Att iscensätta det gemensamma. Representation, modalitet och komposition i Nordens arbetarkonst omkring 1950

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    The representation of the working class in so called ”proletarian” visual art (Swedish: ”arbetarkonst”) is a rather neglected field in Nordic art historical research. This article focuses on a number of chosen examples of 20th century Nordic painting between 1930 and 1955. All have a pictorial content which could be regarded as ”proletarian” in some way or another. The aim of the article is to demonstrate and assess an analytical method which accounts for the ideological dimension of these images. Differently put, the method is designed to register certain semiotic means by which visual structures represent social tensions and collective subjectivity. The main elements of the method are borrowed from the semiotic picture theory of the Australian research duo Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen. The basic research question of the paper, then, concerns the applicability of ”socio-semiotics” à la Kress & van Leeuwen as regards the analysis of proletarian imagery. Intuitively, there were reasons to suppose that the assumptions of the duo should be highly applicable in this context, because whilst the proletarian art in question is often characterized by naturalism and high ”readability”, the same is true for the news reports and advertisement campaigns that Kress & van Leeuwen tend to favor as their objects of study. In an imagery that aims at mass communication there must always be a fine balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar (or between redundancy and new information) because otherwise the accessibility of collective symbols and established pictorial conventions is threatened. This requirement sets the proletarian art of the 20th century apart from most avant-garde art movements of the same century. This article was preceded by a related study in the same journal (vol 3, no 4), dealing with relations and tensions between the emerging fields of Modernism and Proletarian Art (i.e. "arbetarkonst") in the Nordic countries before 1950. In the present article, the analysis proceeds with: 1) A brief definition of the three so called metafunctions which Kress & van Leeuwen (following Halliday) consider to be the basis of their theory, namely the ”ideational”, ”interpersonal” and ”textual”. 2) Demonstration of these metafunctions with the aid of the pictorial examples. 3) A short evaluative comment, in which the intuitive predictions concerning the applicability of the method in studying the “readability” of proletarian art is positively assessed.

    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    Pages (from-to)
    JournalTahiti: taidehistoria tieteenä
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Semiotics
    • Semiotiikka
    • Sociolinguistics
    • Cultural history
    • Art History
    • Labour Movement

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