Postmodern terms – HABITUS to KRISTEVAN

These Postmodern definitions are a useful gauge to show how academics construct their sentences in Artspeak. 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.

Postmodern Terminology: A-C D-G H-K L-N O-R S-T U-Z

HABITUS: Person’s predisposition to be affected by something

HAGIOGRAPHY: Writing about saints. Traditionally, saints are not recognized as such until they have been officially canonized (see canon). By extension then, any type of artwriting giving undue praise to an artist or attempting principally to identify an important contribution to an art-historical canon is implicitly a hagiography. In official religious hagiography, certain criteria must be met. The most well-known of these are miracles and martyrdom. The straightforward analogies for these in art history are masterpieces and bohemianism. See also genius.

HAMARTIA: Frequently translated as “tragic flaw,” hamartia is simply a mishap or human frailty which leads to someone’s reversal of fortune.

HAPTIC: Haptic means “relating to or based on the sense of touch.” Since its application in artwriting is almost always about space, texture and/or volume, it is most typically used as an adjective for sculpture. It is less often used of painting (most often as a variation of painterly) and of architecture (in instances where, for example, a tactile sense of space is created by some arrangement of volumes). Jennifer Fisher of Cornell University surveyed some of these in her paper “Haptic Resonances in Aesthetic Experience,” for the 1998 College Art Association conference. I have seen a few occasions in which the concept is applied to photography in the instance of exceptionally detailed prints. (See, for example “A Haptic Theory of Photographic Processes”.) Most recently, the notion has been brought up in the contxext of tactile digital interfaces (see and media luminary Marshall McLuhan (see Readers might also be interested in Art Through Touch, a British group fostering art for the visually impaired.


HEARSAY: A legal term denoting evidence not based on a witness’s personal knowledge, but on information reported to him by someone else. As such, in many legal systems, most hearsay is not admissible as evidence without meeting a rigid set of criteria. In some art criticism, hearsay has become so entrenched in interpretive history that facts about an artwork are sometimes obscured (see context [tertiary], King Richard effect). This is a particular problem in popularizing contexts. For instance, general books usually make quite a to-do about Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, but few of them point out that the work was not publicly exhibited for at least a decade after its completion. So assertions that the painting was a direct influence on a host of young artists must be revised to distinguish more clearly between those who had first-hand knowledge of the work and those who either did not know of it or had heard about it only through the grapevine.

HEBRAISM: The subordination of everything to principles of obedient conduct. Matthew Arnold uses the term in Culture and Anarchy to signify “strictness of conscience,” in contrast to Hellenism‘s “spontaneity of conscience.” The contrast is thus between duty and curiosity.

HEDONISM: Although it roots are genuinely philosophical, hedonism is now taken to mean sensual gratification as an end in itself. The term pops up in discussions of the work of Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and other artists who seem to have made a point of avoiding troubling subject matter or politically specific themes.

HEGELIANISM: Generally, anything pertaining to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. More specifically, the notion that history has a rational end — i.e., history is the manner in which reason realizes itself in human experience. It follows the typical dialectic of thesis/antithesis/synthesis. Followers of Hegel disagreed as to what this meant, with the so-called Old Hegelians claiming current political conditions were rational and the Young Hegelians claiming the opposite. The latter preferred to think of philosophy as essentially a call to revolution: one of them, Ludwig Feuerbach, was of particular influence on Karl Marx (see Marxism). See also world-view. Hegel has had considerable influence on art history, especially in his basic distinction between form and content. His idea was that these two could be reconciled in a higher synthesis — as they are in a different way in a paralinguistic theory of art — but his application of thesis/antithesis/synthesis to the trio of symbolical (Oriental) art, classical (Greek and Roman) art, and Romantic (Germano-Christian) art misses the mark by a wide margin. See also idealism.

HEGEMONIC MASCULINITY: See new masculinity.

HEGEMONY: Often linked to the writings of Antonio Gramsci, but by no means exclusive to them, “hegemony” means predominant influence, especially when it involves coercion, as in colonialism. One reads frequently of the cultural hegemony of the capital over the provinces, the economic hegemony of the middle class over the working class (see embourgeoisement), etc. The maintenance of hegemony is dependent upon the ideological effect, which makes the power of the dominant class appear desirable and natural. This in turn makes the meanings chosen by the dominant group appear to be universal. The hegemony of the mainstream media is a case in point, creating common sense beliefs that contradict statistical observations: for example, people tend to think the majority of crack cocaine addicts are black inner-city urbanites when in fact they are white suburbanites, and the elderly are the most afraid of experiencing violence even though they are statistically least likely to. Hegemony is, however, not a stable entity but what Gramsci called a “moving equilibrium” in which positions are ceaselessly revised. The seat of power is thus not the exclusive possession of a particular class once and for all but a series of shifts of power, sometimes across alliances. (A troublesome case in point is that well-meaning advertising can give the impression that women are far more likely to suffer violence at the hands of their spouses than men. Recent research indicates this is not true.) Hegemony thus needs continually to be reconfigured and resymbolized.

HEIDEGGERIAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Martin Heidegger. See Dasein, existentialism, ontological difference, open.

HELIOGRAPHY: See photography.

HELLENISM: The subordination of everything to the intellect, even sensual beauty. See Hebraism for Matthew Arnold’s application of the term.

HERESY OF PARAPHRASE: The notion that anything — an artwork, text, utterance, etc. — means what it means only in its original form, so that any abbreviation, paraphrase, translation, or other form of representation introduces distortions, simplifications, and misunderstandings. When Cleanth Brooks used the phrase in The Well Wrought Urn, he had no idea that the notion would be turned on its head as part of postmodern orthodoxy in the form of mediation. Brooks intended to give priority to the literary work itself, but it is now understood that any act — even reading — is a type of mediation, so there is no real “work” without some sort of paraphrase. This realization gives rise to the death of the author, on the one hand, and to reader-response criticism on the other.

HERMENEUTIC CIRCLE: In hermeneutics, the notion that one cannot understand the meaning of a portion of a work until one understands the whole, even though one cannot understand the whole until one understands the parts. It is not simply a paradox, since it indicates that any act of interpretation occurs through time, with adjustments and modifications being made to one’s understanding of both the parts and the whole in a circular manner, at least until some sort of resolution is achieved (see closure, sense 2). (There are some similarities to the sorts of adjustments made in Pepper’s conception of the consummatory field.) The word “barked” cannot properly be said to mean dog sounds if the sentence in which it appears is “the child barked his shin when climbing the tree.” Similarly, this sense of the word “shin” does not operate in a sentence describing the twenty-second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Accordingly, a reader will not understand the parts until s/he has read the whole, and vice versa. Such examples are far too simple to characterize what happens in full-blown hermeneutics, however. See prejudice for a different type of example. Cf hermeneutic spiral for a related model which tries to sidestep closure.

HERMENEUTIC SPIRAL: In theory, the traditional hermeneutic circle presumes to reach a definitive conclusion as to the meaning of an utterance. Because it invokes closure, it remains open to attack from postmodern writers, who prefer indeterminacy to determinacy. In historical practice, no statement made about a work of art has ever been truly conclusive (cf reception history), but rather than discard the hermeneutic model, we can find ways to spring it open systematically. One such is simply to acknowledge that something else can always be said, however invalid or irrelevant it might be. The adjustments and modifications one makes during the process of coming to understanding never cease and a true closure is never evoked. But we might want to invent a system which also enables us to create relevant and valid responses, despite open-endedness. One such is a hermeneutic spiral equation, which has two advantages: first, it provides a hypothetical space for all future contributions in structurally schematic form and it provides a mechanism for testing their usefulness; and two, its structural holism assures the practitioner will not be subject to interpretive agnosia.

HERMENEUTIC SPIRAL EQUATION: The use of a formal language to produce a scheme of interpetation which tends towards holism without invoking closure and without excluding future interpretive strategies or new evidence. In its open-endedness, it avoids interpetive agnosia.

HERMENEUTICS: Any of a series of systematic theories of interpretation. Because it originally designated the interpretation of religious texts — a practice which assumed that every aspect of a Biblical text had to be meaningful because it was divinely inspired — hermeneutics carries a similar connotation that meaning is to be derived from every conceivable feature of a text that can be construed as a contribution to some sort of organic whole (see holism). In spite of this, there are all sorts of hermeneutic approaches. For Gadamer’s special contribution to hermeneutics, see prejudice. Paul Ricoeur’s The Conflict of Interpretations distinguished between linguistics, which he saw as a closed system of intrasignificant signs, and the extralinguistic properties of hermeneutics. More recently, the idea that a hermeneutic interpretation must apply in some way to a total meaning has been revised by Peter Bürger in his Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984): formerly, the hermeneutic interpretation had to resolve all traces of contradiction, but Bürger calls for a revised approach replacing the necessary agreement of parts with a stratification of sorts, in which various layers might contradict one another and yet still contribute to the meaning of the whole in their very contradictoriness. See hermeneutic circle, hermeneutic spiral, hermeneutic spiral equation. Cf extralinguistic.

HERSTORY: A neologism invented because of the false peception of affinity (see faux amis) between “history” and “his story.” Despite the etymological fallacy, “herstory” is an economical way to describe women’s history and the feminist project of dismantling a male-only canon.

HETERODOXY: Ideas not in accordance with or critical of established doctrine or received opinion. See also doxa, orthodoxy.

HETEROGENEITY: The state of being fundamentally different in kind. See heterology.

HETEROGLOSSIA: “Different tongues” or “the speech of others.” Mikhail Bakhtin coined the word to describe multiple voices in a text (see dialogism).

HETEROLOGICAL STATEMENTS: A statement which is not true of itself. For example, “Italian,” which not an Italian word. See homological statements.

HETEROLOGY: James George Frazer’s Golden Bough characterized the primitive mind as incapable of distinguishing between the sacred and the impure or filthy. Building on this, Georges Bataille (see Bataillean) drew from German sociology and theology the sacred notion of the “wholly other” (see ganz Andere). Seeking to fuse these notions, Bataille hit upon the idea that that which is most “other” in the human body and therefore most sacred is that which we have actually ingested but cannot assimilate — that is, the undigested material which passes through the intestines. Excrement, then, is an example of the completely other — a heterogeneous “ foreign body [Bataille’s stress]…that can be seen as sacred, divine, or marvelous.” Moreover, excrement is a type of expenditure, a basic conception in Emil Durkheim’s theory of social exchange. Bataille thus theorized that the surplus value of the vile/sacred had some effect on the social formation, as in such things as potlatches, sacrifice and ritual mutilations. He proposed that the study of such phenomena should be called “heterology.” The idea has become influential as a strategy for disruption. The terminology of heterology — e.g., bassesse — have started to appear in discussions of disturbing artworks, like those of the Surrealists (Rosalind Krauss) and Jana Sterbak.

HEURISTIC: Stimulating interest in order to make new discoveries and formulations, and/or a teaching method to encourage students to discover for themselves. The term is fairly common in current artwriting. For a specific application, see W. McAllister Johnson, Art History: Its Uses and Abuses.

HIERARCHICAL: The defining characteristic of any system of persons of things given different ranks or statuses, as in a governmental hierarchy.

HIERATIC: Originally, “sacred” or “priestly.” The term is routinely used to designate a formal, conventional, and conceptual style like that in the art of ancient Egypt or the Byzantine Empire. Potential antonyms are demotic and perceptual.

HIERONYMY: Originally, “sacred naming.” The term now means the granting of special status to some thing by virtue of the way it is named.

HIGH ART (CULTURE): Until recently, there has a distinction between high art (also called “high culture,” fine art, or beaux-arts) and low art (also called “mass culture”). Where the former supposedly consisted of the meticulous expression in fine materials of refined or noble sentiment, the latter was the shoddy manufacturing in inferior materials of superficial kitsch. Moreover, the assumption always was that appreciation of the former depended on such things as intelligence, social standing, educated taste, and a willingness to be challenged. In contrast, the latter simply catered to popular taste, unreflective acceptance of realism, and a certain “couch potato” mentality. Although many earlier artists took inspiration from popular and folk art — e.g., Gustave Courbet’s appropriation of woodcuts — the most systematic approaches towards blurring the differences between high and low art were taken by Cubism, Dada and Surrealism. Pop Art further weakened the distinction, and artists as various as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and the Guerilla Girls, influenced strongly by the different branches of postmodern thought, seem have dealt it the final blow. We now find that formerly “high” artists are approaching mainstream celebrity status: for example, performance artist Laurie Anderson’s song O Superman reached the top ten of the pop charts in England, video and camera artist William Wegman has appeared on The Tonight Show to promote a book of photographs, and both have done segments on Saturday Night Live. In spite of this, one still wonders if the distinction still exists, albeit in a slightly different form. Few would seriously argue that the droves who follow televised wrestling matches and afternoon soap operas have any genuine interest in contemporary art. It is even less likely that the millions who read supermarket tabloids or romance novels would ever choose to read advanced art criticism.

HIGHLIGHT: The point at which an object reflects the greatest light, or the representation of same in drawing, painting, photography, watercolour, etc. Works which follow the logic of perception tend to orient highlights in such a way that the direction of the light source can be deduced from them, but there is no shortage of examples which ignore this principle and use highlights in a rather more intuitive manner. See also reserve highlight.

HISTORICAL CRITICISM: Any criticism which attempts to describe, explain or recreate the meaning a work had in its original context, rather than what it might mean to later generations. See historical methodologies.

HISTORICAL MATERIALISM: The foundation of Marx’s (see Marxism) materialist (see materialism) theory of history: that the consciousness of men does not determine the social formation, but that the social formation — particularly the economic structure of society — determines consciousness independent of the will of men.

HISTORICAL METHODOLOGIES: Those types of criticism which foreground context, especially information of the environmental or secondary sort. See especially correlational social history, Geistesgeschichte, iconology, Marxism, new art history, new historicism, patronage, and reception theory. The terms macrohistory, microhistory, and quantohistory are also beginning to appear. Cf perspectivism, visuality.

HISTORICISM: Any of a variety of approaches which give priority to history, specifically with the implications that all of life and reality are historically conditioned and that each historical phenomenon must be interpreted according to its own terms. Historicism appears in many guises in aesthetics and criticism, including the following: Hegelian idealism (that culture in general must be understood in terms of a transcendental progression of historical change); positivism (that a particular artwork must be interpreted in the light of the unique, verifiable circumstances in which it was created); new historicism (the revitalized historicism of the postmodern period, emphasizing economic and ideological circumstances), and perspectivism and/or relativism (that no one point of view is central).

HISTORICITY: The historical actuality of a thing, as opposed to putative timelessness.


HISTORIOGRAPHY: The theory and practice of historical writing, especially history about history. In artwriting this usually takes the form of extended historical commentaries on the writings of key art historians, as in Michael Podro’s Critical Historians of Art, Michael Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention, Mark Roskill’s The Interpretation of Pictures, and so on. Most of these feature case-studies of an historiographic nature. For postmodern applications, see Linda Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism.

HISTORY: For “history” as a category of content in art, see genre. For various aspects of “history” as a branch of knowledge or an account that records, analyses and explains past events, see art history, herstory, historical criticism, historical methodologies, historicism, historiographic metafiction, historiography, metafiction, metanarrative, new historicism, postmodernism.


HOLISM: The philosophical notion that the structure and behaviour of a system or an organism in its entirety cannot be explained solely as the sum of the operations of its parts.

HOMAGE: Reverence or tribute, as a serf might give to his lord, or an apostle to his master. artists throughout history have paid homage in various ways to those who influence them, as in Odilon Redon’s À Edgar Poe.

HOMEOSTASIS: The tendency to maintain constant functioning of organic processes or to attempt to restore constancy when one of the processes is disturbed. For a specific application, see jouissance.

HOMO DUPLEX: Man conceived as having two distinct natures, the body and the mind (see Cartesian interactionism, mind-body problem). George Mauner understood édouard Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère, with its impossible mirror reflection of a male viewer, to be a meditation on this theme.

HOMOLOGICAL STATEMENTS: Statements which are true of themselves, as “English” is an English word (compare heterological statements). One of the basic tenets of formalism is that what an artwork symbolizes is external to the work itself and might just as well be discarded in any serious critique of it. In Ways of World-Making, Nelson Goodman uses the notion of homological and heterological statements to undo this assumption. He maintains that what a symbol symbolizes is not necessarily extraneous to itself, since, for example, “word” is a word which applies to itself and to other words, “short” applies to itself among other things, and “having seven syllables” has seven syllables, as do many other phrases. Formalists, he concludes, implicitly and erroneously maintain that the most important characteristic of art is it heterologicality.

HOMOLOGY: A correspondence, relation, or similarity between structures. In sociological writings, the term is likely to refer to a metaphorical match between the values of a group and its lifestyle. Paul Willis’s Profane Culture (1978), for example, shows how the hippie subculture‘s anarchic reputation was a misconception, for the group’s values and lifestyle were highly organized along homologous lines. That is, hippies’ espousal of certain values like bohemianism agreed with (found a correspondence with, matched, paralleled) their taste in music and recreational drugs. Dick Hebdige’s Subculture (1979) does much the same for the punk phenomenon. Similar homologies can be found for most art movements, especially those in which a marked taste for expressionism is also manifest in an artist’s rather freewheeling lifestyle (e.g., Jackson Pollock).

HOMOPHOBIC: Irrational fear and/or persecution of homosexuals.

HORIZON: The limit or range of perception, knowledge, etc. See fusion of horizons, horizon of expectations.

HORIZON OF EXPECTATIONS: The range of values — aesthetic, economic, moral, religious, social, symbolic, etc. — a given audience anticipates it will encounter in an artwork. The work functions either by meeting those expectations or by challenging them. The idea is central to reception-theory.

HORROR VACUI: A tendency, sometimes characterized as medieval or primitive, to fill all the available pictorial space with decorative or other motifs, as if “afraid of a vacuum.”

HUBRIS: Arrogance, insolence, or pride that leads to misfortune.

HUE: See colour.

HUMANISM: Any attitude that gives priority to human endeavours, rather than to those of the gods, the spirits, the animals, or any other non-human thing. The term is frequently qualified, as in “Renaissance humanism,” which is characterized by a love of the achievements of the Greco-Roman world, an optimism that humans are inherently endowed with the skills necessary to reshape the world according to their own needs, and a belief in inherent human dignity. While the Renaissance humanists did not see their enlightened self-interest as a contradiction of their Christianity, a few recent demagogues identify “secular humanism” as a tacitly atheistic preoccupation with human affairs.

HUSSERLIAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Edmund Husserl. See existentialism, phenomenology.

HYMEN: The mucous membrane partially enclosing the vagina in a virgin. Jacques Derrida (see Derridean) used this image in “La Double séance,” in his La Dissémination as a metaphor to invent a hypothetical space for the operation of différance in a text. He chose a female image to counter the notion of the phallus as the privileged signifier.

HYPERBOLE: Exaggeration, whether used simply for effect or because of linguistic inflation. Some Baroque ceiling paintings are extravagantly hyperbolic, as in Pozzo’s Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits on the vault of S. Ignazio, Rome. Compare bathos, litotes, meiosis.

HYPERETHNICITY: A serious preoccupation with ethnicity. The word should be used with care, since some opponents of political correctness use it in a thinly-veiled contemptuous manner.

HYPHENATION: A common postmodern technique to draw attention to hidden political and other agendas in supposedly apolitical words. Examples include “dis-possessed” (Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology), “photo-graphed” (Jacques Lacan, “What is a Picture?” Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis), etc. Sometimes it is not really necessary, as in “re-vision” or “re-presentation.”

HYPOCRISY: Pretending to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. The idea should be discussed with reference to traditional myths about artistic bohemianism and genius, as well as to new ones like anti-intellectualism and political correctness.

HYPOTAXIS: The grammatical arrangement of words in dependent or subordinate relationships of causality, logic, space and time, usually taken as a characteristic of mature, formal or disciplined speech. It is opposed to “parataxis,” the grammatical arrangement of words in coordinate relationships where subordinate ones are called for. For example, the statement “You should try and get some sleep” is incorrect because “You should try to get some sleep” properly indicates that the second verb is dependent upon the first. The statement “Although Seurat’s intention was to render the canvas more luminous, he failed because the optical mixture was too evenly distributed” is properly hypotactic because the failure is in spite of the stated intention. The statement “Seurat tried to render the canvas more luminous and he failed…” is paratactic because the causal relationship is obscured by “and,” which uses coordination. There is an understandable temptation to interpret art paratactically because images appear to be presented in terms of coordination. I.e., Arnolfini and His Bride could be described in a paratactic sequence: “a man and a woman are standing in a room with a bed, and a dog stands at their feet, and there are shoes set to one side, and there is a chandelier with one candle, and there is a convex mirror, etc.” As soon as we start to speak of figurative meaning, however, we must use causally subordinating relationships: “The wedding vows are understood to be holy because there are shoes set to one side, which is a conventional act of respect when standing on holy ground.” Theorizing a set of criteria for visual hypotaxis and parataxis might provide some useful weapons for the fight against perceptualism. On another level entirely, hypotaxis has occasionally popped up as a metaphor in discussions of political correctness, with white male language construed as a hypotactic grammar of power (i.e., an instrument designed to subordinate those who have not mastered its niceties of expression). This is the ground for the recent debate about Ebonics in California.

IATROGENIC DISEASE: Disorders caused by treatment for a previous ailment or by the practices of the physician, as in the case of a patient who seeks medical help and develops debilitating side-effects or is abused by the doctor, creating symptoms of mental illness. There are implicit parallels in discussions of sexual harassment in educational institutions, as in the case of a male teacher, unaware that he is libidinally driven, who unwittingly harasses his female students. One wonders if the principle could serve as a metaphor for the production of meaning in postmodern contexts. Compare fusion of horizons.

ICON: 1. A picture, image or representation. In conventional art history, “icon” generally refers to images of sacred personages in the Byzantine and Greek Orthodox traditions. Some of these were virtually worshipped in past times, provoking a strong reaction in the form of iconoclasm (sense 1). 2. In various newer approaches, especially those influenced by Peircean semiotics, “icon” means a signifier which resembles that which it signifies (in other words, something which carries meaning by virtue of resemblance). Of course, this is much more common in visual imagery than in spoken language, although there are examples like onomatopoeia. Compare index (sense 2), symbol. 3. In popular writing, “icon” is sometimes taken to mean a celebrity who has come to represent the essence of some quality or characteristic, as Marilyn Monroe was an icon of a certain type of feminine sensuality or Arnold Schwarzenegger is of a certain type of masculinity. The cult-like dimension of celebrity interest in popular culture indicates that the root of this use of the word probably relates to sense 1 above.

ICONICITY: Resemblance, the defining characteristic of an icon (sense 2).

ICONOCLASM: 1. The destruction of images (see icon [sense 1]), especially those receiving religious veneration. 2. By extension, the breaking of traditions, doctrines, convictions, practices, etc. Marcel Duchamp is the modern archetype of the iconoclast.

ICONOGRAPHY: The study of subject matter and symbolism in the visual arts, especially with reference to verifiable traditions, visual dictionaries (like that of Cesare Ripa), and the like. Erwin Panofsky is arguably the most famous practitioner (see his Meaning in the Visual Arts).

ICONOLOGY: The study of iconography with greater emphasis on historical and contextual constraints on the possibilities of meaning (see context). Erwin Panofsky and Aby Warburg are arguably the most famous practitioners (Studies in Iconology and Gesammelte Schriften, respectively). See also semiotics.

ICONOPHOBIC: A rare neologism meaning irrational fear of images. It has recently been used to describe the conservative desire to suppress the more explicitly sexual images of such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe. See, for example, Thomas Sokolowski in Artforum 25.9.

ICONO-SEMIOLOGY: See semiotics.

ID: That portion of the psyche which is the seat of the libido, out of reach of the outside world, driven only to satisfy the basic urges of the body (see drive). Compare ego.

IDEALISM: 1. In art, the elimination of what is undesirable in the treatment of any thing, as in a visual image, until it reaches a predetermined standard of perfection. 2. In philosophy, any of a number of theories sharing the notion the reality has no objective existence but is produced in some way by the mind. Among these theories are Berkeleian idealism (also called “immaterialism”), which holds that all matter consists only of ideas in the mind of God (or in the minds of those whom He has created); objective idealism (usually associated with Hegelianism), which holds that everything is a manifestation of one “Absolute Mind”; and transcendental idealism (usually associated with Kantian thought), which holds that objects are nothing more than appearances. These theories should be debated in any thorough- going investigation of psychologically orineted art, especially Surrealism.

IDEOLOGICAL EFFECT: Ideology works by making what is economic/political/social and historically contingent appear apolitical and timeless. This process needs to be unconscious, so it functions by creating myths like common sense. The resultant appearance of naturalness (for example, the illusion that sense is genuinely common) is said to be the ideological effect. See Stuart Hall, “Culture, the Media and the ‘Ideological Effect’,” in J. Curran, et al., eds., Mass Communication and Society (1977).

IDEOLOGY: The philosopher Destutt de Tracy coined this word in the early nineteenth century to describe a science of ideas which would reveal unconscious habits of mind like prejudice and class consciousness. Karl Marx and Karl Mannheim separately introduced the word into modern sociological discourse, where it has come to mean a range of things related to the social production of people’s ideas, still usually without their conscious awareness of it (compare political unconscious). Thus it means beliefs, horizons of expectations, ideals, Weltanschauungen, and the like as interpretive mechanisms superimposed onto the world by identifiable social groups to impart some sense of order to their experience of it. The result, particularly in Marxist thought, is a distortion of reality to maintain authority over it. In this regard, the most succinct definition is in Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction: “those modes of feeling, valuing, perceiving and believing which have some kind of relation to the maintenance and reproduction of social power.” Various applications of this sense of the word can be found in feminist, Foucauldian, and other types of critical activity. One of the strongest streams is Althusserian. Although as individuals we are the products of social determination (see structuralist Marxism), we do not feel simply as small cogs in a larger mechanism. Instead, we relate to society at large in a political variant of the Lacanian mirror stage: ideology gives the individual the notion that s/he is a fully integrated, coherent and centred self, and the individual accepts this fiction, thus becoming subject to ideology (see interpellation). Ideology in this sense is preconscious and taken as “natural” (see ideological effect). In contrast, Clifford Geertz and others use the term with less political load, meaning one type of symbolic system among others, like art, religion, and science (see text, thick description). See also James H. Kavanagh’s essay “Ideology,” in F. Lentricchia and T. McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study.

IDENTITY: Sameness. The distinguishing character of an individual or social group.

IDENTITY POLITICS: See politics of identity.

IDIOLECT: The speech patterns peculiar to a particular individual, usually in a particular period of his or her life. The farther art is from language — in the sense that it does not subscribe to rules which guarantee intelligible dialogue — then the closer it is to idiolect. This is a profitable analogy since traditional artwriting has usually prized works which are readily identifiable as the productions of specific individuals.

IDIOM: A figurative expression in one language that cannot be translated literally into another, as in “carrying on” (for “foolishness”), or an expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the sum of the meanings of its constituent elements, as in “kick the bucket” (for “die”). For some of the problems confronting the notion of “idiom” in visual art, see translation.

IDYLL: Conventionally, a charmingly simple, pastoral and/or sentimental written work. By extension, anything that exhibits similar characteristics, as in Giorgione’s Concert champêtre.

ILLIBERAL EDUCATION: Title of a controversial popular book by Dinesh D’Souza espousing an extremely conservative position in the debate on political correctness. D’Souza’s thesis is that postmodern thinkers are literally attacking “common sense,” free speech, and traditional scholarship, and in so doing are destroying the value and integrity of American education. The subtitle of the book is The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus.

ILLOCUTIONARY: See speech-act theory.

ILLUSIONISM: The principle characteristic of an artwork which attempts to convince viewers that they are not looking at a representation but at the thing itself. In other words, illusionism means making an image as “realistic,” in the conventional sense of the word, as possible. Especially when accompanied by the word “optical,” “illusion” is often used to indicate an image which we recognize as playing a deliberate trick on us, like alternating figures. This is precisely not what is meant by “illusionism,” which refers instead to coherent images which pass for the real. The classic examples of illusionism have to do with extending into fictive space the linear perspective of a real space, as in Masaccio’s Trinity or Pozzo’s Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius. There is no reason why the concept would not apply to sculptural illusionism like that of Duane Hanson’s Tourists. See also trompe l’oeil.

ILLUSTREMENT: Stephen David Ross’s term in A Theory of Art for a multimodal approach to art discourse that is better suited to express the multiple locatedness (see inexhaustibility by contrast) of any artwork. Ross reduces the complex variety of art discourses given under the headings art history, criticism, and historical methodologies to four basic types: they are description, criticism, intepretation, and theory (or philosophy). These correspond respectively to assertive statements, statements of active judgements, constructive statements, and statements concerning the relations of the work to general themes or to a broad human order. Within each of these categories, statements about a work can be traditionary (re its historical location), intramedial (re the physical composition [see form] of one work), intermedial (re the relations between the physical composition of various works), intermodal (re the modes of judgement applied to a work), and intersubjective (re the diversity of audiences). The more easily an “articulative response” — a prolonged verbal consideration of a work — shifts into any of these different levels of discourse and critical perspectives, the more effectively it will transcribe the work’s multiple locatedness, and thus its apparent polysemy. Illustrement’s verb form is “illustre,” and its adjectival form is “illustrive.”

IMAGE: In Ways of Seeing, John Berger stipulated that “image” means a “sight which has been created or reproduced…, detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved.” In other words, an image is an aspect of culture, not nature. Since images are made by humans, they embody “ways of seeing” — i.e., the assumptions, desires and values of the makers (compare horizon of expectations). The implication, then, is that an image can not be an unmediated reality (see mediation and compare perceptualism).

IMAGINARY: Translation of Lacanian term imaginaire, meaning the psychological dimension of all images, conscious and/or unconscious, whether simply imagined or genuinely perceived. Lacan once felt the imaginary was the most basic psychological process, but he later felt that the imaginary was displaced by the Symbolic. See also Real. For a different application in political thought, see ideology.


IMAGO: An idealized recollection of a cherished person, formed during childhood and very resistant to subsequent change.


IMBRICATION: A successive overlapping, like shingles or tiles. The term has become fashionable as a figurative description of the ways meaning is produced by the interrelations of various forces, rather than in a linear, non-reversible manner. Compare codeterminacy, constellation, interpretive web, stratigraphic fallacy. This term is not be confused with imprecation.

IMITATION: A close copy, as in all art which endeavours to reproduce natural appearances. Imitation has played a role in aesthetics since Plato, who banished artists from his hypothetical republic. Material things, he argued, are imperfect reflections of the ideal forms underlying all existence. As an imperfect reflection of something already imperfect, art could only lead men further from the truth. Compare expression theory, mimetic theory. See also perceptualism, realism.

IMMATERIALISM: See “Berkeleian idealism” under the heading idealism.

IMPERIALISM: The expansion of a state’s authority through the procurement of territory, typically through conquest, and the suppression and exploitation of the native populace. Although historical applications involved conscious policies of dominant states, current references often target unconscious attitudes, as in Eurocentrism. As such, imperialism is a central issue in debates on political correctness. See colonialism.

IMPLIED ARTIST: See implied author.

IMPLIED AUTHOR: Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction distinguishes between the real author of a literary work and the author implied by the fiction in the work. The conception is close to Aristotle’s ethos. Note, however, that an implied author can actually have the same name as the real author. There is material for a reconsideration of the role of the visual artist along analogous lines.

IMPLIED READER: In The Implied Reader and The Act of Reading, Wolfgang Iser maintains that one of the functions of a text is to construct a conception of a hypothetical reader who will possess all the propensities required for the text to create the effect of meaning. The implied reader, therefore, exists within the text and not in external reality. A similar phenomenon occurs in some visual art which achieves a meaning effect with an implied viewer, as in Velázquez’ Las Meninas, Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and numerous other examples.

IMPLIED VIEWER: See implied reader.

IMPOVERISHMENT: Reduction to poverty; depletion of something considered valuable.

IMPRECATION: A curse. There are historical precedents for visual images having the power to curse the viewer, simply by having been looked at. Notorious examples are the curse of the mummy’s tomb and the sight of Medusa turning men to stone. This term is not to be confused with imbrication.

IMPRESSIONISM: See subjective impressionism.

IMPRESSIONISTIC CRITICISM: See subjective impressionism.

IMPRIMATUR: Literally, “let it be printed,” a term originally signifying an ecclesiastical stamp of approval to publish something. By extension, the endorsement of critics who exercise, according to their enemies, too much influence on public taste.

IMPROVISATION: A work which places emphasis on spontaneous performance without premeditation, or at least without the appearance of premeditation. Improvisation can be found in varying degrees in virtually all art forms, from film to literature, dance to painting. In many of these, the improvisation is something which is suggested by, but departs from, specific features of a text, as in a written piece of music which is spun into something quite different by a performer. Rarely, however, is the term evoked to consider an interpretation‘s degree of adherence to specific features of a text. deconstruction and the dialectic of intersubjectivity, to name only two of many possibilities, depend heavily on the notion that an audience may depart from the text. See also interpretatio excedens, literacy.

INAUTHENTIC: In existentialism, the unreflective submission of self to circumstances; allowing an exterior, alien world to buffet oneself about without exercising any choice.

INCANTATION: A spell, formula or ritualistic chant purporting to have magical power, as in the famous witches’ chants in Macbeth. The device is occasionally used quite consciously in visual art, as in Max Ernst’s incremental repetition of the phrase “L’oeil sans yeux, la femme 100 têtes garde son secret” in La Femme 100 têtes. Quite independent of the captions, Ernst’s images have a similar incantatory effect.

INCITEMENT PREMIUM: See fore-pleasure.

INCREMENTAL REPETITION: A literary term meaning the repetition of a phrase in a poem with either minor consecutive modifications (compare elaboration) or different contexts which effect slight changes in meaning. Max Ernst used the device in La Femme 100 têtes.

INCULPATORY: See evidence.

INDETERMINACY: The opposite of determinacy: i.e., the notion that the final meaning of a text cannot be settled once and for all, undermining an audience‘s certainty about such things as closure or E. D. Hirsch’s tidy distinction between meaning and significance. The reasons for this are as various as the theories that make use of the concept, but none is so radical as deconstruction.

INDETERMINISM: The doctrine of free will: i.e., that one is able to act as one wishes, without the constraints of determinism.

INDEX: 1. Any of a number of devices which serve to point out or indicate, as in the index of a book, the index finger, an economic growth index, etc. 2. In Peircean semiotics, “index” means a signifier which alludes to an absent signified by pointing in its direction, usually by virtue of some causal connection (see causality). Uncomplicated examples include bloody footprints in Daumier’s La rue Transnonain and the shower of water in Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, both of which point to the passage of bodies through the depicted space at a time prior to the depiction. Compare icon (sense 2), symbol.

INDICTMENT: See indulgence or indictment.

INDOCTRINATION: To teach a doctrine, principle, etc., usually through repetition and adherence to authority, rather than a truly heuristic method.

INDUCTION: Reasoning in which a general principle is derived from a number of specific observations. An argument from deduction can only convey what is already implied in its premises: e.g., “All humans are mortal; Michelangelo was human; therefore, Michelangelo was mortal.” In contrast, induction states that while the available premises may not guarantee the truth of the conclusion, they may collectively suggest there is good reason to accept it: e.g., “The addition of paint to a surface in a gallery is considered art; the removal of material from a sculptural mass in a gallery is considered art; the exposition of light through a lens onto a light-sensitive paper in a gallery is considered art: therefore, Vito Acconci’s self-biting and printing of tooth-marks in a gallery should be considered art too.” See also interpolation.

INDULGENCE OR INDICTMENT: It is often difficult to determine if a representation, particularly of something a given audience finds distasteful, is shown simply for the sake of indulgence, or if it chosen to draw critical attention to some issue relating to the subject. There are no simple formulas to make this determination. Canadian censors have unwittingly drawn attention to the issue: they banned the October 1986 issue of Playboy because they interpreted an ambiguous photograph of a nude woman rolling in parachute cords as bondage. Yet feminist artists Carmen Coulombe and Persimmon Blackbridge have both made images (L’Emprise sur l’univers II and Drawing the Line, respectively) which feature much more explicit bondage. Works which blur the line between gratification on the one hand and cries of social injustice on the other should be debated rigorously.

INEXHAUSTIBILITY BY CONTRAST: In A Theory of Art: Inexhaustibility by Contrast, philosopher Stephen David Ross employs certain features of ordinal theory (number theory which concerns the position of a thing in a ordered system) to explain how the meanings of an artwork can never be fully catalogued or explained, thus achieving multivocality or polysemy. Ross argues that anything that exists is located as a constituent in many orders, which is to say that it belongs to many sets or categories of things, a phenomenon he calls “multiple locatedness.” For example, a portrait painting can belong to the hypothetical orders “surfaces covered with paint” and “objects hung on the wall,” yet it may have little in common with certain other members of that order — e.g., “highchair” (also a painted surface) or “coatrack” (also suspended on the wall). The relations that the painting has to other members of its orders may be relatively stable, as in a classification of paintings according to genre. If this is the case, Ross describes the order as having integrity in a particular location, giving rise to actualities of meaning. In another location — i.e., when it is placed in a different order — its relations may be relatively unstable, as in a set of nearly flat, rectangular objects ranging from artworks to note pads, carpets, and handkerchiefs. In this instance, Ross describes the order as deviant, giving rise to possibilities of meaning. Since any work of art can be placed in a hypothetically infinite number of deviant sets — i.e., sets of things with which it has at least one thing in common, but with which it may otherwise contrast –the possible meanings that a work can produce are said to be inexhaustible by contrast. Criticism and interpretation aimed at elucidating the ways in which a work participates in multiple locatedness is called illustrement. A simple way to demonstrate the principle is to compare William Berczy’s Joseph Brant to Paul Kane’s Mah-Min, or “the Feather”, in which case the integrity of the order would seem apparent: both are portraits of Amerindian leaders. Replacing the Kane with Paul Peel’s A Venetian Bather would create an apparently deviant order, until ones realises that both are images of figures accompanied by small animals. The Berczy painting has not changed, yet it participates in different locations in such a way that radically different possibilities of meaning are produced. Since successive audiences of necessity constitute different locations for a work, indeterminacy can never be avoided (compare reception theory).

INFLATION: See linguistic inflation.

INFLECTING: See agglutinating, inflecting, isolating.

INFLUENCE: The effect of antecedent conditions, persons, works or the like on an individual artist, as in “Michelangelo was influenced by Jacopo della Quercia’s baptismal font in Bologna.” The study of influence is at the heart of classical source analysis, but it has recently been amended substantially by the Freudian-inspired anxiety of influence. See also Louis A. Renza’s essay “Influence,” in F. Lentricchia and T. McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study.

INFORMAL LOGIC: See ad hominem, ad ignorantium, analogy, analytic, appeal to precedent, argument, argument from analogy, categorical statements, categorical syllogisms, class logic, causal arguments, conditionals, definitional rules, extensional definitions, fallacies, generalizations, guilt by association, intensional definitions, invalidity, irrelevance, laws of thought, noise, pro homine, propositional logic, relevance, special pleading, synthetic, validity.

INFORMATION THEORY: A theory of language and, by extension, the arts, based on models of information exchange in electronic media. Simply put, the theory presents any communication as a circuit in which a sender codes a message and transmits it along a channel to a receiver, who decodes it to achieve a hypothetically complete reconstruction and, therefore, closure (see determinacy). To forestall potential misinterpretations created by interference with the encoded message (see noise), the message would ideally be sent in more than one channel in different codes (see redundancy). See also entropy.

INFORME: Georges Bataille (see Bataillean) said that “informe” (sometimes translated “formless”) is “a term that serves to bring things down in the world” and that the goal of philosophy is to give a shapeless universe a “mathematical frock coat.” Like bassesse, the informe is a tool for accessing the level of base materialism.

IN MEDIAS RES: A literary term for a narrative beginning “in the middle of things,” retracing the beginning of the story through flashbacks.

INNATENESS HYPOTHESIS: Once influential Chomskyan notion that children’s ability to learn their language rapidly indicates they are born with an innate knowledge of language’s deep structure. See generative-transformational. The idea is probably suspicious to postmodern thought since it implies an essentialist position, instead of relativism.

INNOVATION: The introduction of something new, as in the rapid stylistic changes of the period of so-called “heroic” modernism. Innovation, especially of an adversarial sort, was one of the cornerstones of the avant-garde. Postmodern artwriters tend to think that the novelty produced by innovation is more of an illusion than anything.

INSCRIPTION: 1. Originally, symbols or words engraved into a surface. By extension, a written dedication or other statement in a book or on an artwork. 2. More recently, the way one text insinuates itself into another: this can be through a kind of appropriation, homage, or imitation, as in James Joyce’s Ulysses inscribed within the outlines of Homer’s Odyssey, or a less apparent intertextuality.

INSTALLATION: A type of art in which a given space is redefined by the (usually) temporary arrangement therein of objects and/or materials in quasi-sculptural and/or quasi-theatrical constructions. Examples can range from traditional museum dioramas and similar arrangements of readymade articles to galleries filled with everything from topsoil to pennies to individually wrapped candies. See site-specific for important distinctions.

INSTINCT: See drive, personality types.

INSTINCT-ORIENTED: See personality types.

INSTITUTION, INSTITUTIONAL: See critique of institutions.

INSTRUMENTALISM: A type of pragmatism, the notion that ideas, concepts, theories and the like cannot be evaluated in terms of truth and falsehood, but only in terms of their effectiveness or ineffectiveness as instruments in a given process of inquiry. One of the more famous instrumentalist philosophers was John Dewey, who postulated that all human activities could only be understood in terms of their function in material human experience and history. Dewey’s book Art as Experience examined art as an effective instrument serving the purpose of expressing psychic wholeness and one’s sense of belonging to a larger, all-inclusive whole which is the universe. This has since been refined into the view that art must seek social change, rather than indulge itself in empty formalism. Examples of instrumentalism in art range from specific critiques of the corporate mentality (e.g., Hans Haacke’s American Cyanimid) to more broadly based social movements (e.g., General Idea’s AIDS Project).

INSUFFICIENCY: An insufficient definition is one which describes too few characteristics to differentiate the thing being defined from some other, similar thing. To define “chair” as “a piece of furniture” is clearly insufficient since “table” could also be so described. interpretations are not definitions, but they are often similarly insufficient and should be read with skepticism. Philip Monk’s discussion of Paterson Ewen, for example, says virtually nothing about the works themselves (compare autoptic evidence, epiphenomenon) and could thus apply to any number of other things.

INTEGRATED STUDIES: See combined studies.

INTEGRITY: See inexhaustibility by contrast.

INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY: Self-explanatory. It is included here because it is what urges scholars and others to continue to turn up new evidence bearing on matters which may be of little practical consequence in everyday life but which seem to have enormous impact on interpretation. Intellectual curiosity may have begun as some sort of biological drive, but its expression is distinctly cultural (and thus political). As a result, it can be subjected to the critique of institutions. In some instances, intellectual curiosity is outright careerism, particularly where one critic picks apart another’s critique principally because doing so satisfies some criterion of continuing employment in a given academic or other context. In other instances, it is outright intellectual fashion, practiced for prestige or to fit in with the in crowd. There are other possibilities as well, and they need not be negative. Whether the material thus discovered is in any way genuinely useful is a matter to be debated rigorously. For one suggestion as to how this might be done, see hermeneutic spiral equation.

INTELLECTUAL FASHION: Immoderate adherence to theoretical innovation for the sake of appearances, faddishness, sycophancy, and the like. The terrible seductiveness of intellectual fashion is clearly demonstrated every decade or so, when a notable figure publicly repudiates his or her earlier work.

INTENDED READER: A literary term meaning the conceivable type of audience(s) for whom a text was composed. This ranges from the simple, such as a competent native speaker of the language in which the text was written, to the complex, such as a reader with a similar level of education. Interestingly, when an intended viewer is substituted by analogy, that which is most simple becomes that which is most complex: a competent native speaker becomes a competent “native” observer, which opens up all the problems discussed under the heading perceptualism.

INTENDED VIEWER: See intended reader.

INTENSIONAL DEFINITIONS: Definitions which identify the essential qualities that make something a member of a class, using genus (the larger class of things to which something belongs) and differentia (what marks off a thing from the other members of a class). E.g., “a chair is a piece of furniture (genus) with legs supporting a seat and an upright back shaped to accomodate the human form (differentia). “Intensional” is not to be confused with “intentional,” as in intentional evidence, intentional fallacy, intentionalism and intentionality.

INTENTIONAL EVIDENCE: Evidence pertaining to the intentions of an author or artist in creating an artwork. Because of the intentional fallacy, however, the artwork alone cannot be considered among this evidence.

INTENTIONAL FALLACY: The fallacy of determining the meaning or evaluating the achievement of a work of art in terms of the author‘s intentions. The phrase, proposed by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley in The Verbal Icon, has been used in recent writing to deny the usefulness of all intentional evidence, in line with the death of the author. However, Wimsatt and Beardsley themselves allowed the author’s own statements into the act of interpretation, provided that these statements were intelligible in ways the work itself was not. (For a critique of this oversimplification, see E. D. Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation.) Put more simply, the intentional fallacy means that we cannot construe intentions from the work in the absence of corroborating evidence outside the work. Otherwise, if an artist intended to make a mark resembling “X” but managed to produce “Y” instead, we would make the fallacious assumption that his or her intentions were to make a mark resembling a “Y.”

INTENTIONALISM: Any interpretive strategy that gives priority to the intentions — whether known or inferred — of the artist. For an example, see meaning (sense 2).

INTENTIONALITY: Part of the problem with the issue of intentions in determining the meaning of a work of art is the degree to which a given artist is even conscious of those intentions. E. D. Hirsch (see intentional evidence) feels that the artist’s consciousness of intending something is a crucial factor, but others sidestep the issue by imputing to the work itself a kind of intentionality. After all, if it is possible to discern meaning in the absence of conscious intention — as is the case in Freudian and certain other critical approaches — then it should theoretically be possible to attribute intentionality to the thing itself. See David Couzens Hoy’s The Critical Circle (1982).

INTENTIONS: The real or supposed motives of an artist in making a particular work. The idea is currently is disfavour in the critical community, largely because of the death of the author and the intentional fallacy. However, the need to know or construe an artist’s intentions still seems to be strong among younger art students and the general public. See intentional evidence, intentionalism, intentionality. See also Annabel Patterson’s essay “Intention,” in F. Lentricchia and T. McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study.

IN(TER)DETERMINACY: A neologism implying a contradictory state of affairs in which the different elements of an utterance help to determine each other’s meaning by a process of mutual inflection (see inflecting), thus constraining meanings to the possibilities offered within the present terms of the utterance (see presence). At the same time, indeterminacy is always acknowledged as a possibility, even within those constraints, so closure can still be avoided.

INTERDISCIPLINARY: A type of study which explores a general theme by adopting methods and theories from several different areas of interest and expertise, usually, though not necessarily, within an academic context. For example, university Women’s Studies programs are typically interdisciplinary, with overlapping courses in art, history, literature, psychology, sociology, etc. “Interdisciplinary” can also refer to the breaking down of the traditional boundaries between media, like drawing and sculpture. This is quite common in the twentieth century, from Archipenko’s sculpto-peinture to Rauschenberg’s “combine paintings” and beyond.

INTERGENERIC: Pertaining to an artwork which belongs to more than one genre.

INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: A literary device for the representation of the uninterrupted flow of consciousness, as in the famous Molly Bloom section of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Visual art has interior monologues of a sort as well, ranging from the turbulent narrative flow of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de bonté to the agitated self-expression of Jackson Pollock’s all-over paintings.

INTERMEDIA: The use of a variety of media in an interdisciplinary way. This still somewhat fashionable term was first used by Dick Higgins in late 1965 in a context describing what we would now call performance art. See In the Spirit of Fluxus (1993).

INTERMEDIAL: See illustrement. Not to be confused with intermedia.

INTERMODAL: See illustrement.

INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION: The processes by which oppressed groups, particularly women in patriarchal societies, accommodate their society’s definition of them. Although the phrase is not always used, the idea operates in such things as the beauty myth. For a general discussion, see Demaris S. Wehr, Jung and Feminism: Liberating Archetypes.

INTERPELLATION: According to Louis Althusser (see Althusserian), the process by which ideology gives the individual the notion that s/he is a fully integrated, coherent and centred self. Ideology interpellates the concrete “individual” and transforms him or her into a concrete “subject.” The explanation is a metaphor: ideology in effect calls to or hails a real person in the street, and in turning to see who or what is calling, the individual grants a reality to ideology, accepts its fiction, and thus becomes subject to it.

INTERPOLATION: The drawing of a conclusion about some missing information by a process of deduction or induction based on present information. For example, given only the fragmentary statement “Claudel made _____ versions of the work: one she placed in the Hôtel Biron and one she gave to ______,” we can interpolate that Claudel made two versions of the work, but we cannot tell to whom she gave one of them. In its simplest sense, interpolation means that we are able to reconstruct some lost portions of a damaged work, as is routinely done in archaeological reconstruction. On a more complex level, interpolation is one of the stages in the phenomenology of interpretation, since meaning is currently understood as something theoretically infinite produced by a finite number of indications within a text. Compare metaphysics of presence.

INTERPRETABILITY: The degree to which a text, work, or other thing admits of interpretation. Interpretability is an historically relative phenomenon: at one point in time, for example, it would have been taken as a matter of course that high art by definition could be interpreted with greater refinement and a greater yield in meaning than low art. In contemporary postmodern discourse, however, the interpretability of even commercial advertising, to say nothing of kitsch, is often not significantly different from that of fine art.

INTERPRETANT: C. S. Peirce (see Peircean) imagined a triadic relation between every sign, the object to which it referred, and the effect it had upon an intepreter. The latter he called the “interpretant,” which thus can be understood as the meaning or meaning-effect of the other two elements in the triad. C. W. Morris put it more succinctly in Signs, Language and Behavior: “the relationship between linguistic signs and their users.” Paul Ricoeur’s The Conflict of Interpretations develops the notion to undermine the idea that interpretation has anything to do with exegesis: instead, the interpretant is a sign or group of signs which develops the meaning of the first sign and which can be subtituted for it (as in a definition or a symbol). Ricoeur maintains that such a system remains intrasignificant (see extralinguistic). Compare unlimited semiosis.

INTERPRETATIO EXCEDENS: A legal term designating an interpretation that is only loosely related to the evidence at hand. subjective impressionism and all other types of criticism that affectedly read into works of art can be so described.

INTERPRETATION: Standard dictionaries give “interpretation” as the act of setting forth the meaning of something (as in explanation or clarification), the construal of meaning (as in confabulation or interpolation), the translation of material from one form into another (including that done for the purposes of computer programs and the convenience of members of the United Nations), and the manner of performance (as in a particular rendering of music or drama). Generally speaking, postmodern discourse insists that interpretation is a relatively free process of producing meaning in cooperation with a text, rather than simply deriving it slavishly from a work to which one is chained. However, there are exceptions. For example, Mary Ann Caws (“Ladies Shot and Painted,” in S. R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture) maintains that followers of Kristevan lines of thought reject any idea of indebtednesss to the object under investigation, and like practitioners of deconstruction, they are only illustrating their interpretive ingenuity. “Interpretare,” she argues, means “to find oneself indebted to, based on the derivation of “inter” from the Latin for “amidst, among, between, during, mutually, reciprocally, together,” and the derivation of “pretation” from the Latin “praesto” for “at hand, present, ready.” Interpretation which fails to acknowledge indebtedness to the text bears a relation to it similar to the relation between a written piece of music and an improvisation, thus implying that many contemporary modes of interpretation are closest to the last meaning, the manner of performance (see also literacy). Just as some free jazz departs rather forcibly from the tunes that inspire it, improvisatory interpretation so understood depends more heavily on the self-expression of the performer than the author (see also death of the author). This is fine, but it tends to undermine its legitimacy as a historical undertaking in the view of conventional art history. (The reasoning is: if it is true that some of what passes as free jazz, especially in the semi-professional community, is interpretively meagre self-indulgence, then the same could be said of some criticism.) In any case, Caws’s etymology differs from that of many standard dictionaries, which give “pretation” as a derivation from the Latin “pret(ium)” for “price, value, worth,” thus putting more emphasis on evaluation than indebtedness. See also illustrement, interpretant, interpretatio excedens, interpretatio predestinata, interpretatio restricta, interpretive agnosia, interpretive community, interpretive web. See also Steven Mailloux’s essay “Interpretation,” in F. Lentricchia and T. McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study. See also self.

INTERPRETATIO PREDESTINATA: A legal term designating an overly biased interpretation (i.e., one that emphasizes only the evidence tending to prove something the interpreter has already decided about).

INTERPRETATIO RESTRICTA: A legal term designating a very strict interpretation (i.e., one that sticks very close to material evidence and objectively verifiable presumptions).

INTERPRETER: One who performs an interpretation.

INTERPRETIVE AGNOSIA: Agnosia is a mental deficiency, usually caused by serious brain injury, leading to the inability to attach appropriate meaning to sense-data. “Appropriate” here means that something is to be recognized objectively, with no role played by interpretive ingenuity. Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat describes a number of clinical cases in which patients were, for example, unable to identify their own feet or recognize that a face was in fact a face. Is there a non-medical analogy to be drawn here between agnosia and acts of interpretation which refuse to be indebted to the texts they supposedly investigate? Consider, for example, the case of a well-intended group of young male students at an American ivy league school: conducting their own seminar to enlighten other young men to the rampant sexism in their community, they showed slides of explicit hard-core bondage, saying “this is exactly the same as such-and- such an image in mainstream soft-core pornography,” usually an example featuring a model adopting a similar pose. The statement, however, is patently untrue. There are differences in directly observable formal features like lighting and composition; the quality of reproductive technology; the photographic techniques involved; the training, motivations, skills, etc. of the photographers and support staff; the implied readers of the work; and the types of women who would choose to pose (or be coerced into posing) for such material. None of these justifies objectification, but it indicates that any interpretation may be seriously flawed. (In other words, the conclusion may be true even though the argument is invalid. See validity [sense 1].) The task before us, then, is to establish a workable set of criteria to determine what distinguishes a good interpretation from a bad one. See also indulgence or indictment, misreading.

INTERPRETIVE COMMUNITY: Any identifiable social formation or subcomponent thereof which shares certain values or a horizon of expectations can be identified as an interpretive (or interpretative) community. An individual viewer does not merely receive an artist‘s meaning in the form of an unequivocal message carried along a channel. Instead, s/he “presuppose[s] the company of others who are also looking at it…[and] continually reconstructing it — a community of viewers,” in the words of Michael Parsons (How We Understand Art). Credit for the invention of the term usually goes to Stanley Fish.

INTERPRETIVE INGENUITY: An act of interpretation which places greater emphasis on its own cleverness, inventiveness, originality, or resourcefulness than it places on the work which it interprets. Most contemporary critical modes which share as their point of departure the death of the author have some degree of interpretive ingenuity.

INTERPRETIVE WEB: Any of several models of interpretation which attempt to be exhaustive without evoking closure, especially one which is determined to exploit all categories of content, context, and form, even when contradictory results are obtained. See hermeneutic spiral, hermeneutic spiral equation, in(ter)determinacy. Compare “webs of significance” in stratigraphic fallacy and thick description.

INTERROGATION: The act of questioning someone or something. In many postmodern contexts, the term is nearly synonymous with intervention.

INTERSUBJECTIVITY: Pertaining to the unfettered exchange of the contents of consciousness conceived not as the one-way dissemination of objective knowledge but as the mutual communication of subjects’ (sense 2) responses to experience. See dialectic of intersubjectivity, illustrement.

INTERTEXT: One of the texts modifying another text in intertextuality.

INTERTEXTUALITY: Term proposed by Julia Kristeva in La Révolution du langage poétique to describe the way a single work can actually consist of several texts and/or the transposition of one set of signs into another. Kristeva described it as a text conceived as a “mosaic of quotations…, [an] absorption and transformation of another text.” It is a specific type of coextension in which a variety of diverse meanings overlap and interrelate within a text in ways unforeseen by its author. The idea is similar to multiple locatedness (see inexhaustibility by contrast) but for the fact that it really entails only one “location.” Intertextuality has been expanded (if not misconstrued) by subsequent writers like Wendy Steiner (The Colors of Rhetoric) to mean the interrelations between a work of visual art and its title, works and their sources and influences, and/or multiple contemporary works. The very old art historical notion that an artist learns not from nature but from earlier art is a rudimentary expression of this expanded sense of intertextuality.

INTERVENTION: The refusal, subversion or re- negotiation of received meanings, usually because those doing the intervening believe such meanings to be enforced by political power or general consensus, which is of course determined by ideology. Intervention is standard practice in numerous manifestations of contemporary culture, from feminist revisionism to punk bricolage.

INTOLERANCE: Inability or unwillingness to grant or to share equal rights and privileges. Both sides of the debate on political correctness accuse the other of intolerance. For example, there have been many instances of hypocrisy in which one side literally shouts down the other, in spite of its own claims to freedom of expression. Oddly, even those who made the first politically correct agendas have sometimes been attacked by a second generation. Edward Said (see orientalism) described such an instance in “The Politics of Knowledge,” Raritan (Summer 1991).

INTRAMEDIAL: See illustrement.

INTRASIGNIFICANT: In classical linguistics, relations of mutual interpretation between signs without necessarily making reference to some external object. The idea is central to Baudrillardean thought. For a critical application, see extralinguistic.

INTRIGUE: A subcategory of genre (sense 2), meaning any representation placing emphasis on collusion, scheming, and trickery, as in Fragonard’s portrayals of the progress of courtly love.

INTRINSIC: Inherent; innate; characteristic of a thing by its very nature. Some art historians maintain a traditional distinction between instrinsic and extrinsic approaches to the work of art. W. Eugene Kleinbauer, for example, anthologized writings on form and iconography as intrinsic, separating them from writings on psychology, society and the history of ideas as extrinsic. Few of the more adventuresome critics working today maintain the distinction.

INTROVERSION: See personality types. See also

INTRUSIVE NARRATOR: A narrator who interrupts a narrative in order to offer commentaries of various sorts.

INVALIDITY: In informal logic, an argument is invalid if its conclusion does not follow necessarily from its premises, or if lacks relevance and/or sufficiency. See irrelevance.

INVERTED CONSCIOUSNESS: See false consciousness.

INVISIBLE HAND: Adam Smith maintained that a businessman was not a mere profiteer because he was “led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was no part of his intention” — i.e., promoting the interests of society. In Art in America (July 1988), Carter Ratcliff reworked the idea to illustrate how art dealers subtly convey the image that they too provide a cultural benefit above and beyond mere marketing.

IRRELEVANCE: Premises which do not increase the probability of the claim they are intended to support. The classic types of contextual irrelevance are the red herring and the straw man (or straw figure). The former is an inappropriate shift in the boundaries of an issue through the introduction of an irrelevant consideration, as might be the case if one alluded to Margaret Bourke-White’s bank account in a discussion of her photographic composition. The latter is the incorrect or inadequate representation of an opponent’s position to make a rebuttal more effective, as when beginning lecturers overplay the negative criticism of Impressionism to make it seem heroically above the average crowd.

IRONY: A trope in which the latent meaning is the opposite of the manifest meaning or markedly different from it. Irony is a particularly slippery trope, for an apparently bald statement of fact can be turned upside down by something as simple as a slight inflection of the voice. This is also true of imagery, although there are unequivocal instances as well. An untitled work of 1969 by Shusaku Arakawa bears the text “I have decided to leave this canvas completely blank,” invoking a certain type of irony. A more straightforward example is a photograph of the Isle of Fun, Skating Rink, Grand Island, Nebraska (1975), by Lynne Cohen (reproduced in Penny Cousineau, The Banff Purchase: An Exhibition of Photography in Canada. Toronto: Wiley and Sons, 1979, unpaginated). It shows a vast, empty skating rink, with no-one having the kind of fun depicted in the advertising on the walls. One of the more blatant examples is a photograph by Margaret Bourke-White of Afro-Americans standing in a bread line directly under a billboard stating “America — Highest Standard of Living in the World.” Irony is not synonymous with “coincidence.” See aporia, apophasis, dramatic irony, litotes, tragic irony.

ISM: 1. A back formation from words with the suffix “ism,” indicating a distinctive doctrine, system, theory, etc. 2. In art history, a period designation, often but not necessarily ending in “ism,” whether that period is determined by stylistic (e.g., Impressionism), iconographical (postmodernism), chronological (Early Renaissance), or other criteria.

“IS” OF ARTISTIC IDENTIFICATION: Arthur Danto’s term (in “The Artworld,” The Journal of British Philosophy [1964]) to distinguish the “is” of identity (he is a printmaker), the “is” of predication (he is tall), and the “is” of representation (he [e.g., a mortal actor] is a god) from an “is” which identifies an object as a work of art. Saying that a particular blob of paint “is” Icarus is not the same as saying that it “represents” Icarus, he argues. The word “Icarus” is an arbitrary device which “represents” Icarus, yet we would not point to the word and say “That (word) is Icarus” in the same sense that the blob is Icarus. The idea might be rephrased inelegantly as the “is” that can constitute any object as a work of art simply by virtue of the decision to do so. The notion was clearly influential in the early years of conceptual art. Danto developed related ideas in his later transfiguration of the Commonplace. Cf artworld.

ISOGLOSS: A boundary differentiating linguistic features.

ISOLATING: See agglutinating, inflecting, isolating.

ISOMORPHISM: Literally, isomorphism means “different in ancestry but having the same shape.” Figuratively, practitioners of artwriting use it to mean “different signifiers which have the same meaning (i.e., signified).” E.g., in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding, the detail of a dog (a symbol of faith) is an isomorph to the overall theme of the picture, the faithfulness of marriage. For another application, see narrative analysis.

ISOTOPY: Following A. J. Greimas’s La Sémantique structurelle, Paul Ricoeur’s The Conflict of Interpretations grapples with how the appearance of homogeneous meaning is produced by a text. Greimas had spoken of the sifting effect of contextual variables. In “a dog barks,” for example, the second and third words have an unstated contextual variable in common, “animal,” which serves to strain out other possibilities (like the bark of a tree). A simple statement like this produces an impression of consistent meaning (which Ricoeur called the “meaning effect”) because the contextual variable works to bring the possibilities to the same place, as it were. “Iso-” is Greek for “same” or “equal,” while “topy” derives from topos, “place.” The isotopy of an utterance is thus the “location” of the contextual constraints upon meaning. In more complex systems of signs, as in a work of literature or an artwork, there are many contextual variables, making it difficult to choose between parallel (and sometimes competing) isotopies. This is the origin of polysemy. (See also “multiple locatedness” under the heading inexhaustibility by contrast).

JAMMING: See culture jamming.

JARGON: Pierre Bourdieu has argued that academic jargon, which he says imagines itself to be objective and value-free (see value-freedom), has meanings it is not aware of, and that its self-image as liberal humanism disguises its history of oppressing marginal groups. Cf illiberal education.

JEU: French term for play.

JINGLE: Dictionaries of literary terms often include “jingle,” a short, infectious verse set to music for advertising purposes, in order to distinguish it from “literature” proper. Is there a visual equivalent of the jingle?

JOUISSANCE: The usual English translation, “enjoyment,” does not carry the sexually orgasmic connotation that the French does in addition to the idea of taking pleasure in something. In Lacanian circles, jouissance is distinguished from pleasure ( plaisir) in that the latter indicates simply the search for psychic balance ( homeostasis) through the release of tension, whereas the former is supposed to be a perpetual state in violation of the pleasure principle. There is thus an implicit analogy drawn between demand and desire. See transgression. Julia Kristeva (see Kristevan) offers a slight development and a bit of wordplay: she uses plaisir for sexual pleasure and jouissance (or j’ouïs sens, “I heard meaning”) as total joy due to the presence of meaning.

JUDICIAL CRITICISM: Any of several types of criticism sharing the goal of judgement of a work, as connoisseurship is thought to judge quality. The criteria that the work is supposed to meet vary widely, however.

JUNGIAN: Pertaining to the theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. See Jungian criticism.

JUNGIAN CRITICISM: Criticism infleunced by Jungian ideas, principally the role of the colllective unconscious in the determination of cultural behaviour. Every individual participates in two psychic streams, one personal and one supposedly sharing psychic constants (see anima, archetype) with everyone else. The emphasis in practical Jungian writing, however, often ends up on the latter of these two streams, leading some opponents to describe Jungian approaches as essentialist (see essentialism). See also myth, presentiment.

JUVENILIA: Artworks produced during the artist‘s youth. In literary studies, “juvenilia” usually implies a degre of artistic immaturity. In art history, some juvenilia is considered prodigious (i.e., produced by a prodigy, as in the case of Gianlorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo Buonarroti, John Everett Millais, or Pablo Picasso).

JUXTAPOSITION: A placing of objects, images, etc., side by side. The term is particularly common in writings on Surrealism: there, because the practice was used with emphasis on the irrationality of the things juxtaposed, it sometimes seems to have an extra connotation of weirdness or inappropriateness. See, for example, the work of the Surrealist precursor Giorgio de Chirico or any Surrealist object by Salvador Dalí or Man Ray. The Surrealists’ fascination with the practice can be traced to their interest in the obscure nineteenth century poet Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse), whose famous example of it was “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table.” In non-Surrealist contexts, the term is devoid of this connotation.

KANTIAN: Pertaining to the ideas of Immanuel Kant. See autonomy, formalism, idealism, modernism, synthetic a priori.

KENOSIS: A process of draining, evacuating, lowering, relinquishing, surrendering, or yielding, as when Christ lowered Himself from divine to human form. Harold Bloom (see anxiety of influence, misreading) uses the term as a trope amalgamating the senses of bassesse and bathos.

KING RICHARD EFFECT: Occasionally an erroneous characterization of a person, thing or event is so compelling that it persists in the popular imagination long after it has been rendered implausible or even disproven. The phrase derives from the popular conception of England’s Richard III as the evil kidnapper and murderer of his nephews Edward V, true heir to the throne, and Richard, in spite of some revisionists’ descriptions of the story as anti-York propaganda produced by Tudor supporters. (Paul Delaroche made a well-known painting depicting their incarceration in Windsor Castle.) The phrase has since been applied to anything which specialists recognize as popular myth or error. There are numerous instances in art history. Some are misconceptions fostered by Hollywood distortions, as in the case of people who are convinced that Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of Van Gogh in Lust for Life is historically reliable. Others are caused by overemphasis on selective portions of the historical record, as in the case of the negative critical reception of early Impressionism. (For revision of the latter, see Paul Hayes Tucker, “Monet and the Bourgeois Dream,” in Benjamin Buchloh, et al, eds., Modernism and Modernity: The Vancouver Conference Papers).

KITSCH: Variously translated as “artistic rubbish” or “gaudy trash,” kitsch derives from an old German word meaning “to throw together,” according to some dictionaries. The word thus means any artwork which is thrown together chiefly to satisfy popular taste, rather than to state anything of high moral value or to advance a new aesthetic. In “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review (1939), Clement Greenberg wrote that “Kitsch…welcomes and cultivates…insensibility…and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations…. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times.” That is, much of what popular culture preferred — plastic Madonnas, Disneyland, Muzak, hamburger stands shaped like hamburgers — is what Greenberg dismissed. Since Dada and Pop Art succeeded in making use of the imagery and materials of daily life, however, the boundary between kitsch and high art has become increasingly indistinct. Some artists, like Jeff Koons, quite consciously manipulate kitsch, although critics seem divided as to the significance of their actions.

KNOWLEDGE: See epistemology. In Lacanian contexts, “knowledge” is ambiguous: it can indicate knowledge within the Imaginary (from the original French connaissance), or it can indicate knowledge within the Symbolic (from the original French savoir), neither of which means “knowledge” in the common sense of being objectively right or wrong about a thing.

KNOWLEDGE TESTING: See translation.

KRISTEVAN: Pertaining to the ideas of French thinker Julia Kristeva, herself influenced strongly by Lacanian ideas, and her followers. See author, disruption, grammatology, intertextuality, jouissance, other, semanalysis, semiotics, signifiance, signifying practice, split subject, unary subject.

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