Renaissance Society of America – New Orleans, March 22-24, 2018

At the RSA 2018, I commented on three papers that art historians Dr. Jorge Sebastián LozanoDr. Víctor Mínguez Cornelles and Dr. Inmaculada Rodríguez Moya presented in the session: “Between Word and Image: Verbal-Visual Representations of Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Spanish Royal Women,” which I organized, and Dr. Julie Campbell chaired.

This is what I said:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching videos on Youtube about twin-flames; these are souls that were once one, that have separated, and are on a journey to reunite. It can take forever, but it eventually happens, if they are patient, allowing God’s plan to work out. When they unite, the videos say, they make the world a better place; but, there are some issues and suggestions that we should all be aware of, when it comes to twin-flames, and that the videos address as well. For example, what to do when your twin-flame is married to someone else (oops), what to do when your twin-flame ignores you, and how to deal with the great emotional intensity when the unbreakable reunion finally occurs.

Noa Yaari, I Love You, 2018

Word and image relation is not so different from twin-flame connection; it, too, manifests varied measures of similarity, distance, attraction, and the potential to create something whole with an everlasting quality. The three papers that we have just heard tell us a story about the use of word-and-image relation to establish status and legacy for three 16th and 17th century Spanish royal women. These papers show that throughout history, people understood how the human mind reacts to combinations of words and images. We irresistibly – probably unconsciously – accept verbal-visual constellations as accurate representations of whatever they stand for. And while we are wired to do so, what determines the form of these hybrid representations is the rise of specific needs and availability of verbal and visual resources.

Noa Yaari, I Love You, 2018

According to Jorge’s paper, when the beauty of Empress Isabella became a necessity, it wasn’t essential to have her around, nor any of the first-hand testimonies of her appearance. Ironically, as Jorge points out, the instillation of the Empress’s beauty in the collective memory was due to the narratives on St. Francis of Borgia, who allegedly converted, traumatized, after seeing his patron’s corpse. Painting beautiful portraits of the Empress, on the one hand, and conveying how devastating it was to see her losing that beauty, on the other, created an immortal image of a mortal woman.

Noa Yaari, I Love You, 2018

As Victor’s paper shows, Queen Isabella of Valois became a symbol of a new peaceful and powerful era in Spanish history; her signification as such was possible through her marriage to Philip II, but more importantly, through crossing different semiotic systems in relation to her. The juxtaposition of the motto “IAM FELICTER OMNIA” (“Everything now felicitously”), an image of a sun (with everything that it symbolizes) and an image of a moon (with its own symbolism) creates a representation of a new situation in global politics. A comparison between the 1559 and the 1560 emblems reveals the crucial role of the spatial-relation between words and images in generating a specific meaning; in the later emblem, we see the motto free from its ribbon and closer to the two celestial bodies, which are much more similar now, signifying that politics have become more felicitous not only on the global level, but also between the “sun” and the “moon.” As Victor suggests, the later emblem radiates to the world that Spain is in the hands of a strong ruling couple.

Noa Yaari, I Love You, 2018

Finally, Inma’s paper demonstrates the complex connection between one’s life and death and their verbal-visual representations. For example, before Isabella Clara Eugenia died in 1633, she requested to be buried in a specific chapel, in a particular church with a monument and double-tomb for herself and her cousin; however, her request was never entirely fulfilled, as her gravestone is, in fact, relatively modest and simple. As Inma points out, by using verbal and visual rhetorical devices, Puget dele Serre made his illustrated eulogy of Isabella her mausoleum and portrait. In this case, we could argue, one doesn’t sit in but with the place to contemplate the deceased’s spiritual and political virtues. More generally, perhaps in addition to the various kinds of rhetoric that are used in illustrated books, the fact that the books require direct touch and activity from the readers fosters the memory of their content. At any rate, the three papers that we have heard today indicate that 16th and 17th century Spanish culture had found a way to ensure that their royal women’s legacy will burn forever. The fact that we are discussing them today suggests that so far so good.

Noa Yaari, I Love You, 2018


Posted in Contemplations, My Art

Drawing Childhood Memories on Money as a Teaching Tool

The following article was published in Innovatus, York University’s monthly pedagogical newsletter, on January 19, 2018. It describes an art exercise I gave in my tutorials.

In the last tutorial of the fall term, students in the History course Making Money drew their early memories on money. This exercise, given by artist and Teaching Assistant Noa Yaari, builds on two writing assignments Course Director Professor David Koffman gave that term. The first is to write about an early childhood memory on money, and the second is to analyze an image in which money plays a central role.

“Drawing a memory requires the students to coordinate the image in their mind, their body, art supplies and the work that they gradually create” says Yaari. “It’s challenging and important, since while we are developing our analytical verbal skills, we tend to forget the role our body and senses have in creating and communicating knowledge. We also neglect them as a teaching and learning tool.”

Students drawing childhood memories on money, in History Course “Making Money”

According to Yaari, the distinction between “body” and “mind” limits our perception of ourselves as learning and teaching beings. “I find teaching to be a great opportunity to explore learning processes,” says Yaari. “For example, returning to a memory that we already wrote a paper on to physically draw it is to literally feel the varied ways in which we can approach the same topic. Welcoming this diversity enriches our understanding of each of the approaches, enabling us to combine them and offer new ones.”

Artwork by Maria Toufiq

“Since money is anyway a sensitive issue, approaching it from different angles helps understand the complexity of learning about it. I hope that this exercise will have a long-term impact on the students,” adds Yaari.

Artwork by Lucas Amello

Student Lucas Amello worked on his memory on selling lemonade in front of his family’s house, to purchase a desired bicycle. He shares his experience: “I think there is a monumental difference between the articulation and depiction of a memory. I find that I attain a greater level of clarity after partaking in an artistic exercise such as this. I was surprised at how clearly I could summarize my 1200-word paper. In the short span of 15 minutes, I was able to effectively depict the full extent of my childhood experience, showcasing in a series of pictures the extensive impact it had on the way I view currency, and the manner in which I conduct my finances.”

Artwork by Narjis Panjwani

Professor David Koffman reflects on the classroom activity. “I was very pleased by Noa’s initiative to have students use art to thicken their experiences of the material we analyzed in class,” says Koffman. “As a General Education course, Making Money is designed not just to promote thinking about money from a variety of new perspectives, but to encourage careful questioning about how different fields of scholarship know what they know. This in-tutorial art exercise took the course aim in an entirely new direction: by returning to the same memory, students got the chance to consider how they can come to know differently what they already know.”

A PhD candidate in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Yaari, who is finishing her dissertation in History, writes on how historians use visual evidence in their publications: “I have no doubt that my research, teaching and art have merged in this exercise. I feel privileged to have these students, course director and the Department of History, who kindly purchased the art supplies, to experience new pedagogical adventures.”

A Flickr gallery showing the students’ work:
The post in York University’s Innovatus
Posted in My Art, Teaching

Self Portrait, 2000-2018

Noa Yaari, Self Portrait, 2000-2018. Mixed media, Tel Aviv-Toronto
Posted in Dissertation, My Art

The Discovery of Discovery

In the discourse about the rise of pre-modern individualism or the discovery of the individual in pre-modern Europe (ca. 1000-1600), historians are inclined to argue that there was a period of time in which the interest in one’s own self had become a dominant character of the age. They support their understanding of this change of interest, focus and expression by pointing to sources such as literature, theological and ethical texts, legal documents, and the fine arts. Within these sources, they draw our attention to changes in verbal and visual vocabulary and rhetoric, as if they reflect contemporaries’ state of mind; as if language – of any kind – mirrors the psyche that produces it.

Noa Yaari, The Discovery of Discovery, 2017, Toronto

The problem of historicizing how people approached their own self through analyzing such sources can be clarified by thinking of those people’s connection with their body. It wouldn’t make sense to claim that pre-modern people didn’t feel their body; that they weren’t aware of the fact that their souls are interconnected with a dynamic physical entity. But when historians locate the “discovery” of the self on the axis of time, they do so while ignoring that the “self” is a bodily phenomenon. They think about their subjects of inquiry as if they had never had a headache, never enjoyed a kiss, never been stung by a bee; as if the discovery of the “self,” and subsequently the constitution of the self itself, start with its theorization. It makes the pre-modern self, about which the historians write a narrative, as much the historians’ as it is their subjects’. It makes the history of the pre-modern discovery of the self a discovery of discovery; a story that couldn’t have been established without rejecting the self as a bodily existence.

Posted in Uncategorized

Benjamin Lee Whorf

Writes: “[…] for science, poetry, and love are alike in being “flights” above and away from the slave-world of literal reference and humdrum prosaic details, attempts to widen the petty narrowness of the personal self’s outlook, liftings toward Arūpa, toward that world of infinite harmony, sympathy and order, of unchanging truths and eternal things.

Care Bears

And while all words are pitiful enough in their mere “letter that killeth,” it is certain that scientific terms like ‘force, average, sex, allergic, biological’ are not less pitiful, and in their own way no more certain in reference than ‘sweet, gorgeous, rapture, enchantment, heart and soul, star dust.”

Love-a-Lot Bear

What does the principle, which Whorf points out, mean when it comes to images? Are scientific, fictional and erotic images similarly pitiful and uncertain in their reference as the words “force,” “sex” and “gorgeous”? Do they need a context to fill them with meaning, since without a context they practically refer to nothing, and equally, to anything? It depends on how we define “context,” but to do so we need a context.


Whrof, Benjamin Lee. “Language, Mind and Reality.” Language, Though and Reality. Ed. John B. Carroll. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1956. 260.
Image source Care Bears:
Image source Love-a-Lot Bear:
Posted in Contemplations

You see,

Noa Yaari, History’s on my Side,  2015
Posted in My Art

Wordimage in (is) Mythology

In her Reading “Rembrandt”: Beyond the Word-Image Opposition, Mieke Bal refers to Roland Barthes’s remark that “the very end of myth is to immobilize the world,” and to Philip Rahv’s observation that the persistence of romanticism and conservatism, manifested in myth – and its criticism – result from the fear of history, change, choice and freedom. To Bal, visual representation of stories is informed by those sentiments as well. In the case of painting, the appeal to longevity and universality found in myth is strengthened by the visual confinement in a spatial frame, making the story’s element of time irrelevant (p. 97).

A visual representation of a specific moment of a verbal narrative embodies a significant meaning (or, as Bal terms it an “occasion of meaning”). The moment represented encodes the rest of the story, which is decoded by the observer, who unfolds it into an event or chain of events that take place in time. Movements, sounds, smells and everything that can be perceived by the senses and stored in memory are ready to get into action, filling the observer’s imagination with a life-like experience. What makes a specific moment of the verbal story apt to visually represent it all? Is it the “climax” of the story, the turning point in which, for example, a cause and effect relation is illuminated in the most effective, aesthetic way? A point that tells us that everything we can imagine about human life has already been proven to be true and, at the same time, totally false? Could it be the most evocative element among the other elements in the story that – like the other elements – without context, lacks absolute merit?


                             Wonder Woman I                                                                      Wonder Woman II

Verbal syntax triggers spatial schemes or geometrical forms and patterned relations in our mind; abstract, static and dynamic representations, based on sensorial experience and the use of both verbal and visual representations. This is what happens along the whole story: intertwined verbal and visual syntaxes develop into a single changing composition, in which the point that is apt to visually represent the whole narrative is where the geometry is mostly arousing, compelling us to go back and forth in spacetime. What makes this point a powerful mechanism that can set us on a cognitive journey? It might be a survival reaction; a bodily recognition that our life needs something to continue. Perhaps we live in a mythological world where once in a while we become aware of these points in which a single glance is enough to signal the whole story, allowing us to ponder and embrace a lesson.

                                                                                   Wonder Woman III
Bal, Mieke. Reading “Rembrandt”: Beyond the Word-Image Opposition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Wonder Woman I – image source:
Wonder Woman II – image source:
Wonder Woman III – image source:
Posted in Contemplations

Visual Quoting II

In his essay “Shifters and Verbal Categories,” Roman Jakobson describes the complexity of “indexical symbols” – linguistic signs that, as symbols, represent their objects by convention and, as indices do, have existential relations with their objects, at the same time (following Peirce’s classification).

Jakobson writes: “If we observe that even linguistic scientists had difficulties in defining the general meaning of the term I (or you), which signifies the same intermittent function of different subjects, it is quite obvious that the child who has learned to identify himself with the proper name will not easily become accustomed to such alienable terms as the personal pronouns: he may be afraid of speaking of himself in the first person while being called you by his interlocutors.”

“Sometimes” he continues “he attempts to redistribute these appellations. For instance, he tries to monopolize the first pronoun: “Don’t dare call yourself I. Only I am I, and you are only you.” Or he uses indiscriminately either I or you both for the addresser and the addressee so that this pronoun means any participant of the given dialogue. Or finally, I is so rigorously substituted by the child for his proper name that he readily names any person of his surrounding but stubbornly refuses to utter his own name: the name has for his little bearer only a vocative meaning, opposed to the nominative function of I. This attitude may persevere as an infantile survival” (p. 389).

Carla Careti, Jacques Lacan and Roman Jakobson, Milan, 1974
Source of Lacan’s quote:
Source of Jakobson’s quote:
Source of photograph:
Jakobson, Roman. On Language. Eds. Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990. 386-392.
Posted in Contemplations

Word and Image

Rarely do we see images without accompanying words, written or spoken. Images in books, newspapers, magazines, ads, television and the internet are often mediated by verbal language, that influences the way we see the images and think about them. In museums and galleries as well, the convention is to say something about the visual material and its maker through a label or a pair of earphones. There is a trend in museums to display artists’ quotes on the wall, that presumably reflect something important; this is in addition to elaborate verbal descriptions and explanations about the artists and their work.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri, 1988

Pictures and posters that we put at home (including magnets on the fridge) are perhaps the most nonverbal images available. In many cases, they are not surrounded by words that cause us to reiterate a text that was already expressed, while we observe and absorb the images. On the other hand, sometimes the domestic visuals are there exactly for the stories they evoke. We remember how we got them; where we found, bought or printed them, and what they and their verbalization mean to us. This is what we tell others who visit our homes for real, or just in our imagination.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Female External Genitalia and Five Views of the Fetus in the Womb (detail), c. 1510-12. Windsor Castle

Mapplethorpe was my hero when I was a teenager; I had postcards with his photographs above my bed, where I used to lay down my head. Every time I went to sleep I saw those muscles, those boys, a woman, a smile. And this is, of course, Leonardo who is my number one. I printed it from the internet, on campus, and the frame is from a Salvation Army store. On that sheet, he claims that the fetus doesn’t have a voice, because this would entail respiration and consequently drowning. But today we know that the fetus does breathe or gets oxygen through the umbilical cord. And this is van Gogh, isn’t it lovely? Look how the woman hugs the man. I’m wondering what she’s telling him or he’s telling her. It’s the first page of a two-page letter van Gogh sent to his friend Émile Bernard who was a painter and writer. He sent it from Arles, in 1888.

Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Emile Bernard, 1888. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York


Robert Mapplethorpe – image source:–eva-amurri-susan-sarandon.jpg
Leonardo da Vinci – image source:
Vincent van Gogh – image source:
Posted in Contemplations

Courtesans or Gentlewomen?

Associations between words and images in historiography are powerful. In the chapter “The Position of Women” in the 1958 Harper & Row edition of Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), we see the term “courtesans” in the caption of figure 193 (p. 392), and the definition of “public women” as an “unhappy class of women” on p. 395. We know that Burckhardt distinguishes “public women” from courtesans or “kept women” according to his text. However, figure 193 is the only image in this chapter that depicts “women,” while the rest depict either “a woman” or “a woman and two men.” Thus, if there is any image in this chapter that depicts a “class of women,” figure 193, a painting by Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1490-95), is it. Moreover, the women in this painting don’t look very happy: their body language as well as that of the dogs, and the resemblance of both women’s faces and haircuts make them the best candidates for being a visual representation of an “unhappy class.”

Jacob Burckahrdt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, 1958, pp. 392-93

But, interestingly, the Venetian Museo Correr which holds the painting, titles the artwork “Two Venetian Gentlewomen.” On its website, the museum clearly states that “Romantic art criticism had given this painting the title The Two Courtesans, but the sitters are clearly two gentlewomen, whose elegant garments and hairstyles clearly denote their wealth, their status – and their honesty.” It further elaborates on the symbols in the painting that connect it to modesty, marital harmony, fidelity, vigilance, the Virgin Mary, and the Venetian Preli family. “Hence” it says “the subject-matter of the entire picture becomes clearer, with two noblewomen becoming perhaps slightly bored as they wait for their husbands to return from a hunting trip.”

Well then, we agree that these two women, whatever their status, do not look very happy or interested, but we recognize a conflict between the caption and the women depicted in this painting. Consequently, the semantic connection between the verbal description of courtesans in the chapter and this illustration is questionable. More generally, this conflict illuminates the problem of titling artworks, and illustrating and captioning illustrations in historiography. Any association between verbal and visual components in what could become historical evidence and illustrated historiography, reflects a chain of semantic decisions, that establishes the basis for the epistemological experience. These combinations of words and images that occur in space and time to describe and explain the past, can, therefore, be analyzed as external to the “content” of the text, as what Hayden White defines as “prefigurative” or “poetic acts” (Metahistory x).


Posted in Contemplations, Dissertation