by Stefan Arteni

On Painting
Otherwhere Otherwise
Painting, Image Likeness
A Wandering Journey
Painting Calligraphy
Painting as Polycontexturality






Sol Invictus Press

    Chinese Society for Aesthetics Congress
    [Aesthetics and Culture: East and West],
    Beijing, October 2002

There is writing when signs combine to
form a graphic code.

Georges Jean

Pictorial knowledge of the world is represented mentally in
terms of fine-grained structures that are distinct from
linguistic representations, although interfaced with them (Paivio).

Pictorial elements per se, in Far Eastern literati painting, and
pictorial elements in pictographic/picto-ideographic script,


are often interchangeable. Traditionally, the same brushstrokes
are used, so that a similarity of marks offers itself despite the different formal context: the iconic pole, the pictorial representation
of the prototypical member of the category represented by the
word in the cultural code, dominates the vision of the calligrapher.

Every graphematic sign carries an a priori iconic sense,
regardless of its word role and phonetic/sound value.
Writing and reading are handled separately by the brain.
Reading involves recognition (Caramazza). Writing involves
retrieving and generating the parts from memory, recurrent
construction (Lee). The artist tends to reverse the inverse
relation of presence and absence, where, to appear semantically,
a sign must disappear materially – the phonetic metaphor where
the iconicity of the sign is neutralized -, as the artist is seduced
by the signifier, instead of by the message (Jean Abelanet’s
"signs without words"). In fact, the word usually anchors the
meaning of the graphic sign, countering the terror of the
uncertain signifier (Barthes), iterability being a prerequisite for
any symbolic order (Manfred Frank).

The reality of the artwork generates the
possibility of the possible.

Martin Heidegger

Play proceeds within limits of time and space
in a visible order, according to rules freely
accepted, and outside the sphere of necessity
or utility. It can usually be repeated… Once played…
it endures as a new-found creation…it
becomes tradition… repetition and alternation
are like the warp and woof of a fabric.

Johan Huizinga

Poiesis (to make, to do, imagination projecting order into
reality) is fingere (to fashion, form, invent): the icon uses
the user (Miller). Ambiguities toy with and are conjured up by
the pictorial. Graphic rhetoric creates new beings, free
variations come to life, a sign appears as two, two signs appear
as one: the playing field of the icon.

Connections and consequences that were neither intended nor
expected emerge from the association of signs (Castoriadis):
the controlled accident. The iconic sign has randomness and
chance built into it (Angenot): an introversive semiosis, which
signifies itself, and is indissolubly linked with the artistic function
of sign-systems (Jacobson).

The basic rule provides a minimal framework stressing the
primacy of play rather than the activity of the player (Gadamer):
conspicuousness and occultation of the sign.

The play is in us: we are the play and we
are impatient to show it to you. You see,
we’ve been neglected.

Luigi Pirandello

The brushmark lays on the paper the internal
tension of form, never its enveloping

Jean Pierre Jouffroy

Formal syntactic organization de-signs: visual focussing
(emphasis through the creation of deliberate or undeliberate
attention centers), attention games through the variegated
manipulations of the power of the icon (size, proportions, signs
transposed to give a more pleasing Gestalt) and of the
materiality of the sign (Assmann), iconic associations where
perceptual devices are intertwined.

Where most signs are clearly pictographic in origin, the
writing system is a mnemonic device, it does not fully
represent the spoken language, much that would be obvious
to a native is not implicitly supplied or indicated in the
writing (Hayes): a skeletal notation (Chadwick), e.g.
Sumerian cuneiform.

While hieroglyphs have strong iconicity (although cursive
hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic are progressively more
abstract), sinitic characters have a summarized Gestalt. Still,
even in the most schematic cases, one is in the realm of the

The attraction of the pictorial makes calligraphy an
open system- a system whose design permits the construction
from a limited number of elements, the strokes, of infinitely many
complexes (Vaihinger)- where the iconicity is much reduced
and the character may be unreadable (a creative abduction
producing a gestaltically elegant universe), and/or there is a
personal script-idiolectal universe (Goldwasser), and/or
stylistic cross-references, e.g. to Zao Wu Ki’s ink
abstractions or De Stael’s ink drawings.

When chaos unfolds, the method of the single
brushstroke, used by the Gods, is born.
The setting up of this method creates a
method from non-method… the universe
in one, perfectly executed, brushstroke.


Drawing a white space where absolutely nothing
is drawn- that is the most difficult thing…

Ike no Taiga

Past and future are present by not being present.
The artist structures difference according to a rule of
disparity – a paradoxical coincidentia oppositorum which exhibits
the dynamic tension between the Far Eastern and European
traditions, a priori frameworks, each with its distinct
presuppositions: an intercivilizational encounter and
interresonance, an absolute present that is existentially
eschatological, Nishida’s place of nothingness.

The artist creates a whole which satisfies his
standard/framework of appreciation. The viewer should dwell
in the artwork by the same standards, as there may be a
logical gap when the viewer ignores the work’s own rules.
Calligraphy becomes an object diverted from utilitarian use,
an object to be looked at rather than read (Le Goff).

If you will beckon, in graylike
Open tremble corrupted
All vestiges
That the void does not swallow.

Annulled is thence gesture,
All voices fall silent,
Returns to its wellspring
The barren existence.

Eugenio Montale

‘Pure black’, powerful color of total solitude,
plenitude of nothingness, perfection
of the void.

Paul Valery

The hand creates marks, which are signs that do not depend
directly on the development of language, e.g. Heidegger’s pictographic
where the crossing out/through symbolizes the fourfold.

The hand has its language in which expression refers to
sight (Leroi Gourhan), acts and motions whereby a certain
structure can be produced, a world of gesture and not of the
written word. Art is in execution.

Any system of writing is affected in its external form by the
writing material used: the formal vocation of the
material (Focillon) used according to its nature. The brush
is not an instrument as such but one’s own extension.

The artist’s intensified interest is projected onto the tools and
process of writing, beyond the semantic message itself, e.g.
the use of ink, brush, and paper in sinitic and japanese
calligraphy, or the use of a stylus held at an angle and of
clay tablets in cuneiform writing, the simplest mark being
usually a wedge-shaped groove, not unlike the knife marks
of side inscriptions used in Far Eastern seal cutting.

The drop of ink, kinsman of sublime night.

Stephane Mallarme

© 2001 Stefan Arteni
& Myriam Arteni
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