ART & ORGANISM
(what isn’t ultimately indefinable? Definitions may evoke an approximately similar experience, but are never the same thing as what we are definning: “the map is not the territory”))
(Is it as simple as “our art (like our minds) has boundaries while our universe does not?”)
Borrowing the clincal vocabulary of the communication disorder termed aphasia, expressive art refers to the processes of its creation, and receptive art refers to its impact or effect on viewers: these each have their own constellation of interconnected cognitive processes, but overlap significantly. Their co-constitution of ART in the broadest sense is supported in spirit by the observation of Delacroix that painting is
… Of course many of us are at least briefly more-or-less obsessed with out art: for example, some performers at https://www.deviantart.com/life-is-art-88/gallery (emphasizing “deviant” artists who more-or-less live their art).
ART is a way of KNOWING and of BEING KNOWN that is distinctive because it EMPHASIZES and CONFIGURES and AMPLIFIES specific cognitive competencies from perception to expression amongst the many that overlap and interpenetrate in both process and product. The dialogue of process and product are significantly expressed as an urge to deeper self-knowledge which (in seeming paradox) most often involves communicating with others. “TO KNOW” and “TO BE KNOWN” obeying some fundamental Gestalt “law of connectedness”, define each other. (look in on A&O notes on ART as COMMUNICATION) Process engages the our nervous systems often interpretable in terms of Bayesian reasoning)
ART is arguably the most conspicuous domain of “imaginative culture” —”the subjects traditionally studied in the humanities—is that part of culture that consists in shared and transmissible mental experiences that are aesthetically and emotionally modulated. Such [experiences and expressions of imaginative culture] include religion, ideology, and the arts. Evolutionary cultural theory has heretofore concerned itself mostly with technology and social organization. Imaginative culture is the last major piece in the puzzle of human nature.” (J. Carroll et al. (2020), Introduction to Evolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture. pp 1–28)
But the meaning of any example of ART–maybe any artifact–also depends on its context. Watch an old but highly relevant BBC documentary, John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 … for A&O, consider the meanings of paintings in terms of their connections: the context of originals and of reproductions. Do those ideas apply similarly to all artifacts, including those of science?
ART is a form of communication and I have borrowed some clinical terms to minimize the cultural baggage: We can speak of EXPRESSIVE ART (its creation and production) and RECEPTIVE ART (its appreciation). (compare to expressive aphasia where people can understand speech but have difficulty speaking fluently; in receptive aphasia there is a compromised ability to read and understand speech–one can perceive it well but it does not make sense to them)
EXPRESSIVE ART involves its CREATION or PRODUCTION
the MEDIUM of expression involves a specific aesthetic (sensory) modality (or combination of modalities)
RECEPTIVE involves the APPRECIATION of ART
The MEDIUM, while chosen by an individual as a convenient modality of communications — can also be a subject of deep personal interest. (“The Medium in the Message”–Marshall McLuhan 1960) … and see Artistic Medium, for analysisi and insight into the meaning of the medium itself (stone, pigment, sounds, the human body) devoid of specific message. That is, the origin of that from which a work of art is created — its potential for being adapted to expression of somethig an artist may want to communicate. The medium considered as something that IS, not merely something that an artist can exploit to represent something personal.
- In a blog entry in “Language and Philosophy,” Walter Idlewild.… wrote “Civilization judges a work of art not by the quantity of its transportable propositions but by the glow of its ineffable illuminations. The skilled audience, for its part, champions an artifact less for what it signifies than for what it suggests.”
- He quotes JH Levesque (1973): “The worth of a work of art does not come so much from what its creator condensed in it through his talent and experience as from the unexpected resonances and harmonics that it sets loose in the reader or viewer”
This may seem like it would be simple, but each term has its own history …
and NO term is identical with what it is presumed to represent.
So in pursuit of insight we circle around each term and establish its meaning by finding and exploring its connections which reach back into our cultural history, our shared history, and out personal history/ It this way, both the formidable faculties of both sapience and sentience will be brought to bear.
we begin with:
- ETHOLOGY (read about biological casues and consequences (such as sensory detection and cognitive and behavioral consequences) (DEEP Ethology: examines the confluence of developmental experience, ecological context, evolutionary background, and physiological causation)
- ART (as both the processes and products (“artifact”) of human productive and receptive causes and consequences
- AESTHETICS (defined & contextualized)
ART can be regarded as a collection of cognitive processes (e.g., memory, imagination) and actions–and arguably, the outcome of all that is an ARTIFACT. The enduring residue of the processes of art–such as the actions of artists who can never be known– individuals lost to memory or history, such as our paleolithic forebears
I hope it will become obvious that WORKS OF ART are the outcome of the activities of the artist–the individual who creates the artifact that initiates (intentionally or not) an act of communication. Sometimes (and this is important) if the communication is only between different aspects of one’s own self.
ART can be regarded in three general ways, each accessible to the scrutiny of DEEP ETHOLOGY. Borrowing quasi-clinical terms (to appear objective) we can speak of EXPRESSIVE (or PROJECTIVE) ART (originating within the artist and sometimes serving no more than to communicate within the artist as levels of consciousness and competence exercise their disposition to be as fully actualized as possible) MEDIUM (anything outside the artist over which she has some measure of control and can serve to communicate within or between individuals) RECEPTIVE ART (what is received by a viewer, the perception of what a work of art attempts to communicate.
“EXPRESSIVE” and “RECEPTIVE” are term adapted from clincal practice specializing in aphasia. The main types of aphasia depend on where in the brain there is damage or an anomaly (see clincal reference),
I live by leaps of faith. There is no bridge from an objective reality before me to my beliefs about its past causes and future consequences … every day subsistence and development is by means of these continual leaps of faith, made at every level of organization from perception to evolution. All my experiences are distinctive configurations of recursive functions–building upon and incorporating all those that came before–and are deeply involved with my conscious and non-conscious feelings and knowledge.
In other terms, ART
WHAT CAN ART REPRESENT? To frame a conversation, we can argue that art represents anything/everything that can be perceived–and anything/everything that the artist has every perceived. RECALLING that perception is an interaction between internal and external stimuli: That is: ALL STIMULI ARE PERCEIVED IN LIGHT OF PREVIOUSLY INTERNALIZED EXPERIENCE. These experiences may be conscious or nonconscious, distant in time or proximate, and represent perceptions co-constituted of specific stimuli that get more-or-less attention.
So, THE WORK OF ART–the ARTIFACT of a creative experience–will represent in varying proportion the mind of the artist and the stimuli perceived. (compare calculated and spontaneous art. cool, ultra-objective art and outsider art or art of the insane) (look again at ART vs ARTIFACT)
As the great Romantic Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, “Now Art, used collectively for painting, sculpture, architecture and music, is the mediatress between, and reconciler of, nature and man. It is, therefore, the power of humanizing nature, of infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation” (Coleridge, On Poesy or Art, 1818). [In science we seek to liberate (as much as may be possible) ourselves of the biases and prejudices of our communities and tribes and culture. Is art different? –often art seeks to characterize the culture itself]
- Said clearly by Emile Zola,[i] “Art is a fragment of nature seen through a temperament.” Fifty years later, Joseph Wood Krutch emphasized that art “Even when it is most determinedly realistic, … is conceived in accordance with the laws and limitations of the human mind…..even the most desperately `naturalistic’ art…is, at its most literal, nature passed through a human mind….” (Krutch, 1932) [bold emphasis mine]
MOTIVATION and SUBJECT MATTER of ART? Subject can be Anything! Everything! But the motives for expression change as we develop and I believe a case can be made for the first motive, particularly in one’s development, is to know one’s self. One’s SELF? The nature of the means of creating and how the artist’s state of mind and intentions are manifest–the process and product (artifact) reflect development of both congenital and acquired traits as one matures. (OK, traits–skills–involve the transmitter (expressive aspect of art), the medium, and the receiver (receptive aspect of art)– but the proportions can vary and often the dimension itself is at the center of the artist’s concern. Examples of artists that are aware of the self-discovery nature of art at notes on “Know Thy Self.”
- The nature of perception? VISUAL ART that sought to represent more than the sensations and perceptions of the moment emerged about the time of FUTURISM as artists found ways of “fusing of the past and the present, and the representation of different views of the subject pictured at the same time (multiple perspective, or simultaneity –double exposures and cinema –TIME! (see the A&O notes on Time and Space)
- STATE of MIND? if art can represent the artists state of mind, even cognitive competencies, can it be used to diagnose dysfunctions? can paleolithic art inform us of the mind of our distant ancestors, even the evolution of mind?
- REALITY? IDEOLOGY? Do we want to preserve something that affects us in perpetuity–immortalize–turn ephemeral reality into an eternal myth? Do we want to communicate–critically or or promoting–the ideology that informs our perceptions? Propaganda? (e.g., http://www.openbibart.fr/item/display/10068/949180 )(read an excerpt from George Orwell’s (1908) “All Art is Propaganda” (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98010494) and other corroborating commentators
One of the primal functions of what can emerge as “art” may be communications between levels of organization within one’s conconsciousness. Expressions of art are, as the author Ursula Le Guin said of words, “…events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.” (Communication? look further )
NATURE? FEELINGS? The state of mind of the artist, either communicating their truth or representing feelings by evoking them from within themselves as a Stanislavskian thespian might. (Stanislavski? Read about “The Method.”)
- Is what actors that utilize “the method” do really different from what any committed artist does? Evoking what is within, even if it involves first internalizing it? Immersing one’s self in the subject, even “becoming one with the subject.”
The emphasis on the feelings of an artist (the “antennae of the race,”Ezra Pound called them) came to be broadly appreciated in the Romantic time– arguably, beginning in 1800 when (for example) Wordsworth, speaking of poets, characterized art as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” …. when art is viewed as “the expression or uttering forth of feeling’ “(as John Stuart Mill put it in his essays on poetry of 1833, cited by Abrams 1953:48) … certain questions and notions follow.” We must ask, “how one’s work yields insight into the creator’s psyche … and “Whether it is genuine, spontaneous, sincere .… a projection of artist’s state of mind (TS Eliot’s “objective correlative” (1933) … By characterizing art as the “externalization of a psychic state” … “the “focus of critical attention [has moved] from audience or work of art to the psyche of the artist who created it.” (Federico Fellini said , “all art is autobiographical, the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”) “Freud’s approach, pathography*, may be seen as emerging from this larger context rather than as an isolated phenomenon. (Spitz 1985:26).
[i]. From my 1988 paper, “Art, Science, Arete”: Emile Zola (writing of art) termed “fragments of nature seen through a temperament.” (Emile Zola (1886), “Proudhon et Courbet,” In Mes Haines (Paris: Bibliotheque- Charpentier, 1923). Originally published in 1886. “Une oeuvre d’art est un coin de la creation vu a travers un temperament” (p.25). Zola later changed `creation’ to `nature’. Zola quotes Claude Bernard in The Experimental Novel near the end of Part I: “The appearance of the experimental idea,” he says further on, “is entirely spontaneous and its nature absolutely individual, depending upon the mind in which it originates; it is a particular sentiment, a quid proprium, which constitutes the originality, the invention, and the genius of each one.”
This view recalls Longfellow’s “Art is the . . . revelation of nature, speaking through man” (Hyperion, 1839). It was then reinvigorated by Joseph Wood Krutch (Experience and Art, N.Y.: Collier Books, 1962
Questions of INTENTION arise because many aesthetically interesting products are INCIDENTAL to some other action an individual is motivated to express.
We tend to refer to deliberate acts or objects that aim to provide information to another individual as WORKS OF ART, while aesthetically interesting phenomena that or unintended or incidental are ARTIFACTS. Since peoples motives and the usefulness of their actions are not always apparent, even to the person doing it, the lines between ART and ARTIFACT are not easily determined.
Incidental (collateral or “unintended”) consequences are of great interest in EVOLUTIONARY theory because it is often the raw material from which other adaptive functions become significant. (see A&O notes on Ritualization)
- In these notes you will learn that even the most extraordinary outward expressions of one’s inner state may have had their evolutionary origins in very humble reflexes, such as many that are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. For example, an animal’s autonomic nervous system may respond to a stressor by contracting surface muscles that might protect it from trauma (to conserve energy or minimize blood loss in the event of a wound) or the pilomotor muscles at the base of hairs or feathers in warm-blooded animals that help them conserve or dissipate body heat.
- A mild example most of us have experienced is frisson (goose-bumps); or feather-fluffing in birds engaged in courtship: IF the resulting change in appearance provides an advantage (say in chasing off predators or attracting mates) it may become more prominent in subsequent generations. Behold! the peacock’s tail ! (This is an example of the same systems serving multiple functions–that is, pleiotropy, invoked to characterize the multi-tasking of genes).
[i] Lucy Hartley (2015) Review of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience by G. Gabrielle Starr. (Cambridge,MA:MIT Press, 2013. p xv) Modern Philology, Vol. 112, No. 4 (May 2015), pp. E280-E283 http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/679474 Accessed: 12-07-2017 14:33 UTC [saved at C:\Users\Greenberg\Dropbox\NEW NOTES\A&O\A&O – review of FEELING BEAUTY .docx ]
Communication–transfer of information–occurs both within and between LEVELS OF ORGANIZATION that can be described both within and between individuals.. That is, from cells to civilizations, there is a constant flow of energy that (arguably) serves to satisfy BIOLOGICAL NEEDS. The level of organization we emphasize is that of the INDIVIDUAL, flanked by ORGANS that enable behavior at a “lower” level and COMMUNITY in which actions are potentially relevant to other individuals as we pursue the interlocked needs to “know and be known.”
With respect to communication within an individual…
“Know thyself!” (it is likely that both expression and reception of art engages multiple processes individual processes that are more-or-less coordinated … and that coordination can develop with exercise, inevitable as we mature)
With respect to communication between individuals…
And of poetry,
“I believe poetry is also a bridge between solitudes. At its best, it transports us — through the nonlinear and irresistible persuasion of music and metaphor — into a state of receptive empathy, the closest thing we can get to truly understanding what it’s like to see the world as someone else does, to live inside another’s skin.” (excerpted from “How poetry can help us say the unsayable” by Elizabeth Austen in the Seattle Times May 10, 2015)
[Of course there is much more to “saying the unsayable”–pay attention to the play of all your senses when reading or listening: there is no sensory modality that cannot affect the perceived meaning of words. Reading? Pay attention to the typography, phasing and cadence. The intrusion of intervening aspects of verbal sensing and expression. Do you subvocalize? [Diary note: after a few minutes of reading Kazantzakis’ The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel I find myself verbalizing softly. recalled needing to move or pretending I’m the conductor when listening to certain music]
Are you Listening? As with all modes of expression and reception, pay attention to tone of voice, as with music, every nuance of auditory communication. The curious phenomenon of proportions of vowels to consonants… rhyming… listen to masterpieces of rhetoric (e.g. Martin Luther King (1963) Henry V, St Crispin’s Day]
The countertenor Anthony Ross Costanzo said, “the first time I stood on stage and felt an audience completely motionless and silent, I realized that art has the ability to communicate complex emotions and ideas. That deep communication with an audience is what made me want to be an artist.” (allarts.org/everywhere)
(Quoted from Greenberg et al 2017, The Art and Science of Teaching.) A stimulus is special because of the selective attention of the artist and the selective attention of the observer. They necessary collaborate in every work of art” (Adapted from Greenberg et al. 2017)
Can we say that art has meaning?
SPEAKING ABOUT ART:
- AESTHETICS – elements of art A&O gateway site to attributes of art, problems of beauty, and DEEP connections.
TAKING ABOUT ARTISTS:
ART can ENRICH and ART can HEAL
HEALING: expressing and experiencing art is often anxiolytic–stress reducing: this insight is a powerful element of art therapy: SO NOW, look in on THE NEEDS MET BY ART
As a heuristic convenience in my seminar Art & Organism, I take the ethologist’s eye to art and begin by describing the hell out of it… or at least parts of it, and I start with the assumption that a complete view of ART must invove the viewer as well as the creator. To avoid the baggage of famiiar vocabulary, I adopted the clinical vocabuary of the brain-based communications disorders known as APHASIAS, the terms EXPRESSIVE and RECEPTIVE.