Words put together in agreed order forms a language. If we were to put the words in some non-agreed order we probably wouldn’t understand each other. Or if we were to meet a person who would speak our words put in chaotic order we would probably call him crazy or a poet. To call something a language it has to have syntax to distinguish meaningful expressions from mere sequences of words and semantics to provide a notion of truth and to distinguish true statements from false statements. Usually normal languages have grammar, which serves as the logical base for the language. In the beginning of last century many linguistic theories believed that to learn the language one would only have to learn the grammar, -and the vocabulary, of course, and then one could speak the language. It was thought that every word represents one instance or object. Like the word computer brings us an idea of a computer. But in the late 20th century there has been many arguments about that fact, because language is alive, it is a tool we use in many different ways and it has many notations that grammar cannot tell. Like all the different kinds of meanings for one word, the meaning of the word changes when the intonation changes; one word can have different meanings in spoken language etc.
Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the famous of philosophers who studied language and the use of language. To Wittgenstein the meaning of philosophy was to study language, he believed that from language philosophy would find all its answers.
Wittgenstein philosophy has two different stages, first one stated in Tractatus logico-philosophicus and the second one born out of it years later and which in fact is quite the opposite to Tractatus, although they share similarities. In Tractatus Wittgenstein rejects Russels, and logical positivisms and states that philosophy can not have the means of science, that philosophy can not be studied by the means of empirical research. No, philosophy is not a science of discovering something unknown; it is not about forming theories and then empirically studying them to be right or wrong and then correcting them, like the paradigmatic process of natural sciences does. It is about language and looking what is language. It is so to speak above or below science. John Hyman states in a book Wittgenstein, theory and the Arts :” Wittgenstein argues in the Tractatus that a language is a system of representation. Words are combined to sentences to form pictures or models of possible states of affairs in the world. Every meaningful sentence can be dissolved by analysis until its only constituents are logical expressions (such as ´not´ and ´and´) and simple unanalyzable names. Each of these names corresponds to an object [in reality] whose name it is. The syntax of a name i.e. the ways In which it can and cannot be combined with other names to form a sentence, reflects the essential nature of the object which it names, i.e. the ways it can and cannot be combined with other object to form a state of affairs. Hence a meaningful combination of words corresponds to possible combination of objects. If the arrangement of the simple names concealed in a sentence corresponds to the actual arrangement of the objects, which they name, then the sentence is true. If not, it is false.
In Tractatus Wittgenstein’s says that only meaning of language is to ´picture ´or describe reality. So then the goal of philosophy is to discover this system, the principles of logical syntax that govern the combination of unanalyzable names into pictures of possible state of affairs.
In his later work Wittgenstein came to discover that actually his formulation in Tractatus was actually a theory, which he says is not a way of philosophy. It was theory in two ways; firstly it reduces language to a system of pictures (unalayzable names) and to logical expressions. Secondly neither the system of language nor the reality to which this system supposedly corresponds is visible to ordinary language user. They are something that must exist, a theoretical postulate.
In his later philosophy Wittgenstein became to realize the complicated nature of language, still the main idea of Wittgenstein later philosophy remains; that the quest of philosophy was to study language. That all questions would be answered inside the system of language, that in language there was everything open to view. Ludwig Wittgenstein points out in his later linguistic philosophy that language use is thoroughly interwoven with human behavior. When a child learns a language he or she does not just learn the meaning of word but patterns of behavior within which the use of the word makes sense. Wittgenstein famously compared language to a toolbox containing many different tools. Language is used to give and obey orders, report speculate, sing, guess, joke, ask, thank, curse, greet and pray among many other things. As one of the students of Wittgenstein now distinguished philosopher G.H von Wright puts it: “ To learn a first language is not to be given a catalogue of names of objects and perhaps some rules for correct speech. It is to grow up to take part in life of community, to learn ´how to do things with words´; calling persons, asking for objects and for help, reacting to commands and warnings, answering questions – at a later stage also describing things and events and speaking about what is immediately at hand in space and time.”
All in all language is maybe not so simple thing constituting of just grammar and words, but is more of a interwoven tool in us, which we have learned to use in many different ways.
Is painting language?
When the question of language comes to painting things tend to get even more complicated. Painting does not really have a grammar nor does it have a syntax nor semantics in traditional sense. And how is it possible to define a language then? Still there are many different theories for and against painting as language.
Ben R. Tilghman argues in his essay Language and painting, border wars and pipe dreams against painting as language. He defends his argument by analyzing theory and then the theory of painting as language. According to Tilghman the way philosopher’s work is to make theories, specially when they are looking at art. Tilgham continues that philosophers of art, specially those in twentieth-century have argued that theory of the arts is required to identify works of art, and also that a satisfactory theory of art should provide criteria and standards of artistic values as well. Then Tilgham goes to clarify what is a theory, or proper theory and where it is derived from. He stresses the importance that theory is born out from practice; the theories in science are formed and tested in practice –they are not simply abstract formulations. Theory is needed in science, we couldn’t build machinery, or bridges without a theory of mechanics, but do we need theory to understand art, and to be more specific whether a theory of language is needed to understand art? I must add that from these bases and from here forward it can be seen that Tilghman takes quite tight and analytical road to study this question. Even still such a contrary opinion is refreshing and gives arise for new thoughts. Tilghmans essay continues by stating L.S. Adams: A picture is worth lot more than a thousand words. No amount of words can describe an image or an object exactly, whether it is a picture, a sculpture, or work of architecture. This is because words constitute one kind of language an imagery another, thereby creating a need for translation. Tilghman starts analyzing the thesis of the quoted text from Adams, that words cannot describe art exactly and art is a kind of language. He goes wondering how it would be to describe painting perfectly, would it be something like me telling to my friend that there is a hideous painting in the new exhibition, the one with yucky colors which make you sick? And my friend goes to the exhibition and recognizes the painting immediately, coming back to me and saying that it was exactly as I described it. Or would it be something like slicing the painting in small frames, coding each frame, like a matrix, in a way computers deal with pictures, and then give the exact code to someone? Probably theorists would reject that this wasn’t what they had in mind. Then well, what do the theorist then have in mind? What would be describing the artwork perfectly? Because the theorists haven’t specified the exact description, and since we cant know that, Tilghman argues that the first part of thesis sheds no light to us at all on how we do in fact talk about and describe pictures, nor the point doing so. Then Tilghman goes to the second part of thesis, that words and imagery constitute two different kinds of language. First he says that even though there is so many language-describing expression in art, such as “This artist has something to say”, He made a statement with that painting” and “ she exploited the vocabulary of cubism in her work” that there is something implausible when thinking art as a language. If art is a language, then how do you say “where is the toilet?” in art? So art is not that kind of language, but which kind of language is it then?
Tilghman notes that painting does not have the characteristics needed for language, it does not have semantics nor syntax. And if in some cases we could call painting as language these particular cases cannot be generalized.
Another approach to painting as language is given to us by Ferdinand De Saussure. His philosophy, which later was developed to semiotics, language is thought as a code for expressing thoughts. Language itself is a system of signs and sign is defined as a union of meanings and what calls sound-images; both which are said to be psychological entities. Example would be when two people are talking to each other. In the brain of the speaker a sound-image is associated with a concept. Spoken this triggers reversal process in the listener and the sound-image is transferred to the same concept, or concept very similar to it. Simplified the theory is that the meaning of a word is what it is associated with, what it refers to. So the word gets it meaning from standing for something. Tilghman explains it this way:” In this theory, words are thought of as signs and we must suppose that they are thus one with billboards, stoplights, darkening clouds and a host of other things. Now apply that idea to paintings. Paintings represent things, and it is tempting to say that in that way they refer to them. Given that temptation we may as well that in that respect pictures are like words of language, not to mention advertising hoardings, traffic light and all the rest. They are presumed to acquire their meaning in just the same way.” The problems then are that if the theory of signs is to have value it must show that there is unity among the range of apparently different things it is willing to call signs. And that the unity must be found in relation between the sign and what it means, and furthermore the relation must be true to all signs.
Here we can remember what I wrote earlier about Wittgenstein, because he says that the words in our language have many different uses, comparing the language to a toolbox. Wittgenstein named the vast characteristics language uses to language games meaning that the many different ways we use language still does have rules, like games have and also that playing a game is human activity embedded in human life and so is language. Wittgenstein says in Philosophical investigations :” Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations. –For someone might object against me: ´You have taken the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language…. ´
And this is true. –Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, -but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of these relationships, that we call them all language.”
Now looking the general theory of signs in a light of Wittgenstein’s note we come to see the problems of such theory. These problems become even more clear when applying them to painting, a women drawn in painting stands out for, or can stand out for, something completely different than the women pictured in a door of public toilette. No general laws of signs can be made to painting thus making the general theory of signs kind useless when talking about painting and painting as language.
It seems that it is difficult to categorize painting to be a language. When we consider language in traditional terms. But as all the words have so many meanings so does the word language have many meanings. And when we speak about painting as language we do get some kind of picture what it is. Maybe it used because we want to communicate what we see and feel when looking at art. We want to share that experience to other, and to be able to communicate, discuss about it. Just as well we want to discuss other happenings, experiences we have had during our day, or life. For me painting is kind of language, it makes sense to talk about my own work as an artists and also about other peoples work in that way. It might be that we don’t need a theory of painting as language, or that we need as much of them we can get; language of painting is changing, it is not fixed and it has even more implications and games associated with it than normal language in itself.