Silence In Art​The non-cognitive state now becomes the more humane

Updated: Jan 11, 2019


By Deligina Prifti


Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999 . Courtesy of the artist.

5.35 am. I was sprinting like a failing runner through the halls of the airport rushing to find my gate. There! I made it. And, frankly, I arrived 30 minutes early. “This is a first” I proudly admitted to my adult self. I thirstily opened my book, eager to finish the last thirty pages when I stopped for a moment and gazed around. The air conditioning was desiccating, and the air felt stuffing. I was alone. I began to observe. No one else looked remotely similar to me. People differentiating in age, style, ethnicity. Different luggage with different content. I kept on observing my fellow passengers as an attempt to discover something that we might have in common and remained unnoticeable. A child was sleeping, a woman was drinking whiskey, a couple was clumsily sharing an apple. All sorts of varying attitudes none of them “correct,” none of them “false.” It was like sowing different plants in a hothouse.  Everything was in between. In between identities. We coexisted in a neutral environment, and all of us wished for one thing. Silence. And yet, unconsciously, this “in between” state felt oddly familiar.


Bees, ants, beavers or birds are nature’s constructors, I thought. Just as humans. What differentiates us is that the aforementioned animals are communal constructors. Humans, on the other hand, have become more individualistic to our motives. Take, for example, the constructive pinnacle of our time; the construction of Self. From the moment we are born we crave a personal identity as a social passport. Our desires, fears or aspirations are not made to set us apart. Quite the opposite. What we want are inclusion and acceptance. Daily affirmations, otherwise known as opinions, function as the cement of such “constructions.” Political, theological, professional, aesthetic, social beliefs which build an identity targeting our ideal communities of family, friends, lovers and co-workers. Time is of the essence. It sounds more efficient and trustworthy to have fixed opinions than fluid and changing ones.

But how do we scout these preferences? How much time do we offer ourselves to understand them, and more so to acknowledge the reason why we understand and value them? Is each and every one of us  a coherent moodboard or are we hiding clashing elements taken from varied, opposing influences?


Andreas Gursky, Porto, Station 1988. Courtesy of the artist

It was boarding time, so I paused my thoughts for a while. I was still in puzzle, none the less, as to where I have felt similarly before. I got off the plane and headed straight to the museum. “Boiler House, Level 2. East. “ “Boiler House, Level  2. East”. I kept frantically repeating these directions in my head hoping that I, the most disoriented person I have yet encountered, will find my way.  Teachers were shouting to wandering students, tourists shouting at each other for no apparent reason, guards shouting to stop everyone else from shouting, too. It was manic. I was longing for peace and luckily just a few steps after the main entrance I walked through a transcending space. Sanctuary. At first, I was an aimless wanderer observing far more closely the people around me than the maps of the museum. It was a thrilling spectacle. We all were there for a reason. Which reason was it though? And there it struck that familiar feeling again. 


In an extrovert world, where everyone expects you

to stand up and talk or obey and listen,

these in-between spaces demand the exact opposite.


However, if the museum is a transcending experience provided in a three dimensional but stagnant environment, the “in-betweens” are, in reverse, a gate to transport that require our stagnancy. Both of them silent spaces. “The impulse to create begins in a tunnel of silence,” Adrienne Rich 1 ​points out. Why did I think of that? Which silence did she refer to? Silence maybe relates to this zero moment of pre-existence, but is it actual 2 ? Can we find in our physical, acoustic world a place where everything remains in silence? And if so, how could we — a breathing, noisy breed exist in such an environment? I was beginning to think that silence resembles more a spiritual aspiration, an ultimate state that might never be reached, but to which its actual value resides precisely in that effort.


There is no luxury of scripta, so you are who you claim to be. 

To  Know thyself is no longer a procedure, but a merchandising state. As an invaluable time-saving tool, we trust others with common superficial preferences, all leading to the conclusion that in a pelagos of marmalades, a particular jar of apricot signifies

a true spiritual union.


I abandoned all hopes of finding my way through navigation, so I kept on wandering expecting that the room I was searching for would appear before my eyes. And there I was. The Rothko room. It a space within a space. Within a space. I looked at the murals. And I looked again. The Seagram Murals 3.  On the 25th of February 1970, Mark Rothko donated the paintings that were first commissioned to “decorate” the Four Seasons restaurant in New York to the Tate Gallery in London. A few hours later he was found dead. He noted in his diary just a few days before his suicide that his paintings are “an unknown adventure into an unknown space.” He was right. I stood still like all the others. Thrown in a sea of stillness, I was trying to convince myself that I had to float to the surface by recollecting everything that I know or by trying to correspond what I saw with something I have already seen before. I looked around. I was searching not for a visual but a vocal context to fill this void. No one was speaking. It was as if silence was generating this mystification. “My works are not sedative,” Rothko also noted.  Once I approached the paintings, the sensuousness and physicality unraveled before my eyes.


Traces of color lead me to nonverbal connections, a blueprint for existence itself. And silence was there not to cause alarm but bond a connectedness between the conscious and the hidden. All of our lives we learn when and where to be silent, but in such cases, silence is a natural reaction,

a need to dive into your thoughts and reflect on why we chose to be quiet.


The realms of the emotions fully unravel in a dual of black and red hints. If sound defines the present moment, I could argue that these paintings reflect this perpetualness of a nondescriptive time and place. Of course, there was the odd noise here and there, but the question was not whether you could hear it but whether you wanted to 4. And so the openness of quietude and emotion was entangled with this visual encounter.


Mark Rothko, Black on maroon,1959. Courtesy of wikiArt.

Mark Rothko, Black on maroon,1959. Courtesy of wikiArt

Our era is no longer the division of what we know and do not know. The latter is now marketed into the illusion of what we do not know yet. Facing a work of art bridges these two primary states. We see elements that are recognizable, colors, shadows, maybe forms, but the entity is kept unknown. And no matter how much we read or listen about a work of art we will never be able to wholly decipher itsSocratic “truth” because it is like delving into the unconscious of another human. The non-cognitive state now becomes the more humane.

There is a tendency in corresponding nothingness with silence. Each word is an act, a blunt or rounded instrument of communication. Does this reality though condemn silence into inaction?

When nothing is being said it does not necessarily mean that nothing is being thought. There is a fertile silence of awareness, a palpable silence of alert perception.


Articulating emotions or ideas is not always the sole purpose of Art. Fluid thoughts that collide or contradict each other are the predecessors of linguistic vocalizing. Its space and visiting that space demands silence. In other words, to approach a work of art, there is no need to pave the path through verbal expression. Silence could be the vital precondition for the creation of meaning. Like the full stops among sentences of a continuing narrative. Most of the time, space, the actual space between the viewer and the work of art is a fertile zone that cultivates this need for quietude.


We live in a culture where our definition of life is inextricably linked with constant movement. Exercising, traveling, speaking, sharing. Personally, I find that there is a second, supplementary element of life. The element of thought. I believe that you can feel equally alive by seeing, reflecting, understanding, and just standing. Silent and still. This is when our bodies retain this conscious stillness and we often feel the rush of a new thought. I am referring to the life of thought itself. Perhaps through these pulsating thoughts, we become far more able to extract pure, unintentional feelings.


Silent moments, thus, are not the

” in between lines” of life,

but life itself.


Complicated feelings that we never knew existed appear in that liminal space of a canvas. Silence makes nothing happen indeed, for silence is not a creative state. It is instead the incubator in which the creation is conceived. It is the end where we start.



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1. https://books.google.gr/books/about/On_Lies_Secrets_and_Silence_Selected_Pro.html?id=wSm6BwAAQBAJ&source=kp_cover&redir_esc=y 2. https://books.google.gr/books/about/The_Tuning_of_the_World.html?id=SIufAAAAMAAJ&redir_esc=

3. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/rothko/rothko-room-guide/room-3-seagram-murals

4. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/magazine/is-silence-going-extinct.html

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