Monday, May 6, 2013

O'Toole - The Language of Displayed Art. Second Edition

This book is astonishing in so many ways, but let's stick with perhaps the most significant. Michael O'Toole's aim in this book is to offer everyone the chance to say what a piece of art means to them. To achieve this, none of us need to spend decades studying the history of art, the influences of different movements on different painters, the changing techniques and tools, or the personal stories, triumphs and tragedies of individual artists so often considered the mainstay of academic art "appreciation." All we need is a framework to translate what we already know into something that we can say. Fortunately, that framework is available to us all, by virtue of having language. O'Toole has taken Halliday's social semiotic framework for language and applied it to visual art, sculpture and architecture. The application works because these art forms have meaning for us all - they are social and semiotic - and so the three 'metafunctions' that work for language also work for art. Halliday has continuously claimed that language simultaneously enacts meaning between people (the interpersonal metafunction) and represents meanings of the world around us (the ideational metafunction) within the bounds of a social context and a textual co-text (the textual metafunction), and has spent many years showing exactly how these meanings are achieved in language. What O'Toole has managed so well is to take the three metafunctions and demonstrate how interpersonal, representational and textual meanings are realised in non-linguistic messages and artifacts. He presents a highly-practical framework of analysis that anyone can use and then demonstrates what an analysis might look like for very different forms and examples of art. The "proof of the pudding" are his highly perceptive but instantly recognisable interpretations of a wide variety of works of art.

Also available as a Goodreads review.

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