dot 28: discovery

The allure of the hidden propels our will to discover.

– Peter Jenny –

Having spent most of my previous week in High Court in support of a very close family member, I noticed myself becoming increasingly fascinated with the concept of discovery as in the context of civil law. Put very simply, discovery can be understood as being upfront and honest about documents that need to be viewed by the court. It remains a point of interest to me that the term discovery is used to describe a process, which, as an entirely lay person to the legal arena, points towards the digging up of either documents, personas and/or suspect characters. In other words, why not rather use one of many other available synonyms such as detect, disclose, ascertain, uncover or unearth to describe a procedure whereby opposing parties need to produce papers? Certainly, the privilege of attending a case in High Court has enlightened me with regards to the challenges of interdisciplinary linguistics.

Whilst sitting in the formal court-happening, my mind started wandering as to the meaning of discovery in the domain of the arts? As an artist I don’t recall ever mulling this concept around in my mind. In fact, discovery has always just ‘been there’ although I am aware that I have always linked a positive mindset, enthusiasm and excitement with the term itself. Peter Jenny, professor emeritus and chair of visual design at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland, explores what discovery is for artists. Jenny guides the artist to learn to see in order to expand imagination, explaining that discovering in the arts means to ‘open your eyes’ in order to move in and towards imagination. There can be no imagination without the discovery of seeing.

Strictly speaking then, both the arts and the law are propelled by the ‘hidden’. The difference, however, is that the artist has no intention of reaching a final place of discovery as does the advocate in winning a case for her client. For the artist, as Jenny says, visual interplay and tension centers around:

Disguising and uncovering [which] are not exclusive but depend on each other.

Perhaps artists are intrigued by the allure of discovery, not discovery itself?


Peter Jenny: The Artist’s Eye (2012) Princeton Architectural Press, New York.


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