The Sense is Mistrusting
Rudolf Arnheim – Visual Thinking: The senses mistrusted (Arnheim, R. (1969) Visual Thinking. California: California University Press)
Q. Why does Arnheim suggest that perception is mistrusted?
The first great thinkers are known to be the Greeks, their understanding of the world referred to two worlds. The heavenly world ‘…geometrically perfect paths. […] a world governed by basic numerical ratios.’ (p.4) And the mortal or ‘sublunar’ world ‘disorderly setting of unpredictable changes’ (p.4). The mortal world was seen as the problem; that humans were the ones making mistakes.
Through perception we become aware of something, via our senses. Reasoning is the action of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way.
Arnheim is saying that our perception of the world can be misleading without reasoning. An example he gives is ‘A stick dipped into water looks broken’ (p.5). Without an understanding of water and the solidness of a stick, we are incapable of coming to a reasonable conclusion. With the use of reasoning we are able to establish truth. The Greeks mortal world of mistakes could now be ‘attributed to a subjective misreading’ (p.5). A lack of reasoning towards our perception creates a world that does not make sense.
Perception is mistrusted by the labelling of reasoning as truth. ‘Psychology [..] has cautioned us not to identify innocently the world we perceive with the world that “really” is.’ (p.5)
‘Sensory perception and reasoning were established as antagonists, in need of each other but different from each other in principle’ (p.6).
Rudolf Arnheim – Visual Thinking: Perception and cognition (Arnheim, R. and Arnheim, R. (1969) Visual thinking. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.)
Q. What does Arnheim suggest is the answer?
Arnheim is saying that cognition includes thinking, it is what happens in our minds. Also thinking is ‘essential’ in perception; the use of our senses. Therefore perception is part of our cognition.
‘…the cognitive operations called thinking are […] the essential ingredients of perception itself’ (p.13)
‘By “cognitive” I mean all mental operations involved in the receiving, storing and processing of information: sensory perception, memory, thinking, learning.’ (p.13)
‘I must extend the meaning of the terms “cognitive” and “cognition” to include perception’ (p.13)
‘The world casts its reflection upon the mind, and this reflection acts as raw material, to be scrutinised, shifted, reorganised, and stored.’ (p.14) Our eyes are constantly collecting information about our surrounding world, this ‘raw material’, is then made sense of by our brains. The more we see, the greater our understanding, sometimes we perceive the world very quickly, other times our minds need time to gain more information before coming to a conclusion. Perception is not a passive act. We are constantly filling our brains with material to be assessed.
‘The world emerging from this perceptual exploration is not immediately given. Some of its aspects build up fast, some slowly, and all of them are subject to continued confirmation, reappraisal, change, compilation, correction, deepening of understanding.’ (p.14-15)
‘Our thoughts influence what we see’, and what we see influences out thoughts. (p.15) Our minds are constantly correcting the images our eyes receive. Images can be misleading, but our reasoning is able to consider external factors in order to make sense of it.
‘…the flat image is corrected by an unconscious judgement based on facts available to the observer.’ (p.15)
The understanding of perception is subjective. Some describe it as ‘only what is received by the senses at the time when they are stimulated by the outer environment.’ (p.16) Is perception used when our eyes are closed? “Person Perception” is the term by which thinking is considered perception. The thinking of ‘what is or could be.’ But Arnheim is considering organisms without a brain. He says that you don’t need a mind to have cognition. He is interested with small organisms without minds, but that have a ‘steady trait’ a ‘grouping for information’ (p.16). But, how does an organism like this survive. Does it just have reflexes or the work of a greater being?
Juhani Pallasmaa – The Thinking Hand: Thinking Through the Senses (Pallasmaa, J. (2009) The Thinking Hand: Embodied and Existential Thinking in Architecture. London: Wiley.)
Q. How does Pallasmaa allow us to make the ‘dark’ cognition visible?
‘All [Art] is the result of serious thinking.’ (p.114) ‘…a distinct way of thinking through the medium of [Art].’ (p.114)
As artists we are using the act of creating to understand the world. We use it as a means to think. ‘…it is a mode of thinking in its own right.’ (p.115)
‘Artistic ideas are not necessarily ideational and translatable into verbal terms, as they are embodied metaphors of the world and of the particular way we exist in the world.’ (p.115)
In understanding the world we must not forget the ‘backbone’ of our practice/subject. If the ‘…discipline is lost, the art form weakens ‘ (p.115)
Our entire body along with our senses ‘think’, informing us of ‘our situation in the world and meditating a sensible behavioural response.’ (p.116). *
‘An artistic thought is not merely a conceptual or logical deduction, it implies an existential understanding and synthesis of lived experience that fuses perception, memory and desire. Perception fuses memory with the actual precept, and consequently, even ordinary sense perceptions are complex processes of comparison and evaluation.’ (p.116)
As children we are all taught via ‘Kinetic Learning’ (‘Mimesis’) that is learning through doing. This is how we learnt our motor skills. As artists we continue to learn in this way. You can’t learn to throw a pot, or construct a canvas through words on a page. You have to pick up the tools and try for yourself. You are training your hands to work in a new way, through ‘Muscular mimesis’.
* Task: Nietzsche states “The dancer has his ear in his toes”. What body part, do fine artists use to think?
Unlike other subjects like Product Design or Maker, that work from a brief, Fine art is more personal. We explore our own individual response to an initial idea, and from that aim to expand the understanding of that idea, in hope of also expanding someone’s mind. As well as obviously thinking with our hands to practically create ‘stuff’, there is also much discussion that happens between ourselves, peers, tutors and anyone else who might give a fresh perspective. We are using our voices to articulate our ideas to others. Asking questions, telling stories, and debating theories. However, we also take in their responses. How can you expand your own concept without talking to people and hearing their point of view? Without the use of our ears it would be almost impossible to be innovative, thought provoking and to further expand the boundaries of ‘art’.
Alongside the use of our voices and ears, are our legs and feet. Discussion is predicated on being in the same place as someone. Walking is vital to the finding of research and information. A gallery can only be experienced in person, and the ability to experience the art; to walk around it.