All arts serve to tell stories. Always surprising in different ways.
We saw in chapter 3 (1) that building a stone ax means taking out the edge that remains hidden in a particular stone. Because the edge of a knife or an ax puts in view (and to the touch) the hardness of that stone and its effects. Hardness is the general property of a material being harder than another. And that property is manifested when that material scratches or cuts another, without being scratched or cut by it.
Human technology has come a long way since the stone ax. Current instruments are made up of many pieces. But its construction remains a process that ends in the finished product.
The construction of an art work is a similar process, but only in appearance. Because art is a language and the process does not end with the completion of the art work; then begins the second part, as important as the first: communication.
Also the everyday language that humans use to communicate socially seems like a construction process, because words are constructed with different sounds and articulated together forming variable expressions to infinity. However, what makes it a language is social communication: the dialogue between interlocutors: one that emits a message and the other that receives it, interprets and responds. And even if he doesn’t respond, he does it with his silence. The paradox of communication between two is that it is impossible not to communicate, because even silence is a message with meaning.
And the same goes for art. Any original or reproduced art work generates a message that consists of two parts: the question and the answer. It is a dialogue between the artist and the viewer.
When the artist builds an art work, he is asking a question. The work of art is itself a question or a series of them, addressed to the spectator. And when a spectator contemplates the work of art or listens to it or reads it, he is redoing that question (and perhaps answering) according to his own life experience.
The process of creating an artistic object belongs to the objective aesthetic. And the process of the spectator or reader, to the existential aesthetic.
The pragnanz of the work of art unites the artist with the viewer making this dialogue possible. The artist making sense in his work; and the spectator getting involved in putting into play the meaning he finds in it according to his own vital experiences.
Pragnanz (2) as remove plastic material
Pragnanz is the essential property of an art work: the value of its aesthetic being. However, in each artistic language the pragnanz exists in a different way, although always by the left hand. It is the opposite of the reason for the right hand, which follows the rules of logic.
In plastic arts, pragnanz is obtained by eliminating expressive matter. That opens up a frame for interpretation possibilities to the viewer.
The architecture seems to consist of building. But in reality it consists of creating habitable spaces for humans. The spectator of an architectural work moves through the interior of the building and also through its exterior, experiencing its habitability.
Also the spectator of a sculpture makes a trip around the sculpture, which can be an initiatory journey of discovery.
And the spectator of an artistic painting also travels through the interior of the painting; because in it he finds a focus of attention and then something else that leads him to travel through the content.
The viewer can always travel inside an art work . If it is a space art, moving by itself within the frame of the work. If it is a poem, a story or a musical work, being carried away in the temporary course of the work itself.
The arts that tell stories, like the novel, theater and dance, use the dialectical triad structure described by the Greek philosopher Aristotle: 1) Presentation, 2) knot and 3) outcome.
Said in philosophical terms of Hegel’s dialectical logic: 1) Being-in-itself, 2) denial or loss of being; 3) the reunion with the lost being.
If the latter is not understood, it does not matter; because there is another way of saying it, that they understand even one year old children: in terms of illusionism: 1) Presentation; 2) Disappearance; 3) Reappearance by magic.
And we would still have another version, that of the 20th century Hollywood: 1) Boy finds girl; 2) Boy loses girl; 3) Boy and girl meet again in a happy The End.
The three-part structure has a nucleus formed by two elements: the first is a situation characterized by repetition, such as the application of a rule. Art has often been confused with this part: this first moment. It is like the right hand performing a routine task, although it is important, it ends up boring.
The second moment is the breaking of the rule: its transgression. Something unexpected that will catch the viewer by surprise.
Pragnanz as a transgression of rules
If in the space the pragnanz is produced by emptying the space of expressive matter, in time it is obtained by establishing rules and breaking them unexpectedly. Although this has almost always been a risk for the artist to go against the tide.
Because throughout the history of art, and in all organized societies, much importance has been given to rules and order. Out of respect to the established social order, the rules were considered sacred. Not only the rules of social behavior, but the rules of official thinking.
The Greek philosopher Plato, famous for his seriousness, wrote that it was necessary to hang any musician who violated the rules of harmony with some combination of “dissonant” notes. Later academies were founded to protect artistic rules, expelling too innovative artists. Even Juan Sebastian Bach in the 18th century was described as “dissonant.” Although shortly after his “dissonances” became almost sacred rules. The same happened in all art academies.
Great artists have always found some slit through which to escape the rules that limited their artistic expression. Freedom is very important in art and in life. And sooner or later life ends up breaking through and freedom too.
The foundation of the transgression is the same that an 8-month-old child (3) uses when he starts throwing his favorite toy into the abyss, waiting for an adult to come to his aid by having it reappear: –Now yes, now yes … Surprise: it’s gone!
It all starts with a situation that seems reasonable, stable and routine like repeated blows on a nail… And, suddenly, when you least expect it, everything changes: the established rule stops working.
This is the basic structure of all narratives and all musical works of art:
1) Stable (routine) situation;
2) Surprise (stability breakdown).
This is not art of beauty: it is existential aesthetic. In real life there are regular times where things happen regularly and without frights. And suddenly, when you least expect, normalcy is broken and you have to face life naked: –All out! Now, let’s see what you do (4). That is as much the core of art, as of any story and also of dramatic real life. That’s why humans (regardless of our degree of sanity) spend their lives telling stories or acting within them.
The artwork is a deconstruction waiting for the spectator
The artistic expression is not the same as the construction of a primitive tool. It is quite the opposite: an investment, a deconstruction of the final result.
In the construction of the tool, the craftsman starts from the pragnanz in the left hand and completes the process with the determination of the right.
A sculptor artist seems to do the same thing, but he does it in the opposite direction: dismantling the construction process, that is, deconstructing it. Michelangelo takes a block of marble and imagines inside David, the young hero who killed the giant Goliath. From that starting point, the sculptor “limits himself” to removing excess material from the marble block, which keeps the imaginary David hidden. That it is not a general idea like the hardness or the edge of an ax: it is a particular, unique and unrepeatable David.
When a spectator contemplates that statue, he inevitably answers the artist’s question: –What is this David telling yourself?
Then the viewer completes the dialogue that the artist had left open. And even if he sees nothing but the signature at the foot of the sculpture, he is already responding.
A work of art is therefore an invitation to the spectator to enter inside the frame (of the marble block – now imaginary – that framed the sculpture) and be driven by their own feelings, by their existential experience. And get engaged and somehow get pregnant with a meaningful life. That is the pragnanz.
That is why art is a cure for dehumanized and dehumanizing reason. I think artists create their work to help us not to go crazy. To find through that work, in ourselves, a meaning to our existence.
Music to find story of myself
Music is, of all the arts, the only one that does not need an object. It helps to find meaning over time. There are some musical works that describe scenes or feelings from the real world. That music is known as programmatic. And when it refers only to the music itself, it is called absolute music.
But I think that the relationship between music and the real or imaginary world is not only the author but also the performers and also every listener. So, there is no absolute music. Because ultimately it will be the listener who adds what is missing. It is what happens in all the arts and in all languages that do not respect the laws of Logic.
The feeling of “regularity” is communicated in music by repeatedly applying the same pattern (rhythmic or harmonic). Listening to that pattern is nice and comfortable; it creates an expectation that is fulfilled … and if it gets too long, it also gets boring.
But before that happens, a variant appears, something unexpected. Not only does the author do it when composing the work: so does the performer or the conductor, by being carried away by the music with his feelings. They are impregnated with emotions; and then, unconsciously but without avoiding it, they introduce slight variations in rhythm, volume, timbre (and in the tone of string, air or percussion instruments). So, when he least expects it, the listener encounters a surprise that breaks his expectations.
On the contrary, if a score is transcribed to MIDI format (5), it becomes direct orders of execution on a MIDI instrument; which strictly follows the durations, intensity, tone and timbre indicated in the score. Everything is absolutely logical and accurate. That reproduction without interpretation lacks any surprise that is not detailed in the score. Then the viewer perceives that something essential is missing, because it is cold and emotionless. It is said then that “it sounds like pianola“. What is lacking in humanity is exactly what is left of logic and technology: dehumanized accuracy in the way of following the score.
The rhythm has a time frame, formed by shakes that occur with a frequency that varies between 60 and 120 per minute, as the human heart beats according to the physical activity and the emotional state of the subject. As we saw in the previous chapter (13), a percussion formed by 3 regular beats is enough to communicate the initial situation of a story. If to that a fourth stronger blow is added followed by a silence, the surprise occurs, because the listener expected a continuation of the regular shakes. And there we already have the core of a story (perhaps fate knocking on the door?), Which can unfold in multiple repetitions with variants capable of taking us on a roller coaster of emotions between fear and joy, calm and frenzy ; which is what happens in the 5th Beethoven Symphony.
A chord formed by at least two simultaneous or sequential notes is enough to induce an emotion.
Intervals (relationship between two notes) and chords (relationship between two or more intervals) induce emotions in many listeners:
– Fifth and fourth Major chords are used in hymns, military marches, celebrations and parties that exalt group membership, survival and victory.
– On the other hand, the interval and chord of minor third (3 semitones: for example C, E flat) is the beginning of many lullabies and also sad songs. How is that ambivalence of proximity and sadness possible? Because it provokes emotions related to the attachment relationship, which admits two opposite possibilities of the same situation: a) empathy in the contact between mother and child produces in both people feelings of tenderness and happiness: b) but the remoteness of the other, or its mere possibility is cause in both of intense anguish and pain. It is an existential situation with two possible exits, almost always present. It is the ambivalence of the feeling of tenderness. That naturally triggers the listener’s pragnanz by getting engaged with his own experiences.
Further shortening the interval to a semitone (for example, do-sustained) in the movie Shark of Spielberg produces an unforgettable emotion of terror, by feeling the proximity and imminence of the threatening teeth of the predator.
Combining such effects, chord progression manages to convey the basic structure of a travel story starting with a tonic chord, through vicissitudes of attachment (minor chords) or bright (major chords), to a dominant chord, from which a happy return up to the home is perceived again in the tonic.
Painting, sculpture and architecture
These artistic specialties are spatial. Therefore, the movement is set by the spectator, looking around (when contemplating a painting) or physically moving around a sculpture; or by the dependencies of a building, gardens. etc. This tour has the meaning of an initiatory journey, because we all descend from emigrants and sooner or later we are forced to march in search of the promised land.
The architecture has a singularity, due to its evident constructive character. The experience of children in manipulating objects from the beginning of their second year of life is fundamental in the development of human language and thought. Children build models of the surrounding world with the objects they have on hand. Speech and thought are true works of architecture, as we will see in the next chapter. That is why a work of architecture fascinates us.
From protolanguage to articulated language
With this we would already have the basic elements to tell a micro-story and communicate with a one-year-old child. Because so far we have seen only basic elements of language and stories: elementary components to form the core of a story: a protolanguage (6). The stories and works of art are much more extensive, potentially to infinity. They require the deployment of diverse elements and their articulation. In human history, that deployment occupied most of its prehistory.
The next chapter Building language and thought is dedicated to this.
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) See: Determination on the right
(2) See: Pragnanz in the left hand
(3) See: Looking for the Lost Being
(4) In a room where there was an exhibition on urban art, Jorge Oteiza proclaimed in his provocative style: Open the doors and everyone to the damn street! Let’s see what you can see out there.
(5) The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) format allows you to convert a score into music into an electronic piano, like today’s electronic keyboards.
(6) See: Beginning of human language