Abstract: Who we are is influenced through our interactions with others. Being seen, heard and sharing in a dialogue with others helps shape our perceptions and defines our very own existence.

The Existentialism of The Gourd: The Art of Identity

Who was Mikhail Bakhtin

Mikhail Bakhtin was in his life one of the most influential thinkers of his time and of the twentieth century.  While he was only “discovered” in the 1970’s by the west, he lived and wrote while living through some of the harshest times.  Persecuted by his government for his writings, he was under constant watch and scrutiny by the Russian police.   His particular area of focus was Philology where he studied under Faddei Zielinski.  It was this pressure cooker in which he lived – the constant scrutiny by the government, his own Russian Orthodox upbringing along with the hardships created by the Marxist revolution and eventually World War II that helped shape his writings and philosophy of architectonics of language and identity.  (Art, Module 8, Session 1 – Session 8, 2013)

How this thinker relates to my imagery, and for that matter, my conceptualization that what we see and how we interpret these objects by giving them meaning and shape is formed by language.  Who I am as an artist in turn is reflected in my art the images I create.  For it is by giving expression to how I see the world in all its minute shapes and form that I give meaning and expression to myself, in turn I reverse this meaning onto my art.  This by and large has created for myself a journey not so much of exploration, but of actualization and this in turn creates something formidable that for myself, becomes an expression of identity.

For the circle to become complete the art itself has to relate to the artist.  For in turn it is only in communicating a concept of form that the art itself reflects and reveals an introspective look at the artist.  As Bakhtin wrote, “A person has no internal sovereign territory, he is wholly and always on the boundary: looking inside himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another… I cannot manage without another, I cannot become myself without another, I must find myself in another by finding another in myself.”  (Art, Module 8, Session 2, 2013).

For art in itself isn’t simply an exploration of self, it is an expression of self through congress.  It is through others that our art finds intellectual acceptance.  This in turn creates acceptance, or as Bakhtin refers, “…finding another in another by finding another in myself.” (Art, Module 8, Session 1 – Session 8, 2013) It is this union that I write about that Bakhtin makes reference.  Art by itself, as so too does the artist, require participate by an audience. For it through realization and acceptance by an audience that one becomes self-aware.  Standing in isolation and solitude – whether the art or the artist – reflection and introspection only goes so far.  It is through the actualization, interaction, and acknowledgement of like minds that one becomes self-aware.

What we see as a gourd is simply representational.  It depicts yet at the same time, the use of light, texture, contour, shading and tone create a new harmony.  This harmony in turn struggles with the cord that holds it transfixed. Is it to hold it up or to create tension between the seen and unseen?  Gravity, finality, death?  Or is it representational of something spiritual that conveys hope, passion, life or sustenance? The truth is, it is through interactions with my peers and those of like minds that shape takes form and create new constructs from which to interpret one’s life.  For in seeing I see not into myself but “into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another.”  (Art, Module 8, Session 1 – Session 8, 2013)  It is this actuality that one’s work is reflected and by others that one becomes by finding oneself in others.  Succinct – it is through others of like minds and intellect that we find our place in the world to take shape and evolve.

Of Tripartite Identity – or imagining the Self

Where then does this take me in my discussion of my imagery?  Bakhtin writes of three metaphors.  The center, the not-center, and the relationship between the two.  The center, as referenced through that of Bakhtin is not be confused with the center of identity. What is important here is that for the “self” to exist unless all three work together and in unity.  In the core, the construct of the center is what gives grounding.  As explained in our readings, “it is the libidinal space”.  It is this space that is constantly fluctuating and constantly on the move as the internal world seeks acknowledgement from outside to exist, what is referred to as, centrifugal, or “outward-directed”.  (Art, Module 9, Session 4 – 5, 2013)  The center is constantly changing, it is something we are aware of yet are unable to actualize.  This state of flux and constant change and need to acknowledgement defines who we are by internalizing, or seeing the self through the eyes of another.

The not-center in turn is everything else external to oneself.  It is the cosmos, the exterior, it is everything and everyone that happens outside of your own libidinal space.  It is the interaction between the center that is always in flux, always changing, constantly adapting and taking on new shapes.  The not-center is, as described in our readings, centripetal in nature. (Art, Module 9, Session 4 – 5, 2013)  In other words, the not-center revolves around the center axis that in itself, is in a constant state of flex due to the external forces.  This is where the interaction between the center and not- center become important in understanding the construct of Tripartite Identity.  For it is the seeing with another eyes and the interaction of the external with the center that one becomes aware and shapes ones existence.

This is where my art takes on new forms and where I become more aware of the impact it has less on the self, but on others that in turn influence my own realization of self.  While some may see the image as being purely representational – a gourd being held in a basket.  Others see it as a metaphor – a representation of self and the bonds that we break to acknowledge our independence from external influences.  In the end, it is those interplays, that of others, that influence my art and in turn define who I am as an artist. While my vision might shift through external pressures and the influences and inspiration of other artists – my vision is shaped by my reality as I perceive it at that given time.  Because it constantly changes shape and form it is impossible to go back to a given moment in time as influences shape us.  It is this constant shaping, or as our readings discuss, “heteroglossia” (Art, Module 9, Session 7-9, n.d.), that defines our existence through the “many voices” that speaks to who we are at any given moment in time and how we perceive the world.  This identity, as it exists at any given moment will have shaped and shifted over time.  While core concepts might remain the same, the need to reinvent oneself through the external pressures and realizations creates an every shaping vision of the world. This in turn shapes the art.

The Existentiality of The Gourd

The Gourd

It is in this thought that I see “The Gourd” as a metaphor.  It is stagnant, forever present at a given point in time.  Changing as needed to bring meaning where there is none.  For it is through the interaction with others that it gains meaning and this in turn gives knowledge of who I am as an artist “with the eyes of another.”  For it is through this archetype known as “architectonic” – or the model of selfhood as described by Bakhtin.  (Art, Module 9, Session 7-9, n.d.) For by others do we obtain insights into the self and self-awareness of who we are – forever changing, forever shifting through influences, both internal and external.  For our reality exists not in isolation, but through the share realization of the central, the not-central, and the interplay in-between.   It is this flux that give our lives meaning and defines who we are as artists.  It is also this architectonic from which our art springs to life and gives back meaning and interpretations.  Forever present, always a gourd, yet representing something more external, existential to the nature of who we are as a people – adapting, forever changing and taking on new identity while at the same time remaining true to form – always the gourd.


Art, A. o. (2013). Module 9, Session 4 – 5. Retrieved from THE ART & IDEOLOGY OF THE 20TH CENTURY.

Art, A. o. (2013). The Art & Ideology of the 20th Century. Retrieved from Module 8, Session 1 – Session 8.

Art, A. o. (2013). THE ART & IDEOLOGY OF THE 20TH CENTURY. Retrieved from Module 8, Session 2.

Art, A. o. (n.d.). Module 9, Session 7-9. Retrieved from THE ART & IDEOLOGY OF THE 20TH CENTURY.