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On the question of painting

Ulus Baker

(Ünal Nalbantoğlu’yla birlikte verdiği Sociology of Fine Arts and Music

dersinin ders notları)

I came to think on mimesis via the conception of “truth in/ through

art.” It was Adorno who firstly let me think about mimesis. Hence
mimesis matters for me with respect to its being a utopian stice
whereby object- subject relation is redeemed. As I remember, mimicry
in nature is that imitating organism comes into oneness with its
habitat, or that it imitates a fearfull animal in order to conceal itself in
the face of enemies; it lets itself to be absorbed by its external world,
by imitating its shapes and colors. To an observing gaze, there is no
difference between the imitating organism and its external world. What
seems to be of significance, in terms of working, seeing or interpireting
art, is the latter condition claimed to be created by mimetism.

Mimesis was representing a stance toward a reality that was different

from the rigid split of subject and object introduced by enlightenment.
It would eliminate the very source of violence based on epistemological
triad of object- subject- concept inherited from western identity logic.
The latter is replaced by the conceptual triad of non- identity-
reconciliation- utopia in / through art. For Adorno, aesthetic experience
is defined by its two salient peculiarities: it does not dominate its
object in its treatment of them, and it excludes itself from the realm of
instrumentality. It is ruled by affinity and sensuality. Therefore, it was
only art what overcomes this condition by reconciling inner and outer
nature, object and subject, sensuous and imaginative.

Art was to achive its projection of reconciliation through decisive

negation, the experience of elucidating the defining antinomies of
aesthetic and social phenomena, because its language is mimetic
instead of being conceptual. Mimesis is an experience whereby things
are able to show themselves as how they are, instead of being
expressed as subjectively; it gives irrational impulses which are the
traces of nature suppressed by the civilization process. To put it other
words, what has been lost in this process is the capacity to view the
nature mimetically or fraternally. As long as the mimetic impulse is
emancipated, it becomes “the non-conceptual affinity of a subjective
creation with its objective and unposited other.” To be “like” the other
is no longer supressed. Being “a refuge of mimetic behavior” in the
face of prevailing repression and ruthless domination of nature, art
work anticipates a condition of reconciliation.(Adorno 1984: 79- 80,

Being one of the constituents of art, expression is mimetic just as the

expression of living creatures is the expression of suffering. Mimetic
behavior works in a way of imitating something but of assimilating
itself to that something. The task of works of art is to realize this
assimilation. “They do not imitate the impulses of an individual in the
medium of expression, much less those of the artist himself. If they do,
they immediately fall prey to replication and objectification of the kind
which their mimetic impulse reacts against.”

“Works of art do not lie; what they say is literally true,” writes Adorno.
On the other hand, he makes work of art correspondent to an enigma
that is a riddle or puzzle designating potential solution instead of
absolute or explicit one. “If you want the absolute, you shall have it,
but only in disguise.” Again, what makes work of art enigmatic is its
truth content being attainable only non-discoursively and mimetically.
Hence its response to the question of “are you telling the truth?” is
non-answer. (Adorno 1984: 183, 185)
It is in this sense that, referring to the imitating animal, one might say,
both artists and receptors could be simultaneously active and passive.
Regarding artist, s/he active while s/he is imitating. Coming face to
face with a receptor, however, s/he is passive, for s/he is exposing
questions and “vision” of receptor. Hence, in the latter case, receptor is

Expressionism is seen as if it is exempted from receptors vision, seeing

or pregiven conceptions. The current itself was avidly supporting for
pure and abstract subjectivity which aims to work without any
convention in a way of totally refusing the domain of accessible and
the notion of replication of external world. It was seeking to “achieve
the undistorted manifrestation of real psychic states.” (Adorno 1984:

However, it should note that, thought with Spinoza’s monism or

Lacan’s Mobius Stripe, there is no pschy or internal, and external that
is free from each other. As known, while Descartes was trying to define
body and mind as radically not to be reconciliable, Spinoza defines
body and mind as different aspects of the same substance; mind is
body’s mind, and in turn, body is an extention of mind, as well. The
whole of body is either a function of its own formal patterns and
internal constructions or of “external” effects and other bodies. In
Mobius Stripe model of Lacan, on the other hand, bodies and minds are
not two seperated substance or two different forms of the same
substance. By the way of a kind of turning or inversion, mind moves
into body and body into mind. Also, internal and external spheres of
the subject in intermingled by the same way.

In this regard, I think, expressionist painting, too, can not be excluded

from the others. More, when any painting is brought in the face of any
receptor, it would be bombarded by conventional questions and
interpretations, as Derrida emphasised, in a way of constructing a kind
of interpicturality similar to intertextuality; what painting is saying is to
be detected through questions. The painting, be it expressionist or
illusionist or impressionist, would be interlaced to the external world
by those questions and interpretations. More, painting or any kind of
art work can not escape from objectification or conceptual mediation,
no matter to what extend it presents or experience mimesis.