IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

events: Visual studies today: The power of images


Virve Sarapik
Speech Act of Pictures

The central problem of this paper is whether pragmatics could be of any use in the analysis of the functioning of a work of art, discussing it on the example of visual art and pictorial representation. As a picture, the author conceives visual and pictorial representations embodied in some form. Visual art uses pictures as one of its primary, but not the only, means of expression. On the other hand, most of the pictures belong to the non-artistic sphere. This work proceeds from two impulses: the speech acts theory and W. J. T. Mitchell’s book What Do Pictures Want (2005). Several attempts have been made in the recent decades to apply speech acts theories to literary studies. In this aspect, visual art has been somewhat neglected. Pragmatics, and especially the speech acts theory, is based on the understanding that utterances can have consequences, and the use of language is also an act. Thus, the meaning of the language is decisively linked to its use, and the language is examined in concrete situations. This means that intention (request, prohibition) is an important factor in constructing an utterance, but at the same time, the utterance implicitly gives information about the situation in which it was made, about the person who made it with the help of, for example, deixis. In conclusion, two possible pragmatic approaches are examined: 1) the appellative aspect of pictures and, 2) the analysis of a gaze and looking as deictic phenomena.