One Question with Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian

metaphor(m) logo

Mark Staff Brandl is an artist and art historian from Chicago, now living in Europe, primarily Switzerland.

Neoteric Art: What about this metaphor interest of yours?:

Mark Staff Brandl: As anyone who has met me knows, I am addicted to art and have been since the age of 11. And I just turned 60. Within that, I am also interested in many fields I find related to art: art history; philosophy, especially of art; archaeology; theory; poetry; sequential art; even physics and more. I even have been accused of being interested in too many things, on occasion (the old American and Swiss fear of intellectuals, I suspect)! So yes, I guess whereas as a child I wanted to be a new Michelangelo, I am perhaps somewhere in a club with Leonardo. Too bad I have never had a talent for ingratiation nor much mercenary ability. Anyway, it could be worse, but yes, I am a damn intellectual painter.

One of my main “sub-“interests is metaphor theory. “Metaphor and Art,” as the title calls out of a blog site I have with Mark G. Taber ( In short, I am an artist and art historian with a major interest in cognitive metaphor theory. I wrote my PhD dissertation on an original theory of metaphor in visual art.

My book, titled Metaphor(m): Engaging a Theory of Central Trope in Art, presents and embodies my thesis that the formal, technical and stylistic aspects of artists’ approaches concretely manifest content in culturally and historically antithetical ways through a uniquely discovered trope. My philosophy, termed metaphor(m) or the theory of central trope, is grounded in conceptual metaphor and cognitive science, particularly that of George Lakoff (with Mark Turner and Mark Johnson) as well as Harold Bloom’s idea of poetic misprision. This concept is applied to painting, installation art, electronic media, the expanded text concept, art history timeline models, comics, and artistic cultural inheritance. This dissertation is in the traditional form of a book, but with the addition of paintings and sections in sequential comic form as well as an actual installation comprised largely of paintings (which was a fully painted 4.5 meters H by 45 meters L / 15 feet H x 150 feet L in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland:

A wee pat on my own back: my supervising professors, art historian Dr Philip Ursprung and cognitive scientist Dr Andreas Langlotz also awarded me the honor of magna cum laude, praising the work in particular for its exceptional originality. My PhD was awarded from the University of Zürich Switzerland in Art History and Metaphor Theory. The famed philosopher Arthur Danto says of my dissertation that “there cannot be many dissertations that are quite that creative and colorful.”Art historian James Elkins concurs, saying “it is the most colorful dissertation ever!”

In this site I mentioned, we discuss and apply our ideas in this direction. We think this area of thought is very important and inspirational. As Mark T says, “I believe that ideas have real consequences in the world.” Through this site we particularly love creating discussion with fellow artists as well as metaphor researchers, art and literature theorists, those interested in the arts and more, particularly on our Facebook page.

Over the years since I first had the initial inkling of desire to write my dissertation, Metaphor(m), A Theory of Central Trope has become my chief artistic creation and inspiration for my art, although in that time I have had more than 100 art shows of paintings and installations, both group and solo (at least), as well as taught, wrote articles and reviews, blogged and gave speeches.

These exhibitions, publications and presentations were in galleries, museums and Kunsthallen all over the world, but Metaphor(m) dominated my thoughts since I first brainstormed it in discussion with Daniel F. Ammann in Switzerland. It has colored all of the other art and teaching I have done. Especially in the 3 years while learning Latin as a part of my studies, but also due to the length of time I took to accomplish my dissertation (approximately 7 years) and the following and accompanying painting-installation (approximately 5 years), I was confronted by others with the question as to why I would want to create such extensive works. Most frequently, I have answered that it is my own, though radically different, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Wassily Kandinsky’s personal book of theory. This is approximately true, although a bit disingenuous, for as compared to Kandinsky I am more philosophical and not at all esoteric in thought. It might be more appropriate to say that in my own thoughts it is my mixed and cross-media, personal equivalent of Tintoretto’s Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Or as I say to my friends outside of art, “my Sistine Chapel.”

A shorter answer to the question: Beyond the pure joy of using difficult reasoning to discover and formulate a serious new perception of art, the aim of my theory, like that of many others, is to serve as a truth and corrective to certain deficiencies of the current theoretical landscape in which I am an artist. Hopefully, in the minds of others, thus my web presence and lectures, yet chiefly in my own mind. As Lakoff has pointed out, “Philosophy matters. It matters more than most people realize, because philosophical ideas that have developed over the centuries enter our culture in the form of a world view and affect us in thousands of ways.” Most of all I am concerned with understanding works of art and the creative thought processes embodied in them. I have a daily practice of making art for over 40 years, thus am invested in the phenomenological reality of artistic agency. If my or any other theoretical analysis of art is worthy of serious consideration, it is in its usefulness for a fuller understanding and criticism of the works before us. Never forget, art comes first, theory is secondary. Yet theorization, close attention, and contemplation can help us understand art by ourselves and others, to free us from unquestioned notions and inspire us to new works.

The aim of our website, my PhD dissertation and most of my “theorizing” has been to delve into how the process of art-making produces the “grammar” of art through embodiment in the stuff of lived reality, seeing art as a corporeal, dialogical mode. A theory is a picture of the world, one way to think about reality, a suggested method for seeing experience in that way. It suggests both is and is not, and even, I assert, should be and should not be.

Artists can picture life particularly well, thus being implicitly theorists. Small changes in the pictures with which we think, in our metaphor base, the stuff of the creative arts, have major importance. The operations of extending, elaborating, composing and, most of all, questioning may seem slight tools, yet they can build impressive edifices of understanding. Metaphor theory in general and my Metaphor(m) idea in particular point out some of the instantiations of this drive. Trope-as-reasoning links theorization and creativity to everyday thought on the one hand, and to revelatory ideation on the other.

— Mark Staff Brandl

See more at:
My Art Articles website:
My Art website: