Art v. Language

The debate rages on over at Comixpedia. Despite the baseless personal attacks against me and totally mischaracterization of my positions, I’m grateful for the help its lent in clarifying my ideas. I think that my articulation of the “Art vs. Language” issue was done clearer than I’ve ever done before, so I’m reposting it here:

I believe that the mentality of conventionality for creating graphic images is actually the predisposed nature for ALL humans. The cognitive preference for everybody is for imitation. The human mind is a pattern receiving/making machine, whether you’re Japanese, American, Arrernte, Warlpiri, French, Chinese, Somalian… whatever.

The “cultural force” I speak of (that I call “Art”) works against that natural inclination for conventionality that is naturally wired into all people by insisting on individuality of drawing style. The evidence that this influence exists is right in the quandry from the very first post of this thread, which is why I commented on it.

A community is a collection of individuals. Each of those individuals responds to the balance between conventionality and the Art pespective in different ways (probably more like a gradient, but discrete here for clarity):

1. Some use conventionality to a maximal degree and don’t care about individuality at all (though as a unique individual mind there is always some degree of individuality).
2. Some embrace conventionality to a high degree and mark out their individuality in small and fine-grained ways.
3. Others make huge breaks with conventionality to create styles that hardly look like any other person or group at all.

Cultures are created by the collection of these communities composed of individuals. Various communities and cultures respond to all of the things I’ve described above in different ways, based on the choices the individuals make in response to the stimuli around them (both graphic stimuli and community attitudes). Some may respond more like #1, some may do more like #2, and some more like #3. These responses happen in all cultures, distributed in different ways: in America, in Japan, in Australia, in France… all of them. In no culture will every single person follow any one type of tendency, so long as the influence of Art is present in that culture (which is just about everywhere at this point).


  • Neil, I just recently came across something that you might find interesting, and this post reminded me of it. I’ve been doing a lot of research for a biographical comic script I am writing, and have spent a lot of time looking at children’s books and educational books from the 19th century, and in process came across a book called The American Drawing Book, by Chapman. In it, he has some VERY fascinating arguments very similar to what you are saying, I think. He makes an argument that children should all be taught to draw, much like we all teach children to read and write, and basically parallels it to being this kind of inherent faculty, much like we now think of language, one that without development in those essential, early stages, kind of only flounders at best when attemping to develop it later. Furthermore, he makes really fascinating arguments why we should do so – one of my personal favorites is how he associates this sense of nationalism with it, by saying that if we have this generation of workers who have cultivated this faculty of drawing in the way he is promoting, then it will have these seemingly small consequences, such as creating industrial designers who could quickly sketch out something a client might hire him to do, and so forth, and in turn will only help the American economy. (I’m pretty sure this book was written right on the cusp of American industrial boom, so you can see how this might be a good selling point). It’s fully scanned online here. That entire resource is fascinating, actually. Anyway, that’s all – though sometime I’d love to chat your ear off about the Keats poem, and more specifically, the whole concept of translating poems into the comic medium. (My BA specialized in linguistics, but my MA, and most of my academic work, is in creative writing, leaning more towards poetry than anything, and hopefully I’m about to start PhD work in a hybrid track of both). Anyway, it’s a subject I’ve long been contemplating, and have yet to really feel “comfortable” with, as far as my own thoughts on it, namely having to do with the difference between “illustrating” a poem and “writing” a poem in comic form – and if can even truly be done.

  • Thanks for the source Daniel. I’ll try to take a look sometime once I have a chance.

    As for the Keats poem, I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Stay tuned though, because I have a second version with a different interpretation in store as well!

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