A LOVING BATTLE; BODY & MIND IN MOTION
Paper presented to
InSEA 30TH WORLD CONGRESS, “Cultures and Transitions”. Hosted by the Australian Institute of Art Education
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Queensland, 21-26 September, 1999
Dr. Karen Knight-Mudie, Senior Lecturer, Expressive Arts, Faculty of Education,
University of Southern Queensland, TOOWOOMBA. Q.
Playing Around with Tools in the Head.
If, as animals, our basic instincts are primarily those of survival and, if the way in which the body functions is crucial to our survival, how can we make our survival an enjoyable process and, what ways and means will we find for doing this? Schelling (1986: 182) contends that the things that either make us happy or unhappy occur in the mind, where, through the process of becoming engaged in something we endeavour to escape boredom, “the tedium of consciousness, of one’s own company” through various forms of entertainment that facilitate a few hours of forgetfulness. In other words we want to assume another mind that will make our body feel good because our own mind is not doing a good job. How can this be if we all have much the same tools in the head? Is there something wrong with our tools, or is there something wrong with the way in which we use our tools?
According to Solso (1994), the brain is the nucleus of the emotions, giving life feeling; it is the centre of thinking, providing associations for rational thought; and it is the centre of visual perception, the ability to see, feel and experience art. Located in the head, the brain is part of the body and, thus we can argue that bodily involvement is crucial to recognising the way in which the mind works. This involves some understanding of the chemistry of the total body as demonstrated by Salomon (1979), Culler (1981), Arnheim (1986), Churchland (1983), Johnson (1987), Lakoff (1987) and Gee (1992).
Churchland (1983), Gee (1992) and Solso (1994) propose that clusters of neurons in the brain can each be activated to different degrees, depending upon how greatly they are stimulated by other neurons that send signals to particular clusters of neurons. Gee (1992) suggests that we can identify three basic clusters of neurons that are triggered by firstly, input sensors (sight, touch, smell, taste, sound) that clamour for the attention of the second cluster comprising the interpreter modules that sift expectations, decisions, emotions and actions through language, to the third cluster of output sensors that manifest the result of the input sensors moderated by the interpreter.
Figure 1 suggests possible traffic routes that neurons might follow in the brain according to ideas proposed by Gee (1992). The notion of percolation, as demonstrated visually by the ascending arrows, seems appropriate because it suggests the on-going flow of data that modifies the output of each person, and thus a vertical egg motif is used as a model for the brain to suggest the reciprocal interplay of physical and mental forces that cause us to act.
It appears that clusters of neurons are activated firstly by direct sensory perception, which then causes these neurons, secondly, to demand the attention of interpreter modules that sift information to the third cluster of output modules that result in action/thought of some sort. However, things are never as simple as they appear owing to the variety of senses we perceive. How do we determine whether sight, touch, smell, taste or sound is the most important? Is it the job of the interpreter modules to direct the traffic signals?
Strong arguments (Elster, 1998: Ainslie, 1986: Schelling, 1986; Davidson 1986: Rorty, 1986) highlight the human proclivity to present actions and beliefs in the most favourable way in an effort to satisfy self or outcompete to the extent that, perhaps, we become so successful in self-deception that we avoid the risk of betraying our ulterior motives even to ourselves. In stronger terms, Gee (1992) argues that “self-deception” is the basis of human intelligence, Grossberg (1988) claims that we construct fake identities as a way of designing self and, in less provocative terms, Salomon (1979) posits the notion of recoding in our efforts to overcome dissonance, while Sless (1981) and Dissanayake (1992) draw our attention to transformation in the process of copying from original models.
What seems apparent from the above observations is the fact that humans do want to tell the best story or make something special and, while Gee (1992) and Grossberg (1998) highlight the deceit often involved in the telling, Dissanayake (1992, p.12), in stressing the process of making special, argues along the lines of recoding and transformation proposed by Salomon (1979) and Sless (1981). She stresses that bondedness, group harmony, interdependence, and cooperation are more attractive than deception, competitiveness and strife and, her analogy that "flies are more attracted to honey than to vinegar" situates her firmly in the sociobiologist camp. She reasons that the fact that something might be used in competitive display does not necessarily imply that the origin and selective value were solely for the purpose of competition, though self-interest and survival cannot be ruled out.
This raises a very interesting problem for us because Coombs (1979) suggests that one of the effects of competition is to make people who are competing more alike. If the goals and rules are similar it follows that the work or effort produced will be similar, and hence we are able to identify degrees of similarity that suggest prototypal behaviour. If this is the case we must be either involved in telling the best story to outcompete through deceit and manipulation or, making special those various things that are important in the service of abiding human concerns. Thus we might ask: are deceit, self-absorption and self-deception inherent traits in the human species, or are we truthful, sharing and communal beings?
It can be argued that the difference lies in the type of motivation that stirs people to action, or in other words, the force of the input signals coming from the discourse of which one is a member. On the one hand, the signals may emphasise an external reward such as money, momentary fame or some fabulous prize. On the other hand, the signals may stress an inherent satisfaction and fulfillment in undertaking a challenging task. It is arguable that there is another important difference that affects our decision-making process and this concerns the rules of the game that are predetermined in competition but are unstated in searching for personal fulfillment. If we get too far out of line according to the rules of the social group when playing the competitive game, the social group sees to it that we have experiences that reset some weights so as to nudge our network closer to the target. When this happens, the resetting may cause feelings of anxiety in stimulating akratic behaviour that Rorty (1986) attributes to powerful external forces that dominate a subject’s behaviour. On the other hand we might remove ourselves from the conflict. For example, we can note avoidance of succumbing to external pressure in Rooney’s response to Catalano’s (1994) question:
What made you choose art over music or literature? From all accounts you were just as interested in them.
I submit Rooney’s response in full because any interpretation on my behalf would not do justice to his situation:
Right from the time I began learning the piano - that was at 12 - I wanted to be a composer, and you can earn a living as a performer. But I didn’t like my first experience of performing in public when I was forced to enter an eisteddfod. I didn’t like the experience. I didn’t like the attitudes of the other competitors. I couldn’t stand all the mothers with hot-water bottles complaining that this particular eisteddfod didn’t give money as a prize. (Catalano, 1994: 19)
We can argue that three powerful external forces were strong enough to change one person’s whole career - force to enter a competition, attitudes of other competitors, and money.
On the other hand, it is possible that many people will follow the safe and accepted directions of the discourse, even when, for example, those directions encourage extra-ordinary behaviour as does the Art Discourse. However, this extra-ordinariness is considered safe within the Art Discourse as exemplified by the term mainstream (Lippard, 1996) that is used to identify those artists producing work within the guidelines of expected avant garde art behaviour. Lippard’s (1996: 18) argument that “no group is so dependent on the status quo as the avant-garde (sic), which must have an establishment to attack, reverse, and return to for validation” sums up the rules of this social group. In contrast to Rooney’s experience, it can be argued that conflict may be actually sought if one has a stake in that choice.
We can agree that our cluster of interpreter modules is kept very busy sifting through the sensory input data so that we might not perceive a discrepancy between our attitudes and our behaviour. Arnheim (1986), Johnson (1987), Lakoff (1987) and Solso (1994) stress our search for bodily balance, pattern and harmony in which we seek to avoid dissonance in our daily lives and, other ways such as daydreaming and modes of vicarious experience, are highlighted by Schelling (1986), Elster (1986) and Josephson (1996). We can thus argue that what we sense, and in particular what we see, plays a very important part in the way in which we respond to external stimuli.
But artists are very aware of the tricks the eye can play and this knowledge is used to create illusions of depth in paintings using linear perspective, to create simulated texture that looks so real one is tempted to touch what, in reality, is simply paint on a canvas, to evoke emotions simply by using colour, to manipulate a viewer’s feelings of balance and stability through arranging motifs in certain ways on the picture plane, and to entice the viewer into some form of association with the image through subject matter. These are only a few of the ways through which we play with the phenomenal properties of perception, both our own and those of the viewer.
Thus arguments, which stress that what we see is actually more than what we look at, seem perfectly valid. Equally valid are questions concerning interpretation which, according to Solso (1994), require visual stimuli to be analysed, recognised and classified whereby the configurations of line, texture, colour, value, size and shape are processed by the mind and interpreted according to the baggage of values and associations we already have stored in our memory. Does this mean that each individual responds in a different and unique way to processing the data recorded by the eye as confirmed by Schwabsky (1997), Salomon (1979) and Arnheim (1986), and what are some of the ways in which configurations of design elements might assist or hinder our processing of what we see?
According to Paivio (1981), the use of realistic imagery assists comprehension of a written text in a dual-coding approach and Josephson (1996: 108) considers that “the comfortable familiarity of the conventional image” facilitates engagement with the subject matter “so as to have a vicarious experience”. This is a debatable issue because it draws attention to the way in which an image might be considered an adjunct to facilitating meaning. This is not always the case. Salomon (1979) makes a distinction between notational (abstract) and non-notational (representational) symbol systems. He considers that notational symbol systems entail specific criteria for characterising the symbol system, for example, a musical score, whereas non-notational systems, such as paintings, allow ambiguity of meaning, and the degree of ambiguity depends on resemblance to, or depiction of, its referent. However, the referents may be internal images or conceptions, and thus understanding is often judged against one's knowledge of the concepts, previous experience and expectations, not against the real object. Solso, (1994) refers to this employment of internal concepts, or hidden units, as top-down processing in which visual association, visual memory and visual closure allow quick recognition of prototypal, idealised images.
Rather than aiding comprehension of a written text, it appears that realistic imagery may confuse understanding if Salomon's (1979) and Solso's (1994) argument is plausible. They argue that prototypal (non-notational) artworks offer more possibilities for inferences than do more abstract (notational) works and thus more ambiguity exists in the former. We might argue that ambiguity stimulates curiosity in viewers and thus Josephson’s (1996) contention that engagement of viewers is facilitated through use of realistic, conventional images, has credibility. However, engagement does not imply understanding.
Josephson’s (1996) argument that engagement allows vicarious experience appears to be a generalisation that undermines the effort integral to experience and challenges beliefs held by Pirenne (1970), Salomon (1979), Rosenberg (1983), Arnheim (1986), Schwabsky (1997), Derrida (1992), and Solso (1994) that all texts are different and one must not try to measure them on the same scale and never to read them with the same eye. It can be argued that the notions of vicarious experience (Josephson, 1996), syntax selling (Hebdige, 1996) and authentic inauthenticity (Grossberg, 1988) highlight ways in which sameness is promoted as the norm whereby an interpretation of a lifestyle is presented for adoption without any effort required on behalf of a particular person.
While some patterns within certain written or visual texts might be recognised more easily than others, the real problem lies in the interpretive skills of the reader/viewer and, if these skills are not used, we can argue that no real experiential effort is exerted to think anew through differentiating between inferences. If we do accept that experience entails effort in thinking anew thus leading to greater understanding, it is arguable that we cannot rely on comfortable familiarity and realistic imagery to ensure understanding because of the range of inferences possible.
As an example, we might look at two of my paintings that depict various areas of the Mt. Moffatt region in western Queensland to see how one might allow more inferences than the other owing to the possibility that one image might suggest more hidden units than the other in evoking certain associations in singular persons. Perhaps the painting of Dargonelly Waterhole (Plate 1), allows the viewer to find many "hidden units" that Solso (1994: 258) argues might be activated by the brain filling in missing details. It appears conventional in Josephson’s sense (1996). The viewer might imagine camping at the site, bringing animals to water, swimming, walking and all sorts of associations based on experiences of similar places. Thus, this image may be considered more non-notational in that ambiguity of interpretation is possible.
Plate 1. Karen Knight-Mudie. Dargonelly Waterhole. Watercolour on Arches 640 gm (Diptych)
However, in the second example, Lethbridge's Creek No 2 (Plate 2), the image is more abstract, or notational, and thus does not offer the viewer as many opportunities to connect personal associations to the image, or to make as many inferences. In fact, Solso (1994) suggests that the more abstract the work the more freedom the viewer has in interpreting it because the input stimuli are less familiar and hence coalesce less canonically thus suggesting fewer schema. In other words, the possibility of ranging amongst personal associations is curtailed and the probability of accepting the work as an objective entity outside personal experience is enhanced. This being the case, we could argue that the more abstract the artwork, the less mental engagement is required because inferences are less.
Plate 2. Karen Knight-Mudie. Lethbridge’s Creek No 2.
Watercolour on Arches 640 gm
However, this argument does not appear to support Salomon's (1979: 72) proposition that the closer the correspondence or congruity with the mode of preferred internal representation to the symbol system the easier it is for the individual to utilise the system, hence "better means mentally easier". This proposition appears to suggest that internal representations might equate with personal associations thus facilitating mental engagement, and it could be argued that the more possibility for personal association, the easier is the mental engagement. How then, can we resolve what appears to be a paradox between less mental engagement required by notational works and easier mental engagement suggested by non-notational works. Does not less mental engagement imply mental ease? Yet the non-notational works appear to offer more inferences and thus more possible conflict. Should not non-notational works thus require more difficult mental engagement? Resolution of this paradox appears to lie in the way in which people use the tools in the head. It can be argued that mental engagement, easy or conflictual, does not ensure understanding, nor the same or similar interpretation.
While congruity with the mode of preferred internal representation may be “easier”, Salomon (1979: 77) also points out that different symbol systems “vary as to the mental skills they require” for information extraction and processing. Whenever a symbol system contains too much novelty it may be rejected or, in some cases, may lead to dissonance as discussed by Solso (1994) in that we perceive a discrepancy between our attitudes and our behaviour. In trying to overcome the feeling of discord, we might console ourselves with explanations such as, dismissing the importance of the painting, suggesting that it means more than is literally depicted, or suggesting changes that would make it more acceptable and thus correspond more closely to our preferred internal representation. We could argue that these are methods of achieving mental ease that might account for ways in which some people seek enlightenment from some other familiar symbol system such as a written text.
Nevertheless, it would be safe to say that all artists, aestheticians, art historians, art critics and art educators are aware of the power of artistic illusion. For artists, the interplay between the internal (cognitive) representation of reality and the external (physical) representation presents a problem that Lippard (1996) notes in posing the following question:
... how do we arrive at an art that makes sense and is available to more and more varied people whilst maintaining aesthetic integrity and regaining the power that art must have to provoke, please, and mean something? (1996: 11)
This question targets the dilemma of all artists who are faced with somehow reconciling the struggle between personal expression and community expectations in which provocation is not always pleasing. But, if as Salomon (1979) contends, "better means mentally easier”, what does this mean for artists? If we realise that less mental elaboration on behalf of the viewer is required for a better conclusion does this mean that our task of creating visual representations as symbol systems is influenced by the type of reception the works will receive? Does this mean that the type of cerebral encyclopedia we have in our heads influences and stimulates the firing of neurons to compete for supremacy which, according to Solso (1994), motivates a person to act in certain ways?
We can argue that what we do have in our heads consists of physical and psychological materials, and while we may be able to grasp the concrete aspects of the former, it is the complex network of associations comprising peculiar nonlinguistic modules of the mind that defies satisfactory definition. If these networks of associations are picked up as part of apprenticeships within social practices and, if habit is very influential and can be exercised relatively independently of motivation, does this mean that the type of internal or external rewards, sanctioned by the social group, may also determine whether or not our actions are recognised as meaningful in specific ways within the practices of specific social groups?
Figure 2 suggests a pictorial development on Figure 1. The notion of rewards is positioned before the flow of neurons reaches the interpreter owing to the possibility that motivation for action may depend on what type of rewards/goals are habitually sanctioned by the Discourse.
When we talk of habits, we are talking of picking up ways of behaving. For example, Arnheim (1986) draws attention to the way in which a hunter's world looks different from that of a botanist or poet. We could argue that three different discourses are involved and, because each discourse regulates the behaviour of its members according to significant and pertinent beliefs and actions, a hunter would probably look for animal tracks, a botanist for variations of flora but when we come to the poet I am lost for verbal referents. As Gordon (1961) points out, the artist ranges freely through the multiplicity of experience, selecting at will and by whim for, as Dissanayake (1992) and Van Gelder and Port (1996) indicate, significance of any stimulus is assessed according to whether neural firing is accelerated, decelerated, or remains level. From my own experience I know that I might visit a particular site and, on arrival, completely change my mind (neural firing decelerated) because the time of day is wrong or the place does not feel right. It is possible that a hunter would still look for a beast and the botanist find plant samples because their discourses are more specific and the rules more straightforward. Gee's (1992) observation clarifies my suggestion:
The only way to ensure that learners have the right experiences and focus on the relevant aspects of them is to apprentice them to the social practices of sociocultural groups in such a way as to ensure that they have certain experiences and have their attention focused in the right ways through interaction with "masters" acting out their mastery. (1992: 48).
In this way our expectations, actions, decisions and emotions are strongly influenced by group members of the Discourse and, although I suggested that the artist and poet appeared to have virtual freedom, this is not entirely true. Solso (1994: 231-251) draws attention to the visual phenomenon of prototypes that are canonic representations of a given concept or class of things that best represent that concept of class. In other words, these are exemplars, master models or idealised impressions that best represent salient and meaningful features of whatever is perceived. As Solso (1994) notes, the mind cannot store everything so it stores abstractions of stimuli against which similar patterns are judged. Similarly, Lakoff (1987) considers that prototypes often act as cognitive reference points of various sorts and form the basis for inferences.
Another phenomenon of the human mind that facilitates organisation of things is what Johnson (1987), Burge (1986), Van Gelder and Port (1986), and Clark (1998) refer to as recurring dynamic patterns of perceptual interactions and motor programmes that give coherence and structure to our experience. These structures, being grounded in bodily functions, require some sort of recognition and organisation if they are to be understood. Johnson (1987) allocates this pervasive structuring activity to the imagination, the capacity to find significant connections, to draw inferences, and to solve problems.
We can argue that the tasks of the interpreter (Gee, 1992) and of the imagination (Johnson, 1987), are very similar. However, a difference can be noted in deciding what is the influential force giving rise to the decision-making and ordering task in the first place. According to Gee (1992), discourses play the most significant role, whereas Johnson (1987: 205) considers that human understanding “reveals our engagement in a physical environment” from whence emerge our basic embodied structures when needed for human rationalisation. It is arguable that the two notions are not exclusive of each other, but rather seem to highlight this or that side of the same coin being the organism-environment interaction or, in other words, the physical body-discourse relationship.
Figure 3 is an attempt to show how stimuli might percolate into a person from the coin of Discourse/Physical Environment, with each generating forces that must be reconciled through some mode of behaviour.
On my behalf, the way in which I played with this visual symbol did involve hours of tedious, yet loving struggle in positioning the various data in what might be appropriate locations in such a visual symbol. Thus the notion of loving battle with regard to artistic practice (Dufrenne: 1980) is an apt metaphor I adopt. I am also very aware of how much my own physical environment influences my thinking and how I am balancing the visual forces on the page so that there is some sense of order that allows us to grasp the total symbol while also enticing us to follow the path of arrows that flows up the page (as neurons might flow through a person) through the social practices, through the struggle zone, through the networks, through the transformative interpreter/imagination to be released back down to the coin of Discourses-Physical Environment to begin again.
The notion of pathways involves the use of a conduit metaphor, that, based on the physical act of carrying something from here to there or moving from one point to another, allows us, or an object, to reach a destination, and thus I use arrows to direct the percolation of forces fuelled by various stimuli which might come from discourses, or the physical environment, or both. It seems feasible to question why we cannot consider reconciling the two approaches as suggested in Figure 3?
Our bodily involvement in following paths to move from one destination to another involves an understanding of orientation in space and directionality whilst also employing visual memory, visual association and awareness of figure/ground differentiation. Through practising these physical competencies throughout our life we become so oblivious to their complexity that we often overlook the wonder of how we understand a line of thought that relies on its very existence within our bodily abilities and, we easily understand implied line in a drawing as a path the eye follows.
According to Salomon (1979) the notion of repetition is necessary for the neurons in the brain to form a pattern through regular firing and thus the similarity between one's stored mental schema of the referent is more important than similarity or dissimilarity to the real thing. Sless's (1981: 144) discussion of mathematical concepts and diagrams also highlights the "visual system's exceptional capacity for using pattern". Further force is given to this conjecture by Solso (1994) who argues that the brain classifies the neural messages from the eye into simple patterns that are then placed in their context for further processing. The concept of pattern implies regularity which, Van Gelder and Port (1996) strongly argue, is demonstrated in their model of geometric dynamic cognitive systems that evolve over time according to some rule. Emphasis is placed on the total state as one unfolding over time in which everything simultaneously affects everything else.
Does this mean that creativity is possible for everyone because stored image-schemata structures are already in the head awaiting connections, elaboration and extension through the use of imagination or interpreter modules? If this is so, these arguments open up areas for new debate about personal expression as an intuitive response that is strongly promoted by many artists, art educators and art critics, and personal experience that involves sensory perception as the first step in a complex, simultaneous activation of neural signals and their analysis that compels us to think in a different way.
Might this mean that we can dismiss notions of intuition, sixth sense or magic from our concept of artistic behaviour? If we do reject these notions, can we explain how there appear to be some things that a person cannot learn whereas another person seems to accomplish the task with ease? Gardner (1993) talks of multiple intelligences that are the raw biological potentials within a person, and Gordon (1961), Petrie (1981), Arnheim (1986), Rosenblatt (1968) and Salomon (1979) discuss the way in which symbol systems vary as to the mental skills they require for information extraction and processing. Much is also made of practice that develops various skills to such an extent that Gee's (1992) sixth sense or Gordon's (1961) good intuition come into play. Thus, it can be suggested that some people do appear to be endowed with more raw biological potential in some areas than in others. If this is not the case how do we explain giftedness that Gagné (1992: 80) says “is superior natural abilities whichever way they will be developed”? Perhaps the answer lies in Vygotsky's (1971: 37) reference to Tolstoy's notion of “intoxication” whereby “small instants” transform something from being ordinary into something special. We can argue that this involves certain degrees of feel that come from the way in which stored schema are called upon to enrich raw potential and, it is this magic of making something special, that many people can exhibit in different areas to different degrees. However, giftedness is not to be confused with talent that, according to Gagné (1992), is a distinctly superior performance that is developed progressively through hours of practice in any field of activity.
No one can really tell us exactly how, when and why the schema emerge; we do not know why our minds have chosen to recommend a certain expectation or course of action. However, Van Gelder and Port (1996: 331) suggest that a system is dynamical in the sense that “changes are a function of the forces operating within it” and they offer some very basic facts for consideration as follows:
... that cognitive processes always unfold in real time; that their behaviors are pervaded by both continuities and discretenesses; that they are composed of multiple subsystems which are simultaneously active and interacting; that their distinctive kinds of structure and complexity are not present from the very first moment, but emerge over time; that cognitive processes operate over many time scales, and events at different time scales interact; and that they are embedded in a real body and environment. (Van Gelder and Port, 1996: 340)
The problem remains for us to organise energies and forces that we encounter in an effort to arrive at understanding and meaningful interaction with things outside us. Within the dynamic system it is proposed that we evolve over time according to rules. If this is the case, what happens to our soul, that complex, indefinable, fluctuating something that, according to Peirce (1978) allows us to resolve contradictions, tension and instability through internalization of the structures of the social world? Or, if as Gordon (1961) and Gee (1992) contend, soul is achieved through practice and/or holding various positions in social space so that we perceive and appreciate the physical and social world more intensely, does this mean that we can somehow modify dynamical rules? How is it possible for linkage between a temporal system such as day to day living and an atemporal system such as using imaginative capacity? As proposed by Van Gelder and Port (1996), the relevant aspect of the cognitive system itself must be given a dynamical account that allows investigation into the interaction between the targeted aspect and the more central processes. In other words, we may be able to recognise relationships that emerge in a macroscopic order and complexity from microscopic behaviour through understanding that dynamical descriptions of the body and the environment unfold over time in which cognitive functions occur in the same time frame.
Thus, in attempting to understand the temporal functions of the body and environment, we need to recognise how the cognitive system is interactive with these temporal systems in controlling essentially temporal bodily movements such as reactions to sensory input that cause us to speak and move. In a continuing and repetitive process, dynamics is driven further inward through temporal input and output systems to the mind as motion. If this the case, whereby the mind acts in concert with body and environment, we can argue that the body is similarly in motion and thus, any suggestions of accidental embodiment as proposed by Langer (1957), may be seen to deny the reciprocal relation of body and mind.
It is possible that Arnheim’s (1986: 125) argument, that the first instrument to serve all willful human activity is the human body because it allows us the “means of gaining tangible presence to the images conceived by the mind”, is plausible. However, Arnheim’s (1986) consideration that the body, “like every other tool, acting as an intermediary and translator, (it) has its own idiosyncrasies” leads us to believe that the body is secondary to the mind. We can question which is the dominant force. It can be argued that the important first step is that in which the images, conceived by the mind, primarily draw from the workings of the body in stimulating the cognitive tools in the head to allow us the means of gaining mental presence of bodily being through language. In this scenario the body is seen as an integral component in the on-going process of mind-body percolating flow. This raises the question of what means we employ to orchestrate an experiential-mental symphony of being.
Let’s Talk Metaphorically.
In arguing that our total body is our primary tool closest to the world that surrounds it, we cannot ignore the total sensory system that collects the initial input data that we need to make selections from in deciding whether, for example, an artwork is a painting or sculpture, whether it is in front, above or behind us, and whether it hangs on a wall or stands in a garden. Having reached a conclusion we may then want to let someone else know about our findings and to do this we need some form of communication. Let us suppose however, that we have no idea what an artwork is, but we find this thing interesting enough that it gains our attention.
While we may not know what an artwork is, we may nevertheless have had personal experience with collecting things, like bowerbirds, to adorn ourselves or our surroundings. Based on our personal experience we may perhaps term the artwork as a collectable, we may go out to find other people who have collectables and, we may then discover that this thing that caught our attention is called an artwork, but not only an artwork, it is a particular kind of artwork, it is a sculpture because it occupies three dimensional space. In fact, people do collect artworks and refer to important collections as those in which exemplary models are amassed. One has only to look at the array of art galleries throughout the world to recognise that art collections do play a very important role in amassing collectable objects.
It can be suggested that the term collection emanates from bodily functions of hunting and gathering that ensure survival, and, the more selective we are, the better we survive and thus our collections imply some sort of status symbol that, it can be further suggested, few people would align with the basic animal instinct to mark a territory as in collecting the terrain through displays of aggression, and the accumulation of herd subordinates as an army to ensure survival.
It is arguable that our input data, based on what we perceive, is sufficiently strong to motivate us to investigate the thing thus leading us to find a group of like-minded people comprising a club in which we might serve an apprenticeship which might allow us to understand more about the formal principles of, in this case, the Art Discourse. Scholes (1985: 97) considers that language is a means for talking about these things that have sufficient presence to "force language to accommodate them" which, in Johnson's (1987) terms, is seen as imposing a certain intentionality on signs or, as Lakoff (1987) suggests, allows us to form symbolic structures that correlate with preconceptual structures in everyday life.
An important aspect of using language according to Deely (1982: 111), lies in the way in which "post-linguistic structures”, such as discourses, come into existence on the basis of language, and, once established and assimilated in a behavioural way in the society, "re-descend" into the sphere of simple perception and pre-linguistic experience accounted for in animal experience. In other words, our cognitive ability, and in particular our imaginative capacity, allows us to comprehend a network of unreal relations and associations that offer a substitute for the actual primary experience from whence they came, and this de facto identification in its turn acts as a primary experience. The crux of this argument may be referred to notions of primed predicates (Brewer: 1998) and vicarious experience (Josephson: 1996), in which second-hand experience might allow us to identify with another’s action or way of thinking.
However, Josephson’s (1996: 199) emphasis on the way in which the media “will become a body of vicarious experiences” through creating a shared culture of stories, highlights her contention that narrative thought is more primitive “than the rational thought promoted by Fine Art aesthetics” (1996: 114). To an artist, this argument metaphorically brings to mind a cauldron of rational aesthetics consumed by the Fine Art God who, like the ancient Celtic god Daghda, may find itself impotent to interact with emerging basic needs that, some argue, many people are re-discovering. While it can be agreed that much popular art, and advertising in particular, is used to persuade people into believing that a dream of being other than they are is possible, it is debatable whether forms of association, made possible through story telling, position narrative thought as “primitive” while elevating aesthetic thought to the status of rational superiority.
On the contrary, if we look at Peirce’s argument (1978a), we find that, more often than not, reasoning is determined by the conclusion (or excuse) that stems from satisfying unconscious instincts to explain behaviour, and thus reason appeals to sentiment. In other words, we tell the best story because our survival (status) is at stake, and this, in being a matter of vital importance, compels us to act upon our belief. On the other hand, if we are truly devoted to the experimental in which nothing is really important because we are not wedded to conclusions, we do not need beliefs (accepted propositions) such as a theory of aesthetics.
We can agree with Josephson’s (1996: 114) argument that the “rational thought promoted by Fine Art aesthetics” explains certain behaviour. However, we can argue that such explanations of certain behaviour, appeal to our very primitive need to survive in a particular situation, whereas narration, story-telling and dreams offer realms of experimentation and fantasy in which nothing is important, nothing is invested, and thus nothing can be lost. It is untenable to call this way of thinking “primitive”; perhaps naive, perhaps escapist, and maybe sophisticated in ways in which the fabric of postmodern vision acknowledges “[W]e are such stuff As dreams are made on, ...” (Shakespeare, The Tempest. Act lV, Scene 1, 156-157) so that we might sleepwalk through life until the myths of the media become so familiar that we become conscious of self because of its absence.
Thus it can be argued that these media myths present new ways for finding ways of structuring art as personal experience. While we can agree with Josephson (1996: 209) that “another dark age”, in which a small controlling literate elite resides, is probable, nevertheless, we can argue that the role of stories in which personal association is possible forms the springboard for making the strange so familiar that we will then find ways yet again to make it strange through using metaphor, metonymy and mental imagery based on personal associations.
If personal association springs from physical experience, does this mean that perception is always bodily even though what we perceive may be cognitively separated? Emerging arguments, that seek to explain behaviour from a computational viewpoint, (Churchland, 1996: Van Gelder and Port, 1996), highlight the changing nature of the debate in which the role of the singular person cannot be satisfactorily identified. However, it can be argued that perception is always bodily and cognitive processes cannot come into being without a head that is part of the body. Our interest now turns to ways in which our embodiment affects ways in which we might get ideas from inside the head to the outside.
For example, Rosenberg (1983) draws attention to the possibility of two observers viewing a visual scene that would furnish experiences to each that shared numbers of identical components as well as numbers that differed by a negligible or unimportant amount. Or perhaps, similarities might be due to the internal states of the individuals. However, the important point in this example is, that it is not the actual experience of perceiving (a pre-linguistic structure) that may be compared, but the telling (post-linguistic structure) about the experience and, it is in the physical experience of telling that we search our network of unreal relations and associations to find the best substitute, the best story that, in being the event of the moment, is a primary experience. In trying to talk about, describe or explain what we have inside the head, it can be argued that we resort to the use of figurative language that allows us to tell the best story. The question now must be asked - how de we determine what elements of verbal and visual language will enrich, embellish our best story?
Gordon (1961), Rumelhart (1981), Paivio (1981), Johnson (1987) and Lakoff (1987) consider that metaphor is natural and widespread in our speech and that nonliteral speech may be the very basis for competency in using language because it derives from analogy based on experiential situations. They argue that the processes involved in comprehension of nonfigurative language are no less dependent on knowledge of the world than those involved in figurative language. Beyond primary concepts relating to our physical location in time and space, we can get such metaphorical expressions as “a stable of artists”, "outside the law", "chasing rainbows", "spinning yarns" and many others that various literary critics might argue are simply words, not necessarily graphic images or any additional arbitrary, vague and imprecise meanings brought by the reader.
We can agree that we cannot picture these concepts in a literal sense, however, Paivio (1981: 150) argues that metaphor highlights semantic creativity through which we can create and understand novel linguistic combinations that may be literal nonsense. Nevertheless, this is only possible if we have some prior understanding of the significance of the metaphor. For example, Gowans (1981: 332) in talking of Romanesque buildings, draws attention to the function of a building as a "visual metaphor of virtuous Roman republican society restored and rejuvenated by an established Christian church", and the later Gothic church as a metaphor for "transforming the world into heaven-on-earth". But we have no way of understanding the significance of the metaphor unless we understand the social context of the Romanesque and Gothic times and the religious practices permeating the community. Other interesting visual metaphors highlighted by Gowans include the way in which the design of automobiles in the 1930s was conceived as a "hollow rolling sculpture", "the spirit of the age" and finally a humanised machine; furniture design expressed gradations of authority with the arm chair as the most authoritative (kinship to the throne), and television soap operas became the "domestic idyll".
These metaphorical examples refer to combinations of object attributes that, in juxtaposition, highlight the intrinsic quality of the individual things that exist in their own right. However, the qualities are accentuated through opposition. For example, we might suggest that the notion of solid stone as a delicate tendril window frame encasing sparkling jewels of stained glass in Gothic cathedrals combines two very disparate materials that the metaphor “heaven-on-earth” echoes in its combination of disparate concepts. By this I mean that the real nature of stone material suggests mass, weight and solidity that is contradicted in Gothic architecture whereby it is used to suggest delicacy, lightness and an ethereal quality thus evoking a sense of the spiritual within the earthly form, a heaven-on-earth.
Thus we can agree with Vygotsky's (1971) premise that art requires a special emotional thinking that asserts the dominance of material over artistic form because it is only in how things are combined that any artistic form is possible. In arguing for the psychology of art, Vygotsky (1971: 248) considers that art is an "indispensable discharge of nervous energy and a complex method of finding an equilibrium between our organism and the environment in critical instances of our behaviour".
It can be argued that making art has always been an integral part of enhancing survival and, as a consequence, is a basic way of drawing attention to various concerns of the body through making one aspect stand out from other more mundane aspects. Both Dissanayake (1992) and Gowans (1981) investigate the ways in which people throughout time have endeavoured to draw attention to things that have significance to their functioning in a society and thus their survival. Whether it is to use a visual sign to stand for something else, or to tell stories, or to beautify some artefact, or to deliberately persuade someone to embrace an ideology, demonstrates the human proclivity to differentiate important things from the not so important things.
From an artist’s perspective, Clark’s (1998) argument that visual strategies can be used as inner surrogates in the absence of direct environmental control, highlights the important function the mind in the body performs in allowing us to play around with possible may-bes, and it can be argued that these may-bes are grounded in personal experience. However, postmodern, technological society seems to constantly question the validity of what we think, and our challenge is now to steer our personal ship of state through the digital alphabet that, Lovejoy (1989: 207) claims, may disrupt our sense of reality gained from direct experience where, instead, our "tele-selves become our real selves" and we lose our private selves in publicity. Her observation that we "turn on the telly to see if it's raining" is alarming in its actuality. Equally alarming is Josehpson’s (1996: 219) notion that we may create the ultimate post-modern computer imitation “idol” to serve our need for expert advice and satisfy our sense of spiritual loss.
Previously, I discussed the notions of vicarious experience, comfortable familiarity and hidden units when looking at the way in which we play around with the tools in the head. If we now look at these same notions from a perspective of playing around with embodiment, we can see how important metaphorical projections are to the physical experience of telling our best story. Josephson’s (1996: 111) main argument seems to arise from her contention that the use of conventional images, for example the work of Norman Rockwell, is a ploy to encourage viewers to “image themselves relating” to what is depicted in the image so that everyone feels good as they “walk through a simulated experience” that panders to people “who think dominantly through narration”. We can accept her argument, that “[T]he mental response to television, movies, and other Popular Art is passive. It is like absorbing daydreams produced by someone else”, only if all people remain passive.
However, on the other hand, Solso (1994: 258), in talking about the work of the same artist (Rockwell), takes a completely different point of view. Rather than concentrating on the way in which the image may be used to elicit a response, he looks at the way in which a person uses the image to employ “hidden units” of association that allow them to associate with the image. Again we might highlight the struggle between being passive or active beings that can be seen as the crux of the matter.
We can agree with Josephson (1996) that advertising is a powerful medium, and that persons employed in what Marshall (1997: 596) terms “busno-power”, are intent on manipulating persons into being “autonomous choosers and consumers” who may confront a range of choices already determined from outside and, in this way, the choice is really a non-event in that the chooser has no option but to acquiesce to covert manipulation. However, Solso's (1994: 258) discussion of "hidden units" stored in the mind, suggests that these schema allow us to infer beyond surface things such as television screens and, while Johnson (1987: 87) argues that our metaphorical projections move from the bodily sense to the mental, epistemic or logical domains which is a natural progression, we can suggest that the world we now live in is quite un-natural and thus we may find that we move from the mental domains back to the bodily sense. In other words our world is becoming so hyperreal through the powerful and influential use of technological machines that we appear to be losing contact with our actual bodily senses and, the challenge, according to Clark (1998), is to take our external scaffolding seriously. His argument, regarding the task of visual strategies for controlling behaviour, opens up areas of debate regarding the way in which we use linguistic rehearsal to enable us to attend to details of our own thoughts.
It can be argued that, in seeking the best mode of expression, we search our vocabulary for appropriate signs that are relevant, accessible and meaning-giving to the person involved in the experience and thus we use metaphorical projections emanating from our bodily functions. But, if machines and the media are displacing much of our bodily involvement, is it necessary to re-discover it, or will our evolving technological environment demand new forms of machine-ment? It can be suggested that in times when there was a scarcity of machines, these were highly prized objects of curiosity, prestige and power. Is it not possible that in our world where machines are now so readily available that our natural instincts and bodily skills may become a scarcity and thus unique and highly prized as once was the machine?
Dissanayake (1992: 137) draws attention to the way in which twentieth-century Western artists "have typically been concerned with making art more natural (using ordinary materials from daily life or depicting humble, trivial, or vulgar subjects) and showing that the natural, when regarded aesthetically, is really art". She goes further to deride the practice of "claiming that the trivial and simple is equal to the demanding and complex" which she sees as a present day unprecedented concern, when formerly, art's raison d’être lay in its specialness and difference from life. This notion is supported by Wheale (1995: 56) who considers that the natural is another category of commodity in postmodernity, “interesting only because of its increasing scarcity value”.
We can argue that making art more natural may be an intuitive move to reclaim our actual sense of connectedness to our bodies and the world around us. The plural and radical nature of current art practice may be interpreted as that in which artists draw ideas about technique, subject matter and materials from the supermarket of the world in such a way that the norms of our own society are questioned.
Australian artists borrow extensively from European and Asian cultures, and Delaruelle (1993: 4) notes a sense of loss and semiotic confusion in the work of many artists. We could almost be amongst the lost souls of the post-revolutionary reaction and the dying Romantic Movement denying its myth of the perfectibility of humankind, where the artist stood:
... a stranger in this breathing world,
(Byron, 1814, Lara, XVIII. 3)
It can be argued that this strangeness needs to be made familiar and, by re-descending into the sphere of simple perception and pre-linguistic experience advocated by Deely (1982), we might understand how a person is embedded in a community, a culture and an historical context that reflects on the present, rather than commodifies our past.
In my own process of making artworks, metaphors of tracks, pathways, trails and maps are embedded in stories and memories that keep percolating inside my mind and, the richness of the brew, depends on the place, atmosphere and time of my bodily situation. Similarly, when working with students, I rely heavily on my ability to offer and encourage metaphorical suggestions through which students might link personal associations to not only their own artwork, but also to the work of other artists. This does involve story-telling, it does involve interested pleasure, it does stimulate thoughts about self and it does allow people to project themselves into the art. It does all the things that Josephson (1996: 112) accuses Popular Art of doing in relegating art to “emotional engagement, and narrative thought” as distinct from the rational, objective, detached thinking of Fine Art. Her contention that the “thinking stimulated by art made for popular taste is not about ideas, history, aesthetics, or art” might be seen as having nothing to do with art, but a lot to do with the institution of art and the institution of advertising which forms part of the context in which we make art. We can argue that with the invention of the camera, artists found another tool to play with as some artists are now finding that computers, film and television may be similarly played with as tools to use in imitating something, telling stories, beautifying things and persuading people. Might it not be that emotional engagement, and narrative thought are fundamental to these processes? Is it possible that such methods, in relying on narrative thought and association, might provide a means of relocating art as personal experience in its proper ecological niche?
The following visual representation, Figure 4, suggests a visual representation of how we might see body and mind as an orchestration of the unstable components in the playground of environment in which a person determines how information is foregrounded or backgrounded at the time of telling depending on what happens in the struggle zone. If the meaning of something lies in the potential it has be to interpreted, we can argue that linguistic and visual encoding allow people to play memory games that emanate from the way in which one is compelled to think at a particular time, and thus methods of encoding are changing and fluid depending on bodily experiences. In attempting to depict the reciprocal percolation of bodily experiences and mental representations as an organic fountain of forces and, in giving linguistic expression to this idea, I employ metaphor. In using such words as orchestration, playground and fountain of forces I want to capture a sense of Dufrenne’s (1980) loving battle. What other words might we use to suggest such an idea so that another person might imagine what is meant? What other means could we use to articulate the ineffable? It can be argued that metaphoric projection is fundamental to making connections between what goes on in the body and how we use the tools in the head to conduct the game of embodiment that entails an investigation into one’s own experience of making art.
From a visual perspective, such metaphors as orchestration, playground and fountain of forces evoke mental images of energetic teamwork that, while it may not always be predictable, implies a cyclic pattern of ebb and flow as suggested through the use of oval motifs and arrows in Figure 4. Thus, within a personal performance of mind and body, playing with perceptions is indeed a loving battle.