Reconceptualising the Deleuzian Artist: Intention in Art Practice

Niall Kennedy

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 21, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Auditorium
format: in words
practice: philosophy
keywords: de/re-territorialisation

abstract about the author(s)


This paper focuses almost entirely on Deleuze’s only book devoted to the visual arts, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. The question I set myself in the first half concerns the question that led Deleuze to the development of the concept of the “diagram”—in other words, how the artist succeeds in creating new work while existing in an environment already saturated with “old” forms, techniques, and clichés. This is the problem through which I confront the issue of the painter’s “controlling intelligence”—a vexed issue in much of Deleuze criticism. I argue, however, that existing criticism of The Logic of Sensation often misses Deleuze’s emphasis on the preparatory work that Francis Bacon (and other artists) undertook before actually beginning to paint. I argue that what I term the “will”  of the artist operates both before and after the moment of “self-abandonment” that Deleuze develops in reference to the diagram. In support of this argument, I reference the passages Deleuze devoted to Bacon’s use of photographic images in the preparation of his paintings, arguing that Bacon’s use was both characteristic and habitual: in other words, that it truly represented a method.

From this starting point, I develop the relation of will and intelligence to Deleuze’s analysis of Bacon’s practice. By reconceiving and recognising the practice of  painting as  a process that includes initial moments of de- and reterritorialisation, the critic can fully appreciate the importance of  the painter’s guiding intelligence in this process. Since  the process of de- and reterritorialisation involves the painter performing an operation on him- or herself too (eliminating the clichés that exist within the painter’s head)—it is important to reconceptualise the artistic subject in Deleuze’s work as a self-developing one, and Deleuze’s artists as subject who truly have an artistic career in which their practice is systematically developed. Though space in a short paper is limited, I will touch briefly on the relation of Deleuze’s artists to broader trends in art history, arguing that they are in fact situated in and profoundly connected to broader, temporally defined movements in the history of art, with reference in particular to chapter 14 of The Logic of Sensation. Moreover, even the moment of deterritorialisation represented by the “diagram” requires the application of the artist’s control and skill to prevent the painting becoming “overloaded.”

I thus present the concept of the diagram as a microcosm of a broader engagement of the Deleuzian artist with the forces of “chaos”—which must precisely be engaged with rather than fully embraced, and controlled as only one moment of the process. I thus present the guiding intelligence of the Deleuzian artist as an example of “limit function.”

The second half of the paper confronts the notion of style and argues that style is a key defining characteristic of the Deleuzian artist. Engaging with the work of critics such as Simon O’Sullivan and Andrea Eckersley, I argue that style exercises a unifying function over an artist’s body of work, and allows the artist to represent and reuse past material from his or her “archive.” I argue that we can understand style best as the “singularised perception” and “unitive vision” of the artist, citing Deleuze’s analysis of the work of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh to defend the personal nature of such a style, and the importance of the personal history and experiences of the artist, and thus arguing against any critical presentation of the Deleuzian artist as merely impersonal, or a collection of artistic “effects” without any defining and unifying characteristics.

about the author(s)

Niall Kennedy

Niall Kennedy is a recent PhD graduate (2017) from the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, at Kingston University, London. My PhD thesis, supervised by Professors Peter Hallward and Eric Alliez, was titled “Deleuze and the Author.” I am currently working as an independent scholar. I have broad interdisciplinary interests in philosophy and the arts and have presented my work at conferences in the UK, Germany, and South Korea.

info & contact


Kingston University, London, UK


nialldermotmichael [at]