Deleuze and Painting: Music and the Figure

Much of Gilles Deleuze’s work reflects his interest in pure semiology and power structures. However, particular examples in his sole-authored work explore the abstractions of his theoretical oeuvre through close and vivid analysis of artworks themselves, most notably in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Deleuze’s reading of the paintings draws in part on the painter’s interviews with David Sylvester, a perspective expressed in language that could not be less un-Deleuzian, and yet captures some of the essential motifs that go to the core of Deleuze/ Guattari’s characterization of ‘Schizophrenia’: the ‘body without organs’, sensation as an alternative to representation, and conformity to prevailing hierarchies such as those manifest in capitalist systems. Deleuze develops numerous concepts through his reading of Bacon’s figurative paintings, especially that of the ‘figure’, an entity distinct from the figurative, or that which represents. The concept of ‘figure’ is a complex one, but relates only in part to the fact that Bacon mainly painted (human) figures. Deleuze himself suggests that those few paintings that do not depict a human or animal figure — such as the series of paintings from the mid/late 1980s that includes the two versions of Jet of Water (1988), or Blood on the Floor (1986)— are nonetheless figural in the sense he intends. This opens up the possibility that other art forms, such as music, can also incorporate the figural according to Deleuze and Bacon’s particular understanding of sensation. Moreover, Deleuze’s writings on music (and in particular his concept of the refrain) are arguably less persuasive, and certainly less focused on actual artefacts (as opposed to abstract theory) than his discourse on Bacon. This paper explores how Deleuze’s critique of Bacon’s works can usefully enable discussion of the related concepts of figure, sensation, and force in music, with reference to the music of Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943) and other contemporary composers who have either expressed specific interest in Bacon or Deleuze’s work or whose artistic outputs suggest that this conceptual framework might offer useful interpretative insights.

When Ontologies Collide in Artistic Research

This is not a formal academic paper but a seminar offered as an occasion where artists and philosophers can discuss the relationship between Deleuze and examples of artistic research, with a view to identifying some of the openings and obstacles created by the relationship. I am a philosopher based in an art school (in Cardiff, Wales, UK) interested in the philosophy of artistic research. I am not a Deleuzian but am interested in the reasons why Deleuze’s work has become so influential for artistic research. At the centre of my interest is how we think about producing, experiencing, and evaluating artistic research in Deleuzian terms. For it seems that three factors come into play at this point, but the way in which they interact is far from straightforward.

Deleuze’s philosophy operates through an extensive vocabulary of technical terms that draw upon and take issue with the history of philosophy in the interests of defining an ontology. Art is assigned a specific power within the ontology.

However, art is already determined by a large number of histories and theories, many of which have been absorbed as immediate, subjective responses—for example, ideas informed by representation, expression, metaphor. An account, such as Deleuze’s, that gives art a specific ontological status is going to be at odds with these. How do we produce, experience, describe, or evaluate a work of art when conflicting ontologies are at play?

There is the question of art as research and the tensions that arise once the contest between art and knowledge is acknowledged. A Deleuzian framework might assist here, on account of its emphasis on art’s relationship with other domains and its metaphysics of becoming. But the question remains of how a theory of knowledge can be extracted from Deleuze, and how it differs from or goes beyond Nietzsche’s already iconoclastic epistemology and use of metaphor.

The seminar will be devoted largely to discussion. I will give a ten-minute introduction in which I set out the questions above with reference to two or more pieces of research from artist-researchers who are exhibiting or performing at “The Dark Precursor.” Permission to discuss works will be sought from the artist-researchers concerned, but I shall also have representations of Deleuzian artistic research available as stand-by references. This means that the art-research works will supply the percepts and affects (and concepts too, arguably) that impinge upon the concepts used in philosophical discussion.

The seminar is offered in the spirit of collaboration, and is motivated by the contention that there is not enough looking at art and artistic research in ontological terms. Due to philosophy’s reluctance to engage with the particularity of the senses (Deleuze might be an exception), and also because, as academics and artists, we increasingly see ourselves as “deliverers of content,” the value of listening, looking, responding, and drawing aesthetic judgement into philosophical thinking and attending to what emerges when one form collides with another is often overlooked.