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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Understanding Comics ch. 7


OK, granted that I don’t have a big investment in “what counts as ‘art,’ ” I appreciate McCloud’s account of art as what the formalists would call “overcoded” communication (or behavior) — expression beyond what is required for transmitting information (“THPLPLP!!” p. 165). My reservations about investing heavily in this definition derive from the extent to which it presupposes a degree of clarity about what constitutes “necessary” information, and about the priority of explicit linguistic data over other modes of communication — but as a heuristic device for exploring some dimensions and purposes of expression, it’ll do fine. Note, though, that when McCloud parses the “evolutionary” “instinctual” roles of art (boy, do glib invocations of evolution and instinct set my teeth on edge — it’s a mark of how much I respect McCloud that I skip past that junk with only a snarky aside), he omits mention of “transmitting information,” “teaching,̶¡; or other such pedestrian communicative actions. I take that omission seriously; it occludes many vital elements of my work and identity as a teacher and preacher.

But McCloud, I think, recoups that lost ground when on p. 168 he allows that “in almost everything we do there is at least an element of art.” If we concentrate on the “how” or expression, we don’t need to ground our accounts of communication in restrictive functional typologies or evolutionary psychology; they’re red herrings. (And McCloud loses traction when he proposes that “some activities have more art in them than others,” his emphasis; the whole survival/not spectrum distracts from more important ideas.) For the purposes about which I care, we can say that certain gestures evoke a greater intensity of attention — and among those who devote heightened attention to that gesture, it partakes of art. But that’s still beside the point.

The claim that creative expression always follows a six-step path, though worth attention for helping clarify certain aspects of expression, oversimplifies and generalizes so painfully that I will skip over it without further comment. OK, not without further comment, but with only the comment that these somewhat-distinguishable elements of expression don’t exhaust the constituent elements of expression (where, for instance, is “attention to audience” here — to name only one missing element?) nor are they sequential or quite separable from one another. These pages make some helpfully points, but they do so despite the rhetoric; it’s a significant weak spot.

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