Why Spend So Much Time Studying and Analyzing Metaphor?: A Personal Aside

by Mark Staff Brandl

Over the 14 years since I first had the initial inkling of desire to write my dissertation, Metaphor(m), A Theory of Central Trope has become my chief artistic creation and inspiration for my art, although in that time I have had more than 60 art shows of paintings and installations, both group and solo, as well as taught, wrote articles and reviews, blogged and gave speeches. The main one being the painting-installation based directly on my dissertation. 1

These exhibitions, publications and presentations were in galleries, museums and Kunsthallen all over the world, but Metaphor(m) dominated my thoughts since I first brainstormed it in discussion with Daniel F. Ammann in Switzerland. It has colored all of the other art and teaching I have done. Especially in the 3 years while learning Latin as a part of my studies, but also due to the length of time I took to accomplish my dissertation (approximately 7 years) and the following and accompanying painting-installation (approximately 5 years), I have been confronted by others with the question as to why I would want to create such extensive works. Most frequently, I have answered that it is my own, though radically different, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Wassily Kandinsky's personal book of theory. 2 This is approximately true, although a bit disingenuous, for as compared to Kandinsky I am more philosophical and not at all esoteric in thought. It might be more appropriate to say that in my own thoughts it is my mixed and cross-media, personal equivalent of Tintoretto’s Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Or as I say to my friends outside of art, “my Sistine Chapel.”

A shorter answer to the question: Beyond the pure joy of using difficult reasoning to discover and formulate a serious new perception of art, the aim of my dissertation and theory, like that of many others, is to serve as a truth and corrective to certain deficiencies of the current theoretical landscape in which I am an artist. Hopefully, in the minds of others, thus my web presence and lectures, yet chiefly in my own mind. As Lakoff has pointed out, “Philosophy matters. It matters more than most people realize, because philosophical ideas that have developed over the centuries enter our culture in the form of a world view and affect us in thousands of ways.” 3 Most of all I am concerned with understanding works of art and the creative thought processes embodied in them. I have a daily practice of making art for over 40 years, thus am invested in the phenomenological reality of artistic agency. If my or any other theoretical analysis of art is worthy of serious consideration, it is in its usefulness for a fuller understanding and criticism of the works before us. Never forget, art comes first, theory is secondary. Yet theorization, close attention, and contemplation can help us understand art by ourselves and others, to free us from unquestioned notions and inspire us to new works.


  1. http://www.markstaffbrandl.com/jedlitschka%20panorama.html
  2. Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. (Original published 1914 in German as Über das Geistige in der Kunst), trans. by M. T. H. Sadler (New York: Dover Publications, 1977).
  3. George Lakoff. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things : What Categories Reveal about the Mind. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 157.