Codes, Communication, Art

I love language because it is a code; because it is so malleable. I love watching young people pick it up and turn it into their own code. My Classical Greek professor once said that babes and children create and change language more than adults. I suppose this is because children are still being indoctrinated, don’t know all the rules, make their own. His example was caca, a baby word for shit. Once children becomes expert enough working within the language, I suppose they start working within the code, changing its periphery instead of its nexus.

Where I am now, as a relative adult, I can love language because within this code others can be created, codified, destroyed, reinvented. Simile and metaphor are perhaps the most basic of codes within The Code. Puns, riddles, double entendres – these are, perhaps, the second level of speciation? If I am in a conversation with two people, I can speak one sentence that has vastly different meanings to each person. Or, at least, I can do it if I am sufficiently skilled in creating these codes.

This breaks down when a code is misinterpreted [always a threat] or when a code is only understood by the person creating it. Skill level comes in when a code is created and disseminated. The skill is teaching others how to read the code. Communication is an art, and Art is communication. blah blah blah.

Poetry, painting, sculpture, these are art forms that to a great extent have become estranged from general society because their code is no longer accessible. Or, perhaps, it was not accessible for so long that most people lost interest in it. or maybe its just TV. yeah that sounds fine.

18 thoughts on “Codes, Communication, Art

  1. it isn’t just one code. each work creates its own code.

    and i think perhaps sculpture [for example] isn’t quite as accessible as it used to be because the codes became too obfuscated. if Average Joe looks at a sculpture called ‘Griffin’ that is nothing but a bunch of angular pieces of black metal and does not see the connection, does not ‘get it’ then they will feel stupid, alienated and will dismiss it. If an artist looks at the same sculpture and feels the same way… It is inaccessible to them because the code was not effectively transmitted or explained.

  2. this code you speak of sounds relatively like the hypotheses of the structuralists (i.e. ferdinand de saussure) who suggested that language was, indeed, a structure of coded signifiers and signifieds, a structure that, once someone could crack the code, could be understood as a system of correlations.

    these hypothoses withstood much of the 20th century until gentlefolk like Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes came onto the scene and provided us with a very different portrait of what language seems to be.

    it is, in fact, a manner of seeming. language seems to be a code, it portrays itself as a series of signs and signifiers that seemingly point to other things, or ideas, or concepts. yet, language itself is an organic structure that lives and breathes, evolves as if it is an actual living organism. it begins, if you examine it, to look less and less like a code than it does a living body.

    we are speaking, here, in the language of deconstruction. i suggest, for a deeper understanding of language and its dynamics, you examine post-structuralist texts, most notably, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” by Jacques Derrida. There you will find an analysis that examines the problems that one confronts when considering language as a “coded” structure of “signs.”

    language cannot be so easily reduced to a “system of codes.” it is something else, instead. something not unlike a code, but then again something completely other than a code.

  3. also, your final paragraph seems to suggest that art itself has become a useless commodity, since its “code” has become such a distant relic. that point could be argued, sure, but i think you will find that kind of argument a bit fruitless. you are treading on very dangerous ground there.

  4. i’m gonna work up from the bottom here.

    using the word “obfuscated” isn’t exactly the most un-alienating way of talking about things
    exactly why i used the word. its an example of a code that could be much explained in a much simpler way. ‘muddled’ would have served much better and made things more accessible.

    with poetry [granted i don’t have your background lauren] i suppose the general code would be the different schools of thought. Modernist poets, Beat poets, what have you. i’m not saying poets are inaccessible any longer, but what poets are household names? Maya Angelou, Robert Frost… they are old. Where are the new household poets?What has caused so many people to no longer care about poetry, painting, sculpture? I think it because art has come to mean ‘high art’ something pompous and assuming.

    i’m making no judgments, i am just trying to answer my own questions.

    …we should gear our work to those people who don’t want to actually put some time and effort into understanding a work?

    No, time and effort in understanding a work are fine as long as the work itself gives you all the tools a person needs to understand it.

    A person doesn’t need to know all the references of The Waste Land to appreciate it as a poem.

  5. be careful how you use the term “schools,” as in poetry. Modernism isn’t really a school of poetry. the Modernists would not consider themselves a school. a school doesn’t necessarily consider itself one, outsiders consider a school a school.

  6. epm- i haven’t read any of what you mentioned.

    i’m coming from an anthropological standpoint- people using language as a cultural tool to communicate. i agree that language is a matter of seeming, but if it seems to be a code then it also only seems to be a living thing. i think the signs and signifiers only change because people change them. people alter the tool, change the code. thats what i love language, i can make it mean whatever i want it to mean.

    however, if i make it mean whatever i want it to, and then give no one else a way to interpret or understand it, everything i have done is useless.

    so i suppose, if the estrangement i mentioned in my last paragraph has to do with creating codes within language that no one can understand, then yes i am saying it is useless. not even a commodity. just junk.

    but for the love of god, i’m not saying that art is that way any longer. just that, somewhere along the line a lot of people stopped caring about it.

  7. that is exactly what derrida “deconstructs” in “Structure, Sign, and Play.” he “deconstructs” Levi-Strauss’ anthropological structure for language. indeed, the old anthropological structures for language no longer stand up in the face of contemporary studies, in particular, the works of folks like derrida, paul de man, etc. etc. seriously, the old “language is a code” deomstration has seen better days, theoretically and anthropologically. you must read some derrida to get a taste of some more contemporary thought on such issues. also, one might read the essays of coetzee on the same matters.

    also, lest we forget, it isn’t NOW that suddenly people aren’t caring about art. it has been that way for some time. perhaps since forever. our grand images of the past are the preserved images of the intelligentsia, thus we are always going to have a picture of the past that shows art as a more appreciated commidity. that is like saying, “people in the past read more poery because there are more famous poets in the past then there are now.” that is an utterly untrue statement. in fact, more poets are published today than ever before in the history of man, because there are more publications dedicated to poetry than there were in the old Empire (British). the intelligent people of today will write about art, make art, etc, and this will be preserved for later generations, and people will say “boy, they were really concerned with art at the dawn of the millenium.”

  8. outsiders consider a school a school.

    yeah, that makes sense. french auteur theory in film came about that way.

    the whole ‘Art Brut’ [another needlessly heavily encoded, pompous term] movement is a perfect example too.

  9. it isn’t NOW …preserved images of the intelligentsia…

    ooo. good point.

    alrighty, i’ll try to scrounge up some derrida if i ever get some reading time. good ole levi-strauss.

  10. I’m curious (as someone who likes to write poetry)–what is the alleged “code” that sculpture and paintings and poetry work from that has suddenly become inaccessible and uncrackable?

  11. Plus, this suggests that (for example) all poems function in the same way, with the same sort of “code.” Which doesn’t account for the blurred borders between poetry and prose, for example. And which reduces them down to needing some sorta super-reductive equation to understand them all, one single key that would work to open any and every poem…

  12. so–this is to harvey–you’re basically saying that we should gear our work to those people who don’t want to actually put some time and effort into understanding a work? if that’s the case, then poetry and sculpture would just fall in shambles around our feet. if a person dismisses a work of art just because they don’t understand it immediately, this is that PERSON’S fault, not the fault of the artist. i could just as easily take ANY example of a work of art that you would consider “easily accessible” and “unalienating to the general public” and find SOMEONE who would dismiss it. does this make the WORK ITSELF inferior?
    and if each work shares its own code, then how can you say that the “code of poetry,” for example, has grown inaccessible? this seems to assume that there IS, in fact, sort of code that all poems share, no?
    and i’d like to point out, using the word “obfuscated” isn’t exactly the most un-alienating way of talking about things. should i therefore dismiss YOU? ; )

  13. 1. Obfuscated–I’m sure there’s some people out there who wouldn’t understand what “muddled” meant either. So if you’re going to take THAT approach, where do you draw the line? We’d just have to keep reducing our word choices down to the basics–cat, dog, he, she, walked, ran, ate, etc. And THEN where would poetry/prose be?
    2. The different schools of thought as code–If you are going to argue that each of these schools of thought has its own “code,” then a) you’re contradicting yourself b/c this STILL doesn’t explain what the “general” code of poetry is–just what the sub-codes are, and b) these schools of thought are “codes” placed on a work from outside sources, not codes inherent within the work itself–and each time you lump any work of art into a category (i.e. “he’s a romantic, she’s a beat”), you’ve reduced them down to fitting some sorta of predefined mode just for the sake of understanding them. Not to say that perhaps the beat poets share some sort of commonality in their writing, but to say that it is this “code” that defines them is to miss out on a lot in their work, no?
    3. “The new household poets”–So if you’re to ask me where are the new household poets, I will ask you in return: do you really want to encourage the idea that just b/c something’s a household name, it’s of higher quality? Just b/c Dan Brown (author of THE DA VINCI CODE) has become more of a household name doesn’t make his work ANY better, does it? In fact, his work is rather horrible and over-hyped and yet he IS becoming a household name. If this is what becoming a household name MEANS, then thank god so many poets are hidden in relative obscurity. This is like saying that b/c all pop icons are well-known by everyone, their work is more valuable.
    4. “The tools to understand a work”–perhaps perhaps I would agree with you slightly on this. But you are assuming that just b/c you don’t understand something on a first read, it hasn’t given you the tools. Someone could EASILY overlook the tools that are given to them. AND you are assuming that these tools aren’t in outside sources as well (such as historical info) that perhaps we are too lazy to examine a bit.

  14. yes, but couldn’t the fact that people stopped caring about it be the fault of the PEOPLE and their lack of caring rather than the fault of art itself? i guess that’s MY main point.

  15. i think i’ve got the essay meljac’s talking about at home–if i remember i’ll photocopy it and bring it in for ya.

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