Lately, I’ve been exploring language and its role in our perception and understanding of art. I thought I would dig through some Wittgenstein text to whet my appetite for some much-needed philosophical art writing I’m working on. Here’s an excerpt of what I’ve been noshing on…

We are handicapped in ordinary language by having to describe, say, a tactile sensation by means of terms for physical objects such as the word “eye”, “finger”, etc. when what we want to say does not entail the existence of an eye or finger, etc..We have to use a roundabout description of our sensations. This of course does not mean that ordinary language is insufficient for our special purposes, but that it is slightly cumbrous and sometimes misleading. The reason for this peculiarity of our language is of course the regular coincidence of certain sense experiences.

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian Philosopher


Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She serves as one of the editors-in-chief for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center.

2 thoughts on “Wittgenstein”

  1. I have some other ideas about ordinary language.

    I’d like to suggest that ordinary language is often deemed suitable for the process of cultural homogenization. For this reason, I figuratively walk uphill.


    We must always find ways to produce imagery without literal uses of sensation-derived description. In the production and deliverance of words (internally or externally), sensation can be replicated. One way this can happen is through assonance. This creates a breathing landscape, an alternate vista, from which to absorb, feel and listen.

    1. You’ve got a great point about verse and poetry being a conduit to exploring the possibilities of language. I also think this is why Wittgenstein enjoyed Math but I’m not too terribly certain about that, which is why I’m reading through some of his work. I have to say that I get stuck in one language – English (or, well, American to some folks) which is the language I feel I’m most proficient and fluent in BUT I meet people whose native language is German (for example) and they know ‘my’ language better than I do. I’m rambling now but my point: extraordinary language forces one to think (this is why art theory/criticism and philosophy intrigue and interest me). Much more recently, I’ve learned to really love poetry (thanks to you and a few other writers such as Wanda Coleman and Rilke – I know, so different). Again, thanks for always starting a dialogue with me. It is appreciated!! Thank you! 🙂

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