Image and Narrative

Authors: Jaroslav Vostrý, Miroslav Vojtěchovský
On scenity in the plastic and dramatic arts. Edition Disk large series

Image“We shall not be concerned in the following chapters with the staging or presentation of goods for sale, or with ‘non-artistic’ self-staging, because, apart from anything else, we do not want to end up producing yet another complaint about the staged nature of reality in the modern world, a reality which now seems to have blotted out all manifestations of ‘true reality’. We shall be concerned in this book with art – from a scenological perspective – and mostly with the plastic arts in various periods of history. It is our belief that the interpretation of art can lead to an understanding of the fundamental essence of all staging and of how to exploit the urge which gives rise to staging in a truly creative way.

To state in simple terms the subject matter of the book’s individual chapters, we are concerned with nothing more and nothing less than how to cultivate one’s own scenic sense and dramatic sensibility. Is not this scenic sense, which is the very foundation of the actor’s art, also applied in a supremely creative way in the plastic arts? And was it not applied long before there could have been any talk of ‘installations’ or ‘performances’? Is it simplistic to think that the cultivation of dramatic sensibility, which is inseparably linked to the scenic sense and is acquired through the contemplation of art, can help us become more resistant to the manipulation which underlies the staged nature of our world and which is also its greatest danger?“

The authors of this book address the topic of image in conjunction with the topic of narrative. Both of these come together in what we might call a tableau or a scene, and the book therefore also addresses a fundamental characteristic of the current age, which may in all seriousness be termed the age of universal staging.

This state of affairs is the outcome of developments in two areas. The first is the new approach to selling which emerged in the middle of the 19th century, whereby shops offered goods for sale at fixed prices and presented or staged the goods in such a way that they became an enticement to the consumer. The second of these developments is the proliferation and growing power of the media, from newspapers to magazines to the internet, made possible by technological developments that started with photography and then progressed to film, radio, television and video and all the way to the personal computer, as well as from analogue-based methods of recording and distributing information to digital methods.

The easy availability of cameras makes photography (and photographic self-staging) a widespread form of entertainment. It is no surprise, therefore, that the authors pay considerable attention to photography in their analysis of staging in the plastic and dramatic arts. They are also interested in the results of the above developments, such as, for example, the clear shift in the plastic arts away from the creation of original objects and towards the installation of ready-made items, or performances based on self-staging.

The developments in question would not have been possible, of course, had staging and scenicity not been natural manifestations of (social) man. By examining the narrative in opposition to the image, and the plastic arts in opposition to the dramatic arts, the authors are able to address the topic of universal staging itself from a broader and deeper perspective, and to go beyond the level of merely lamenting the unfortunate consequences of this phenomenon.


The eminent Czech theater professor Jaroslav Vostrý (1931), after graduating from Theatre Studies at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU), started working for the magazine Divadlo (Theatre) in 1956, and at the beginning of the 1960s, became its editor-in-chief. Together with the director Ladislav Smoček, he founded Činoherní klub (Drama Club), an important Czech theatre, which gained international acclaim during the 1960s. He continued as artistic director at the Činoherní klub until 1972, when he was fired for political reasons during the so-called “normalization” period, and worked as an author, dramaturg and stage director. In the second half of the 1970s and in the 1980s, he directed in regional theatres. He returned to the Činoherní klub as director between 1990 and 1993. He has taught at Prague DAMU since the early 1960s – although he could only work as a freelancer during the normalization period. In 1993–1995 he worked as Rector of AMU, and in 1996–2002 as Head of the Theory and Criticism Department of DAMU. Since 2002 he has been the director of the Research Institute for Dramatic and Scenic Art at DAMU, chairman of the Doctoral Committee for Scenic Work and the Theory of Scenic Arts (scenology) and editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine Disk, (the Journal for Scenic Production Studies). In Disk he has published numerous essays, mainly on scenology. He is the author of many plays, dramatizations, and professional monographs on drama, directing and acting (Činoherní klub 1965–1972: Dramaturgie v praxi /The Drama Club 1965–1972: Dramaturgy in Practice/; O hercích a herectví /About Actors and Acting/; Režie je umění /Direction Is Art/; Scénologie dramatu /Scenology of Drama/). He also serves as a vice-chairman of the oldest Czech foundation, the Josef, Marie and Zdeňka Hlávka Talent Foundation.

Professor Miroslav Vojtěchovský (1947) is one of the leading Czech photographers, educators and publicists in his field. Between 1972–1976, he studied photography at the Prague Film Academy (FAMU), moving on to teach there in 1978. Between 1990 and 1999 he was Head of the Photography Department, and from 1993 to 1995 he was Associate Rector of the Academy of Performing Arts (AMU). In 1999–2003, he was at the American University in Washington, D. C. Since 2003, he has been teaching at a private school of art and advertising (the Orange Factory in Prague) and since 2006 at the Faculty of Applied Arts and Design at the J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, where he works as Head of the Photography Department and the Studio of Applied and Advertising Photography. Besides photographing glass products and creating the visual style of many companies working with glass (for example, Moser, Skloexport, Crystalex, Preciosa), he has visually documented Czech studio glass and the glass industry between 1970 and 2004. From 1980 to 1989, he collaborated with the magazine Glass Review, and in 1998–1999 he was the co-author of the visual-space solution of the Skoda pavilion in the project “Automobile City” in Wolfsburg, built as a part of the Expo 2000 in Hannover. An author of many individual exhibitions, he was awarded the Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Photographic Education in 1994 by the Czech Photographers Association. In 1997, he received the main “Personality of the Year” prize, awarded by the Committee of the International Fair for Photographic, Film, and Audiovisual Techniques, Intercamera. In 2007, he was awarded the title “Photography Personality” for his long term contribution in this field by the Professional Photographers Association of the Czech Republic. His theoretical essays are published mainly in Disk magazine.

Prepared by the Research Institute for Dramatic and Scenic Art at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (AMU) in Prague for the Centre of Fundamental Research of AMU in Prague and MU (Masaryk University) in Brno; published in Czech Republic by Nakladatelství KANT – Karel Kerlický; 1. issue Praha 2011; ISBN 978-80-7437-053-3 (KANT); orders by mail: Nakladatelství KANT – Karel Kerlický, Kladenská 29, 160 00 Praha 6, Czech Republic; e-mail: kant@kant-books.com.