From the artistic symbol to the symptom of art.

The aim of the abstract is to debate whether the categories of symbol and symptom imply different determinations when it comes to art.

We shall also look into clarifying the difference between the perception of the artistic symbol (through artistic images) and the work of art that manifests itself visually through the symptom and try to reach a conclusion, based on these two perspectives, about the characteristics of the art terrain, within the triangular framework author-work of art-spectator[1]

Viewing the symbol from its Greek derivation (symbolon) and the renascence, as a means of interpretation associated to the artistic (as one of the parts of the division, the symbol maintains the receptor out of the work of art) and the symptom as a reference to the work of art – art as a manifestation of the symptom emphasises the process bringing the receptor into the work of art.

Can we consider the artistic as a domain of the images (symbolic) and the art as a domain of the objects (symptom)?

The symbol as a’ divine’ entity that implies the pure form, the symbol interpreted in light of its linguistic Greek origin as one of the parts of the split object, stimulating interpretation, the symbol as an autonomy identity whose result is simulacrum [Volli in Melotti, p.73-87], or the symbol as an operative moment [Boidi in Melotti, p.102], it will always implicate an entity in the artistic image, whereas in the work of art remains the implication of the symptom that manifests the action that gives rise to art itself?

At its limit the images of art become hyperbolic « symbolising» the symptom. Renouncing to the possibility of being simulacrum or phantasmagoria, they symbolise each thing and their contrary, introducing the “presence in the representation” [Didi-Huberman, 1990, p195]. Within this limit the images do not satisfy or symbolise , as objects of desire, but as a need to liberate  which edges the non-representation of the manifestation of the symptom of art, and in this aspect the symbol is integrated by the symptom.

Let us taking into consideration the triad figure IRS, real-imaginary-symbolic [Žižek, 2004, p98].

From the vertices of the triangle, real-imaginary-symbolic  we can establish an infinite network as the  constellation space of movement of the individual, thus forming successive triangles (infinitively) that personify in themselves the different territories of what is real, symbolic or imaginary. Each of these territories is subject to the domain of the different images. These domains, however, are not fixed; on the contrary they exist as if limited by porous membrane. The nucleus of this corresponds to the non-representation, banning the image. In this nucleus the existence of images would prove to be self-destructive. The images of art manifest themselves as symptoms of the  work of art itself, as loose ends of  the system of art; the are presented by the gaps- in the aesthetic domain, where the symbolic manifests itself as being insufficient.

In this abstract we intended to demonstrate that the objects of art distance themselves from the artistic images via the symptom as an inclusive possibility of a demonstration of art.  The objects of art renouncing the external symbolic interpretation include the viewer as a constituent of the work of art, placing emphasis the procedural unity.

As a limit the symbol becomes part of the symptom in art, becoming the referent that recuperates the gaps of the artistic past[2]. By emphasising the process, the object of art (the symptom) reveals itself as the designator of the unity and thus contradicting the artistic images that represent symbolically what is still disassociated. Nevertheless, the objects of art which are still subject to the domain of representation[3] can only gain a unity that is revealed in its disconnection from desire, thus allowing the artistic image to be interpreted in the object of art.

In the full text version there will examples taken from the history of art to illustrate these arguments.


Didi-Huberman, Georges, Devant l’image, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1990

Melotti, Massimo (ed.), Sul Simbolo. Confronti e riflessioni all’inizio del millennio, Roma, Luca Sossellla Editore, 2004

Nancy, Jean-Luc, Tre saggi sull’immagine, Napoli, Cronopio, 2002

Perniola, Mario, L’arte e la sua ombra, Torino, Einaudi, 2000

Wajcman, Gérard, L’objet du siècle, Paris, Verdier, 1998

Zizek, Slavoj, Amor sin piedad. Hacia una politica de la verdad, Madrid, Editorial Sintesis, 2004 (1st ed: Die gnadenlose Liebe, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001)

[1]The references of our analysis are based on Modern Art, especial examples of artistic vanguard – approximately between 1850 and 1950 – up to the Works of art of the XXI century. We resorted to the work of  Gérard Wajcman, especially the book L’objet du siècle as a reference to the concept of object of  art defined by the triangular framework author -work of art- spectator

[2] With regards to the symptom “traces of a recuperated past” we use the Žižek’s considerations in the book Benvenuti nel deserto del  reale, 2002, on Santner, E. manuscript Miracles Happen; Benjamin, Rosenzweig and the limits of Enlightment, 2001.

[3] Since only in the last years, since Bergson to Derrida, much work has been done regarding this issue. Aware of undefined clarity of the term and concept representation., we shall base our interpretation of the concept on the tangibility of the comprehensible through the sensitive [Nancy in Tre saggi sull’immagine, 2002, p63]


Co-authoring: Magalhães, Graça; Pombo, Fátima.


Paper presented on the 19th Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, Avignon, France, 29 aug- 01 sept, 2006.

Year 2006
Type Conference Proceeding
Publication Culture and Communication: Proceedings of the XIX Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics.
Publisher IAEA - International Association of Empirical Aesthetics
Local Université D'Avignon Et Des Pays de Vaucluse; France
Ed/Org Hana Gottesdiener,
 Jean-Christophe Vilatte
Language English