The Art of Participating in Silence

  • Anna Szyjkowska-Piotrowska Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland


The purpose of the essay is to use associations related to silence in order to ascertain whether “participation/participation in silence” is in fact an oxymoron. First, the reflection focuseson the possible meanings of silence. The author proposes treating silence as a performative (non)act of speech. She then uses the criteria developed by J.L. Austin to demonstrate the performative and abstract (and therefore not narrative or descriptive) nature of silence. Secondly, the expression “participation in silence” is considered in the light of Aristotle's views on the individual-community axis. Finally, earlier reflections are used to identify the links between silence and art. John Cage's 4'33 is a selected example, though not the only one. It turns out that participation in silence is not an oxymoron.