The Power of Visual
Visual art is in fact more powerful than words. On first entering a gallery or exhibition, the viewer is immediately touched and tickled by shape and colour. The viewer's mind is provoked into immediate action and is forced to dance along the intense expression created by its creator and make sense of its contents. Some would say it’s easy to argue this point, but difficult to provide evidence. I look to Dutch painter Piet Mondrian for support.
Mondrian’s Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow (1930, Kunsthaus Zurich, 45 cm x 45) first illustrated to me the power art can have over words. He proves, through his grid painting, that art can be the immediate mediator between spiritual and physical realms. Mondrian’s painting is a direct representation of the philosophical thought set up by Steiner in his ‘Anthroposophy society’. The grid-like form he adopts, where primary colours and vertical and horizontal lines exist in harmony with one another against the white canvas, expresses the philosophical ideology that opposites coexist in harmony. The primary colour, simplistic black line, and plain white background both emphatically and visually evoke Steiner’s philosophical thought further through its stripping back of colour and composition to a raw and authentic geomatical pattern. here, through Mondrian’s visual expression, the philosophy is made more impactful and real through art.
I’ve experienced this first-hand with Rothko’s colour paintings. The viewer, once engaged by his intense and vibrant colour application, is enveloped by the vast size of the canvas. As Baal-Teshuva explains, you, the viewer, "become the colour, you become totally saturated with it". In the face of art, the viewer is forced to live and breathe the contents of the artwork, to venture into the canvas and it is here that the viewer is emotionally connected and impacted by the art in question. Kandinsky also highlights the extent of art’s power over words; he states, "Colour is a power which directly influences the soul". Where words lack colour, art succeeds.
The mind cannot help but visually enter the world of the image or artwork before them — it is a natural human reflex. Words on the other hand, are less easily successful in impacting the reader. One must stop for a moment and take some time — something which feels almost archaic in our busy day-to-day lives — to read and translate the words into something that contains actual meaning. Whilst art has an immediate impact on its viewer, through vibrant colour, shape or form, words remain static, praying to be engaged with.
St Andrews can itself be viewed as a type of artwork. The buildings of St Andrews display a multi-coloured palette of architectural styles ranging from Gothic revivalism to brutalism. Its cobbled streets, castle ruins, and stone buildings evoke a timeless and cosy atmosphere where St Andrews students are privileged to reside. It is attuned to the welfare of students, and there is no doubt as to why St Andrews’ student satisfaction is so high. When you are next walking through the streets of St Andrews, do have a proper look around, for you are, in a sense, constantly surrounded by the beauty of art.
Of course, a landscape like the town of St Andrews or an artwork can be just as demanding as words. the viewer, on immediate confrontation, is still requested to make sense of the shifting forms and colour displayed before them. But artwork has a more immediate and direct impact.
Now don’t get me wrong, words can also, of course, leave an imprint on the mind of their reader. I will admit that the last words of Toni Morrison's 'Sula' do continue to circle around my mind: "It was a fine cry - loud and long - but it had no bottom, and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow". Again, the words of Michael Morpurgo made the 8-year-old me cry when the horse thunder died on the mountainside in his bestselling novel 'War Horse'.
But again, words lack the t immediate impact and confrontation provided by art and landscape. They lack a sense of colour and the intense emotion expressed by the creator? Oscar Wilde states, "art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known", and I agree.