Mediaval perception was engaged differently in the production and contemplation -in the ‘reading’ - of texts and images. Paintings (..) served as encyclopedias for the people, but their intelligeibility depended on the viewer’s prior familiarity with stories based on written narratives. In the late Middle Ages, poetry continued to be composed - written - for oral presentaiton in a setting charged with social immediacy, rather than for solitary reading. Cultural tradition relied heavily on oral communication and thus on individual intellectual achievements that engage all the senses, especially hearing in conjunction with seeing. (..) Once art differentiates itself along the lines of a systems-specific play with forms, the situation changes. While still working from within the framework established by the principle of imitation, early modern art moves away from merely copying what might as well be just perceived and twoard imitating foundational (Platonic) ideas. Art renders accessible what is invisible without it. In the wake of this transformation, the social relationship between the artist and his audience becomes more problematic, provoking debates on the social status of an expert culture of connoisseurs and art critics in the eighteenth century and eventually leading not only to the realization that conversing about art is different from conversing about other objects, but also to the possibility of communicating through art. Is it conceivable that art, as a kind of ‘writing’, builds a bridge between perception and communication, that it compensates for the communication system’s inability to perceive? Or could it be that art discovers in this very lack a yet unoccupied field of possibilities in which it can unfold?
Niklas Luhmann - Art as a Social System, pp.17-18
“Art presents one (..) alternative, a functional equivalent to language even if, tentatively speaking, it employs texts as an artistic medium. Art functions as communication although - or precisely because - it cannot be adequately rendered through words (let alone through concepts). “
“We need to remind ourselves that both the perceiving consciousness and the communicating social system require time in order to establish themselves in a differential relationship to the environment. Both systems consist of events - events that cannot occur in isolation because their coming into being and vanishing depend on the system. (..) We need to remind ourselves of this crucial insight, because it implies that communication through art, too, must take time into account.
Not only must the artist produce the work before it can be perceived, but any observing participation in artistic activity is a temporal process, a systematical ordered succession of events. The actions that produce the work must succeed one another in time and orient themselves recursively in relation to what has already been decided and to the the possibilities opened up or eliminated by these decisions.”
“When reading, and even more so when looking at paintings or sculptures, the observer is relatively free to choose the sequence of observations, so long as observational operations are arranged sequentially. when supplemented by writing, verbal communication opens up a corresponding spectrum of disparate and yet coordinated ways of using time. (…) At the other extreme, artistic communication leaves the observer of paintings or sculptures completely free to choose a sequence of observation without relinquishing its objective control via the artwork’s play of forms. Thanks to composition, simultaneity is intensified or communication occurs even under conditions of complete de-synchronization. In both cases, communication controls the connectivity of observational event (..). Art is thus capable of intensifying the awareness of communication: consciousness becomes aware of being directed and captivated by communication, experiencing the discrepancy between an external control and its own, unrestricted operative possibilities.”