The Art of Saying Nothing

Mel Bochner’s text based artworks have intrigued me from the beginning of this subject. His thesaurus painting collections consist of lines of synonyms, or repetitions of the same word in often bold, vibrant colours. I find their graphic, geometric and structural nature very appealing.

So simple in their nature, yet very visually captivating, and also somewhat mentally stimulating. As with most of my approaches at the beginning of this subject, I tried so hard to think about what each one ‘meant’ or what kind of message it was trying to convey. Which is where I was so wrong.

(Bochner) reflected on introducing text into his work. “The viewer should enter the idea through a visual or phenomenological experience rather than simply reading it.”

That is, it is not so much about the ‘meaning’ behind the words, but instead the process behind the creation of the artwork. Which is what conceptual art is all about, right? I was still rather confused by this notion, so I did some more research into Bochner himself, and what he was really trying to achieve.

“He believes painting can say something, but what his have to say is almost not worth listening to”.  Bochner’s experimental ideas break away from the “norms” of the Abstract Expressionism of the early 1960’s, as well as what we perceive traditional art to be. He encourages us to look at the artwork, rather than read the words themselves. “My feeling was that there were ways of extending, or re-inventing visual experience, but that it was very important that it remain visual,”


For our first task, one of my original ideas was to have people from all different languages and backgrounds write down a word that they associated with a word I gave them. For example: happy, or sad, or scared, etc. Each written word would be different, based on a personal interpretation, but it would aesthetically come together as one artwork. The added dimension of different languages I thought would give more depth to the project. However, I eventually decided against, due to the restrictions with materials.

But then last week, I wrote about how I was inspired by creating a large scale artwork based on a series of aggressive and dynamic photographs (diagonal patterns) to create a very bold aesthetic. Only today did it occur to me that combining the two may just be a very interesting process. A abstraction of one of Bochner’s large-scale thesaurus artworks could be very feasible, by extending the creation of the artwork to the audience itself, and encouraging participation from a large range of ethnicities.

Instead of a 20×20 grid of photographs, how about a large grid of words; with a bold and vibrant appearance, and curated by the audience?

Featured Image: “Mel Bochner” by Sergio Calleja (Life is a trip), licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Published by susiealdermann

Fifth Year Bachelor of Communications and Media/ Bachelor of International Studies (Dean's Scholar) student

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