The image in words.

In dutch the word for the crowing of a rooster is kukeleku. The germans use kikeriki and the french cocorico. An anglo-saxon cock crows cock-a-doodle-doo. These words transmit the sound. The real sound of a crowing cock can only be produced by a specimen that is alive or by means of a perfect imitation. These onomatopea are not imitations but interpretations of the sound as heard, within the soundsystem of the given language. Not only the perception of the ear but that of the eye and the touch as well have to deal with the nature of the medium language as soon as they are verbalized.

"The complete issue of a difference between verbal and visual culture makes no sense", wrote the philosopher Patricia de Martelaere in 1993*. "Image and word are equally authentic. What we 'see', both physical and mental, has been structured from the beginning by words. Language determines our image of reality".

I will not deny that the cock-a-doodle of a cock makes an impression that differs from the squealing of the seagull but I tend to blame the delicacy of my hearing rather than our language that neither of the two is experienced by me as birdsong. Likewise 'sight' is first and for all the interpretation of stimuli originating in the three-dimensional world. In the traditional western philosophy the physical world is assumed to be made up of substances that have sensory properties of varied composition. The fact that I am able to perceive light and space is necessary for me to establish where I am. These images of reality are produced largely while stumbling over and crawling up rather than by means of verbal discrimination. It is no coincidence that our responses to the interaction of light and shape are always immediate and general and not the outcome of analysis. They are based on intuition.

"Rather than assuming a communal world of experiences", says PdM, "language itself is our sole communal world of experience. Without language everthing is private, unarticulated and unverifiable." It is somewhat like physical pain. The words 'pain' and 'ache' allow the suffering to be known but fail to make it perceptible. And although the word gives meaning to the world, it takes something from it at the same instance. Naming destroys the inmediate existence of things. The uniqueness and immediacy of the thing is dissolved by language in the generality of speech.

The word kills the uniqueness of the thing. Or, in the words of the poet Marianne De Vos; "We are permanently trying to express something. But what we want to make clear is hardly ever linguistic. The complete reality is written in a non-existent language. Language is allways clumsy. Not just to describe what you see, because what you see is never just what you see. Red (of tulips for instance) is more than a particular color, it is an intensity, it is a contrast with the green of the grass[...], something that is fare more than the anouncement: outside red tulips are in bloom."

According to artists like David Novros language even spoils the experience; " I resist talking about any one aspect of my painting because I don't know how to separate the talk about color‚ or scale or meaning would suggest a kind of compartmentalization that I have spent my time as a painter trying to overcome. There is only the experience of the painting...and for each person it is different."

André Malraux thought of "all seeing as a purposeful action". Maybe the intention of some perception is less the verbalisation than the experience of privacy, the unarticulated or the uniqueness. The 'je ne sais quoi'. "What absolutely can not be said, might exist but we are unable to make use of it", says PdM. " Not socially - we can not communicate it to others -, nor individually - we can not integrate it in our consiousness". Of course, this will be hard to demonstrate.

I myself have a vivid image of a guy I once observed, hands pocketed in his trousers, strolling behind his wife in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum. Apparently 'she' just had enjoyed a course of art because she fluttered lightly ahead in a whirl of recognition. 'He', good-natured followed her lead, held casually his pace at a Cezanne, produced his hand and pointed with his thumb; "Nice thingy", he grinned while resuming his stroll. Sometimes it requiers little breath to integrate a view in the consciousness.

* Essay Patricia de Martelaere; 'De wereld is een woord', 1993
E.H. Gombrich; Kunst en Illusie. 1961
Joke Hermsen

Rotterdam 2014, J.H.