By Kate Rothwell.
The relationship between a piece of art and words is simple. Words are used to describe art, occasionally they are used in art, and they are used to talk about art. But is this relationship necessary? Do we need words in order to understand and appreciate a piece of art, or does the imposition of words on art simply dilute the experience for each new viewer? A contemporary work which foregrounds these questions is David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return.
Originally created as an 18 hour film, The Return was released weekly an hour at a time, making for a TV show like no other. Episode 8 alone was given instant status as one of the most ground-breaking episodes of television ever, with thousands of viewers heading to forums and online groups to share the experience. However, in this revolutionary episode, we are given fewer than 20 lines of dialogue… bear in mind that each episode lasts 60 minutes, and industry standard for this amount of time is between 45 and 63 pages of screenplay. So, what is it about the mute Twin Peaks episode that is so enthralling? I think the answer is very simple: David Lynch. Famously a man of few words, Lynch is an artist before all else, and Twin Peaks: The Return, Episode 8 is a beautiful, high concept and entertaining piece of moving art. This episode brought to mind questions about the nature of art, the nature of dialogue and the nature of entertainment. Are words necessary for a dialogue? Or is inference through expression and action enough? The relationship between words and art is something of a motif in Lynch’s work, as many of his paintings include letters and words, for example:
If we look at Episode 8 as a piece of art, reliant on interpretation, then the lack of words makes total sense. Words and dialogue, be it in film, or in a novel, or even a poem, give the audience something to hold onto, and influences their interpretation directly. By removing words, not only are the lines of dialogue we do receive treated as clues of the utmost importance, but the audience is allowed to interpret the piece entirely through their own filters. It is almost regressive, this childlike portrayal of the world as mute and pictorial, except that it’s not. It’s the world through the eyes of a visual artist. The relationship David Lynch has with words and art is completely fascinating, as we see in Alphabet for example, an early short film of his, a young girl is haunted whilst asleep by the alphabet. This anthropomorphism of letters is a beautiful representation of the power of words. Too many pieces of art, whether that is a painting, a film or a novel, rely too heavily on words to encourage the reader to view the piece in a certain light, and in so doing, forge a relationship between art and literature that is immediately gratifying, but eventually unsatisfying for the audience in any capacity.