe or indicate. Meaning simply arises from the differences between grams and the deferral of meaning that a reader must undertake in order to prevent false closure (see différance). Grammatology, thus conceived as the study of the open-endedness of the text, is a part of the larger program of deconstruction, which has become one of the more influential modes of contemporary critical discourse. Directly related ideas can be found in the work of Mieke Bal, Julia Kristeva, Gregory Ulmer, and many others.

GRAND AUTRE: See other.

GRAND RéCIT: French term for metanarrative.

GREATNESS: Most postmodern writers deny that there is any inherent characteristic of an artwork which ensures that it will last through the centuries as a significant moment in visual history. Certainly form cannot fill the bill because it provides no objective standard that is not compromised by a political construct (see also power). Some simply dismiss the idea of the masterpiece altogether, replacing pseudotranshistorical observations with historically grounded ones. Others retain the idea of greatness, but they try to describe it more matter-of-factly. One such is Stephen David Ross’s A Theory of Art, which defines greatness simply as an enduring ability to generate further articulative responses. Because this ability can be produced by conditions of power, by genuine characteristics of the work, by historical accidents, or in any other number of other ways — none of which are given priority — and because articulative responses can include everything from refernces in coffee-table books to doctoral dissertations or further works of art, it seems an accurate description of what actually happens to works that have been granted special status by posterity.

GROUND: A basis for action, argument or belief. See groundlessness. For a second, specific sense, see sign.

GROUNDLESSNESS: Derrida’s Truth in Painting uses the metaphor of an upturned boot in a painting by Van Gogh to confirm the groundlessness of logocentric assertions of essential meaning. See deconstruction.

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION: A tactic in informal logic: artist X knows artist Y well; artist Y is suspicious; therefore, artist X is suspicious. The tactic works in a valid argument only when the alleged association genuinely exists, when Y is demonstrably suspicious (or whatever), and when there are no relevant premises (such as unstated causal arguments) to differentiate X from Y. The tactic is rarely identified as such in art history, but it is very common, as when Neoplatonists are linked to Michelangelo or linguistic theorists are to postmodern artists.

GYNOCENTRIC: Anything which foregrounds a putatively essential feminine principle can be considered gynocentric. See feminism, gynocriticism, hymen, matriarchal aesthetic. Cf phallocentric.

GYNOCRITICISM: Elaine Showalter’s term for the criticism and interpretation of works by women authors. See feminism, feminist criticism.

GYNOPHOBIA: Irrational fear of women. Cf misogyny.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: