I've been interested in the correlated binaries of mind/body, human/animal, male/female throughout all of my recent work (we acknowledge of course the “impossibility” of these dualisms, alongside their persistent discursive and cultural powers). In my dance studies courses, I talk with students about why dance is often barely recognized as a legitimate art form, or why it seems so regularly feminized, or considered “lower than”— or a “step-child” of— the arts. One perhaps too obvious reason is that the body is literally the instrument in dance and choreography, and the body is so material / feminized / animalized as to prove threatening and “dangerous”; it is something that has to be tamed by concepts, or meaning, in some way. I think it could be productive to ask whether a similar dynamic has been at play in relation to form in visual art. Has “the material body of the work of art as perceived through its visual qualities” been— however half-consciously— deemed too lowly, feminine, creatural/material, in contradistinction to the masculinist and humanist “conceptual” apparatus, its “meaning,” so that the material form has come to be something that must be tamed or “made low,” abjected and disavowed, in relation to the work’s meaning or concept.
Secondly, if we take seriously Deleuze’s claim that viewing (or hearing etc.) art is a primarily affective and bodily experience— alongside the idea that the viewer’s conceptualizing or cognitive ascertaining of the “meaning” of an artwork is secondary to that, or post-affective— then we can ask whether the rising prominence of “concept” and its concomitant devaluing of form could be understand as having been a kind of defense against the affective/bodily power of visual art. Have we wanted the concept to reign because it keeps us more “in control,” more so-called “human” (and masculine) in the face of art, literally in the moment that we interface with artworks. That is, has telling ourselves that it’s the concept or meaning that matters— that we must search for the “idea” in the moment of engaging with art— staved off or contained the affective powers of art, which actually render us vulnerable, bodily, quivering creatures? Have we considered it obvious that it is too girly / bodily to value the affective force of a work of art, first and foremost? Would that make us “just” like animals, somehow?