In his lecture on painting, Lacan spends a few moments regressing on the “value of artistic creation.” Starting from Freud, Lacan mentions the impossibility of locating an objective substance that undergirds art or even a criteria through which such value could be tracked down. When analyzing a painting, Freud focused on “the function that the original artist’s phantasy played in his creation,” a rather concise definition of the typical role that psychoanalysis plays in film and literary theory, and which Lacan notes “always produces a shocked reaction on the part of the listener” (109). Conversely, Lacan wants to approach art less in terms of its subjective relationship to the individual creator/viewer and more in terms of its collective relationship within a social structure.
As discussed in my last post, this is a move from essence (which I read here as intention) to function (relations). In prefacing his main claim, Lacan is quick to note the analytical difficulty in locating causal links within an area of culture as overwrought as artistic production. He writes, “If one considers all the modulations imposed on painting by the variations of the subjectifying structure that have occurred in history, it is clear that no formula can possibly embrace those aims, those ruses, those infinitely varied tricks” (109). Furthermore, Lacan’s purpose in focusing on art (or, more accurately, “pictures”) in this lecture is not a synchronic historicity (“the function of painting at a particular moment, for a particular author, at a particular time”) but merely “the radical principle of [its] function” (110).
Integral to this function of art and its relationship to society is the notion of “sublimation,” which I think is related to what Lacan refers to as “dompte-regard,” or the taming of the gaze that occurs in artistic consumption. Extrapolating this notion, Lacan refers to the way in which art “has something profitable for society” in the way that it “calms people, comforts them.” However, this “comfort” is a very specific kind of comfort. It is comforting to the viewer because it shows her a circumstance in which another is “living from the exploitation of their desire” (111). This is an interesting point because Lacan seems to be arguing that the “satisfaction” of artistic consumption is accompanied by a simultaneous introjection of the other’s (the artist’s) desire in artistic production. This is the way in which the gaze is “tamed” through the subject’s contemplation of desire as it arrives paradoxically from the other within the subject.
Lacan continues by describing how this circulation of desire between/within subject and other is tied to “the painting of a veil” which is less important ontologically (a thing/substance it might conceal) than it is relationally: the veil is what provokes the viewer “to ask what is behind it [the painting]” (112). This “other thing” is the “petit a” which, as Ulmer claims, is an “ambassador of desire.”
In formulating an instruction from the theoretical material gathered in this post, I am reminded of our discussion about the importance of position within Julien’s text and how a knowledge and recognition of the implications of one’s position in a system can increase an agent’s ability to increase efficacious alignments with the events in the system. Relating Julien’s position-efficacy correlation to Lacan’s ideas regarding the social functions of art might allow us to rethink our position(s) as viewers/consumers of art by drawing attention to the vacillation of desire between viewer and artist, subject and other.
With this in mind, here is an instruction: As you consume art/media, ask yourself “where is my desire coming from?” I think this instruction might also be related to the “mood” section of the metaphysics, morality, and mood criteria established in Internet Invention in the way that it asks the subject to respond to an experience (desiring) that has already taken place.