Updated 10 December 2015
Depth of Perception
Works of art draw our attention to deeper sensations of sight, shape, sound and movement than we normally confront in day-to-day experience. Paintings inviting us to visualise scenes in a more emotive way, sculpture encouraging wonderment for shapes by creating intense form, music enticing impassioned responses to sounds, and dance awakening a dramatic love of movement. Art brings a vision to mind beyond the surface values sensed in the objects and events around us, and this vision – the artistic message – has always been thought independent of the materials the artist uses to make an art object. The picture painted, the figure carved, the story told, has always been seen as the 'meaning' of art whilst the paint, the marble, the words, are raw material, and this idea always held dominance. However, in this day and age, it is now understood that something far more intriguing is motivating the desire to want to ascend the experience of the material.
Kazimir Malevich wrote in 1915 that, in sculpturing the David, Michelangelo had ruined a perfectly good piece of marble.
“The human form is not intrinsic in a block of marble. Michelangelo in sculpturing David did violence to the marble, he mutilated a piece of beautiful stone...” (From Cubism to Suprematism in Art. In Malevich on Suprematism: Six Essays 1915-1926. Museum of Modern Art, University of Iowa, p24.)
This modern point of view challenges the argument for design by bringing to the art experience the realisation that what a perceptive artists senses is a natural state of awareness rather than the imposition of an artificial idea imposed over material. The argument for design has always implied the natural world lacks the qualities needed to bring the art experience to mind, and that only human command of thought can reveal art through the modelling of material, but this way of thinking stops us sensing the raw reality of material. We look to ignore a direct intuitive experience that once looked at the world without intelligent ideas, and we do this because our intelligence evolved to replace intuitive perception. Art aims at bringing recall of our awareness of inner sensory experience, and has always been thought to give us an insight into a presence of mind that was imagined as greater than that of raw experience. Unlike the design of tools – that are manufactured to be used to alter the outside world in a practical way – the artist has, until the modern view, always used paint, clay, music, or dance in a subtler way than the tool maker to represent a depth of awareness that was believed to transcend material values. Like the idea of a religious presence of a greater mind at work in the universe the idea of art has always overshadowed the reality of materials through the view that our conscious thoughts somehow transcend material values. We are born to learn to look out at the world using a way of thinking that suppress an instinctive raw experience that we inherit from our ancestral origins, we look to build conceptual models about objects and events that stop us recalling the older view built by intuitive response. We visualise using a structured process of conscious thinking that overwrites a state of mind that once sensed the world in an unconscious way, and to get to grips with this suppressed inner experience – that once allowed our distant ancestors to experience objects and events through intuition – we need to understand how our awareness of objects and events contain different levels of interpretation.
In most cases we do not consider alternative ways of sensing the world, and we wake each day to look towards everything with a familiarity that dulls any other experience. For example, a cup upon a table is very rarely thought about other than through an idea of purposeful utility designed to hold liquid, but this way of sensing belies a hidden experience that once sensed the world without these ideas. This hidden view still resides in the depth of our minds and could, if we knew how to recall it, reveal a raw interpretation of objects and events through inherent inner instincts.
This view is all but lost to us except that some perceptive individuals retain a little perturbation brought to the surface of their thoughts by the remains of the old impulses. This gives these individuals an insight into a different experience that lies hidden behind the learned ideas we impose over what surrounds us, and it is towards this insight that some artist – not all artists – are attracted. Most of us are not disturbed by this insight, but, sometimes, we will get a glimpse of this old instinctive experience of the world around us when something provokes a sense of elation in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps an intense display of sunlight across a landscape, or the clarity felt in the clear air that follows a dramatic storm will draw from the depth of our minds a sense of extreme wonderment, and the concept that develops as a consequence of this deeper process of perception – the percept – transforms and intensifies our view of our surroundings. We become mesmerized for a short time by this other ‘deeper’ way of sensing, but for most of us the elation subsides as we return our attention to the mundane. For a perceptive artist this hint of an underlying view will be felt all the time in everyday things, and objects and events seem to hold a greater power of sensory provocation. These artist will try to bring this other inherent way of sensing to the surface by creating disturbing and often raw emotive work that draws our attention to this depth of perception.
Of course, their will be less perceptive artists who are not aware of this raw potential in what they do. These artists tend to be engrossed in other subjects rather than ostensibly apolitical states of mind that are the hallmark of artists who are aware they inherit an older natural way of sensing. Aware artists seek a visualisation without political attitude, content, or bias, so that they can portray an underlying animal motivation in the human psyche that is unrealised in the artist who seeks to make work that upholds intellectual content. Painting is the most open medium that reflects this difference between artists who are aware of inner interpretation of intuitive sensory experience and those who are unaware. Generally speaking painters who are deficient in natural perception will just reflect a view that mimics what their eyes show them. These type of artists, often very skilled in technique, tend to paint images of realistic or fantasised subjects – landscapes, portraits, cans of soup, fairies, monsters or imaginary scenes, etc. – that are full of intellectual ideas, but these types should not be confused with an artist who seeks a level of visualisation based upon intuitive insight. The imperceptive artist portrays surface values reflected through their chosen subjects, but what we want to visualise is an inner impulsive interpretation of perception that is only available when our thinking is free of our higher thought processes. To know this is to realise we live with a dormant way of sensing that is overwritten by day-to-day concerns, and this means all our minds work to suppress any recall of an older way of experiencing objects and events that lies hidden behind how we comprehend our surroundings.
To understand this insight I propose we describe three levels of perception to every observation we make. The first level is the surface value, and is directed towards practical necessity - the story telling, fine decorative skill, realistic imagery and financial investment in a work of art. The second level is what is called the aesthetic sentiment, and this is less practical and seeks to establish a sense of like or dislike which is a value judgement towards a work of art. The third level is an unconscious response, and this reflects recall of an older way of experiencing an object or event, that we inherent from our distant ancestral origins, but has become an unrealised visualisation that our minds work to erase from every observation we make.
It is this third level of perception we want to understand in what an artist experiences, but it is suppressed in day-to-day awareness and kept buried by the higher thought processes we impose over what we see. As we will learn, this leaves some individuals with an underlying sensation in their view of the world that they sense more than others, and I believe this causes some of us to suspect that our minds are working to remove, rather than reveal, an inherent way of sensing our surroundings that is still created in the depth of our minds by instinct. Some of us retain a little recall of what remains of an older way of sensing that is now buried beneath our intelligent presence of mind and it is this sensation that has always exerted an unrealised influence upon art.
This idea has mostly been ignored in art, and you find that only the first and second levels of perception are talked about in the analysis of an artists work. The emphasis being limited to the first level of material values and the second level of aesthetic sentiment whilst the third level, the unconscious response, is thought to be a subject beyond the artists concern. The belief being that it best left to psychology and anthropology to enquire into this side of our mind, but this third level of perception is essential understanding for an artist. Without this you will be creating an art object without awareness of your true motivations, and for whatever practical or aesthetic reasons you think is your purpose for painting a picture, carving a sculpture, composing music, or choreographing a dance, something else is going on in your mind of which you are unaware.
An unconscious influence behind the artists need to make art – and it's effect upon how we respond to objects and events – is now better understood than in the past because we hold knowledge of how our minds have adapted and developed from an older instinctive way of sensing. And yet, despite this advantage, artists tend to shy away from explaining their motivation in terms of recall of an animal inheritance. This has limited the artists insight to that of ideas of judgement of preferred cultural tastes, and this probably emerged through history because no one had any idea we had evolved from animal origins. What motivated early artists was the need to suppress, rather than reveal their instinctive way of sensing objects and events, and the first artists, like all our ancestors, possessed minds that were developing to replace what remained of animal impulses with an emerging intelligent interpretation of perception. Our ancestors unknowingly worked to remove a natural state of mind and replace it with a 'learned' interpretation of perception, and this gave rise to mythical or religious imagining that filled their emerging consciousness full of images designed to suppress the original experience. The cultures and beliefs that emerged from those long lost times gave mythical and religious structure to this inner third level of intuitive perception that is now submerged by our modern mind because early peoples possessed no way to picture an inheritance of an older animal way of sensing the world by instinct.
Indeed, our modern mind has not evolved to visualise what remains of this inheritance but to remove it from our day-to-day view, and we unconsciously respond to transform rather than reveal the animal experience. Today, science tells us we will possess this inheritance but the view generated by instinct requires we sense without learned intelligent understanding. This has become very difficult for us to do because we are born to look in a way that removes the raw experience of what we see, and any individual who retains an abnormality that brings recall of what remains of raw experience will work to remove this disturbance from their view of the world. In the past our ancestors unknowingly gave to this unidentified raw sensation – generated in the depth of our minds by the remains of animal intuition – mythical and religious imaginings, and civilisations emerged with art built around these ideas rather than seeing them as the transformation of a lost way of sensing into conscious thought. Artists created art objects to suppress the disturbing underlying impulses, and this gave rise to cultural beliefs rather than an understanding of art as a way to research into what remains of our animal state of mind.
With the rise of scientific enquiry the old mythical and religious interpretations of the inner mind have waned, and a model of our animal origins has arisen that, for some artists, brings the realisation that art is a behavioural response that drives you to transmute raw sensations into a controlled ordered work. The whole history of art until the discovery of our animal origins, reflects an attempt to bury, rather than expose, the remains of a lost way of sensing that now lies dormant behind our controlled ordered interpretation of perception. From this point of view the history of art arose as a platform that was used to portray communal concerns relevant to human beliefs and materialised life-styles rather than as a search to return a natural state of mind. Only with the rise of modern understanding about our animal origins has art become seen as a product of a behavioural response we enact to remove what has become a raw way of sensing objects and events.
Many artists still look to art as an experience of the intellect that works to rid the mind of raw vision, and they work to uphold political values in what they do rather than apolitical sensing. These artists create art objects that enforce the second level of aesthetic sentiment as the purpose of their endeavours and art, at this level, becomes a medium used to say something about social values through skilled working technique. This definition of art is not only looked for in fine art like painting, sculpture, singing, dancing, pottery, story telling, etc. but also in applied arts - photography, film, dancing, flower-arrangement, etc. The defintion can even be found in sporting events such as the art of skating and football. However, if we look deeper to a third level of perception - art as an unconscious response related to an older way of sensing by instinct - then we can see that most artists limit their actions to the first and second level effect rather than look towards a third level of causation behind what they do.
To grasp this causation we need to look beyond the surface values of the subjects portrayed or any quality of technical perfection in art. To do this we need to think about why we are the only creatures on earth who seek to sense an enriched visualisation through the creation of art. Some people insist that this is a sign of our unique human spiritual qualities that lift us above gross illiterate responses, and this view tends to foster the belief that to get this enrichment found in the art experience requires the command of a sophisticated mind. I believe this is a mistaken point of view that stems from an elitist snobbery rather than any realistic insight. The sense of elation that art creates can be found in many places, and you do not need to be taught refined ways of thinking to experience art. I know football fans who talk of the beautiful game in coarse language that describe the moves in the match with an enthusiasm for a deep insight that is equal to that shown by historians who, in refined words, lecture about the perfect proportions of classical architecture. In both cases the football fans and professors are revealing a desire for an emotive point of view and, therefore, both are open to the art experience that lies at the third level of perception in all our minds. To suggest that any one is any less capable of sensing the art experience than any other, and that only certain types of activity – like painting pictures, or appreciating fine things – hold exclusive privileged insight into art is an attitude that stifles the deeper nature of the art experience.
Attraction and Repulsion
It is better to open your mind and see that to come to know the art experience as a perceptive artist is to realise a third level of sensory experience is at work behind every observation we make. The belief that art is a quality of refined thought is a second level value judgement that overshadows the third level insight. The like, or dislike of one thing or another is a behavioural response, and to understand this we have to look passed the first level of practical necessity and the second level of aesthetic sentiment. For example, practical necessity in painting would be the arrangement of paint on a flat surface that hangs on a wall to create a picture; in football it would be the physical action of kicking a ball to score goals; and in architecture it would be to build a structure that won’t fall down; and so on, and so forth. This practical necessity is encountered before the second level that provokes a need to find aesthetic sentiment. To use our examples of painting, football, and architecture; this second level brings to both the painter, the sports fan, and professor, an awareness that is more refined than practical necessity. Aesthetic sentiment looks beyond arranging paint into a picture, scoring goals or making safe buildings, and the painter, the football fan, and professor begin to seek to discern a quality in the result. Amateur painting, bad teamwork, or ugly construction techniques, being the antithesis of this aesthetic level of perception, but here we must be cautious. Care must be taken because the aesthetic brings with it a sense of snobbery that is often used to claim that amateur painting and football is less artistic than classical architecture. This attitude insists that art is a value judgement, and this creates a divisive opinion. What it is essential to understand is that in every observation we make - in painting, football, and architecture, or anything else - the art experience is not a value judgement. We should not be influenced into believing any one activity is better than any other at bringing the art experience to mind because it matters little if one thing is thought bad taste and another good taste, and what we need to realise is that we are thinking this way because our mind is unconsciously working to suppress a third level of perception. Beyond both practical necessity and the aesthetic sentiment of value judgement rests a more basic biological response, and we bury recall of this basic response because it once gave us a raw view.
Raw experience is only concerned with a sense of attraction or repulsion but goes unrealised in day-to-day life because we look to refine the sensation. Few of us think that our likes and dislikes emanate from a depth of mind that reaches down to inherent recall of an older 'animal' way of seeing. What we experience at our conscious level of thought – all those ideas of material values and good or bad tastes in art and life – are socially evolved transformations of deeper older responses, and they act to suppress a lower interpretation of perception that has its roots in animal intuition and instinctive reactions. Unconsciously, whilst we feel elation or disappointment in any situation, we unknowingly echo a behavioural response that once drove our distant ancestors towards an object of safety, or away from an object of danger.
Behind the first level of practical necessity and second level of aesthetic sentiment is this third level animal response, but it has become an unrealised unconscious reaction in our powers of perception that is now overshadowed by our ‘higher’ thought processes. When we look at any object or event we excite a raw response in the depth of our minds, but before we become aware of this experience it is transformed in our consciousness into a sensation of like or dislike. Unknowingly, at our conscious level of awareness, this deeper third level of perception is hidden, and what arises into our view of our surroundings is aesthetic sentiment. A football fan might like or dislike the result of a match, or an architect might be attracted or repelled by the design of a building, but behind this second level of perception – the aesthetic sentiment – the unconscious remains of our old animal response to approach something or run away from it is at work.
This response not only applies to art objects, but to the way we react when confronted by any object or event, and we unknowingly generate raw vision that our minds now suppress and replace with an altered state of awareness. This gives us a hidden sense of acceptance or rejection towards what confronts us that is not always obvious. Certain things are sensed as undesirable whilst others more desirable, but in all observations our minds generate a behavioural response before we act. When we cross a road we look to see if any vehicle is approaching and we make a first level interpretation of practical necessity and a second level judgement of aesthetic sentiment for like of dislike of what we see. We respond without realising that this behaviour has its roots in a deeper level of mind that we inherent from an older way of sensing objects and events, and this old way of sensing is being translated into our modern thoughts as a form of aesthetic sentiment for like or dislike in any given situation. In the case of an approaching vehicle, we sense dislike and respond by avoiding danger, but this response emanates from what remains of an animal way of sensing the world. Under this principle, the only difference between an artist and all the rest of us would be that the artist gets more recall of the animal response in every observation they make, and this insight will make an artist work harder to suppress this disturbance felt in all things. This will drive the artist to take paint, clay, sound and movement and rearrange these materials to model a deeper vision of objects or events but, in doing this, the artist unconsciously looks to remove an older way of experiencing sight, shape, sound and movement by creating an art object that represents a 'safe' or acceptable interpretation of what remains of a disturbing insight.
If we think of a football match in this way we see that the first level of practical necessity is the reality of kicking a ball to win the match, at the second level of aesthetic sentiment it is about achieving a result through skill and teamwork, but at the third level of unconscious response it is about an animal emotive need to reach a place of safety by winning the game. The raw responses of the practical necessity being refined by the aesthetic sentiment upheld by the rules of soccer. You cannot punch, bite or scratch your way to victory, and so your team develop the skilled techniques required to impose the second layer of response – the aesthetic sentiment – over the practical necessity of winning the game, and this buries the third layer animal response. The art of football, like the art of everything else, seems to have evolved to replace raw experience with a sense of idealism that looks to impose a belief in the pursuit of perfection over what remains of our natural state of mind. This sensation brings to human activities the need to rearrange the crudeness of the reality of our surroundings into an ordered and organised experience that brings value judgements to what we do, and these judgements have always been associated to the idea of art.
Talent v Insight
The best art objects cost but a few pennies to make and the material quality is not what we should concern ourselves with. Judging the value of an object by it’s material properties has nothing to do with emotive insight because what we should realise is that the art experience can be found in the most common things in day-to-day life. It is often claimed that to experience art requires you to appreciate the work of a talented artist who creates objects full of material values based upon technical perfection and skilled workmanship. These creations are often very attractive but this can be distracting for anyone aware of the deeper psychological implications behind the art experience. Any artist working to gain this insight soon realises the demands for technical perfection impose false values upon free intuitive responses. The academic approach has always been based upon the belief that to reach a deeper art experience requires absolute mastery of technique so that creating an emotive image, carving an intense shape, performing impassioned music, or dramatic dance, reveals an underlying structure through perfection. However, this belief always assumes the art experience relates to something of superior origin revealed through talent and hard work. This is the traditional idea of what brings us to art, but if our need for this 'higher' view is caused by a desire to suppress recall of an older animal way of sensing then you require unlearned response to glimpse it. The skill needed to make paintings, sculpture, music and dance has, therefore, evolved to suppress rather than reveal the insight.
Talent, from this point of view, is not what creates the art experience but is a behavioural response that works to remove the raw inner sensation that an artists senses in the depth of their mind and unknowingly responds to suppress.
Any artist striving to attain 'high' values and intellectual meaning in their work, rather than looking to the lower crude rawness of intuition, is working to uphold this behavioural response, and if we look back at prehistory we find the emphasis has always been placed upon removing rather than revealing raw insight. Prehistoric artists did not just hunt and procreate to survive, but felt a desire to portray ideal values – that they sensed as some sort of magical myth about hunting and procreation – in their raw way of life. They portrayed these values through the skill of painting images on cave walls, and this act suppresses rawness in our view of the world and gives rise to the idea that art is the product of perfection. Medieval artists did not just make religious icons, but did so through a deep sense of idealised devotion to the sacred belief that skill and workmanship infused divine inspiration into their commissions, and so on, and so forth.
This way of thinking pervades art right up until modern times and only when we get to the end of the nineteenth century, and the idea of our animal origins becomes general knowledge, do some artists begin to try to remove this entrenched belief that art can only be created through exceptional talent reached by attaining levels of perfection in a work. The old idea of art believed an artists expresses their most revered emotions for a sense of idealism that brings unique values to objects created through human endeavour that is encapsulated in material worth, but the modern view is that this striving is a behavioural response that works to hide the raw experience.
An artist, from this point of view, would be looking to impose a sense of 'high' order and organisation into their work – and we would be looking to discover this sensation – because this ‘talent’ is a reflection of the unconscious need to recognise safe values in the world around us. Creating art with no skill, or working to 'low' order through unlearned intuition brings a negative response that, at an unconscious level, is manifestation of our minds recall of our old animal sense of uncertainty. In art, this behavioural response will translate into a desire to be attracted to skilled meaningful work and reject unskilled meaningless work.
One of the unfortunate side effects of this desire to find safety in the 'high' value of an idealised object is material costs. It is very expensive to buy the best players for your football team to help it survive at the top of the game, and it has become the same in the art world. You need big presentations and a lot of publicity to get noticed, and this has become counter productive. It has given the impression that to be successful in your chosen field you need to be rich to market and promote yourself, or to befriend a rich investor to do this for you, and this distracts from the true nature of the art experience as a behavioural response to a third layer of perception that is the remains of our old animal state of mind. The 'lower' response as art can be found in traditional folk and untutored self taught outsider art where the concern is less with marketing and more about personal insight. These works are more revealing of the inner animal response because they are mostly uncluttered by the considerations demanded by commercial enterprise.
I love cheap plastic watches and my wife loves expensive jewellery, but it is not a matter of she having exquisite taste whilst I lack this quality. Both of us reveal aesthetic sentiment to one degree or another because the art experience in cheap plastic and expensive metal is not about quality, but about a depth of mind that senses more than material or factual values. My wife's jewellery is a better financial investment than my plastic watches, but the art experience is emotive and not practical and has nothing to do with this consideration. It is a misunderstanding to claim a painting is great art because it commands an extortionate price, and thinking this way distracts you from understanding the nature of the underlying unconscious experience a true artist encounters in the depth of their mind. I love plastic watches, not because they uphold investment value, but because they provoke from my mind an old enriched animal elation for the passage of time.
Just as with the idea of talent and ‘high’ material values imposed upon the idea of art, value judgements add another layer of distraction into our thoughts. A thousand identical plastic watches will bring recall of the third level of perception to mind as easily as a one off unique diamond encrusted creation. The value judgement for like or dislike for one or the other is the second level of perception – aesthetic sentiment – working to suppress the underlying sensation, and this reveals that aesthetics and ideas of uniqueness in art are another response that works to bury the third level insight.
I became suspicious of this requirement in art school where, as a student, I was given projects to make because my teachers thought this was the way to create art. The idea being that I should learn to look at the world and translate some sort of political idea about nature or society into a painting, or film, or whatever. You were encouraged to make a unique creation that gave emphasis to some sort of meaningful message portrayed in the end result. My fellow students talked of painting dramatic images, or of photographing the decisive moment, and, to begin with, I thought this was what I should be striving to achieve. I thought art school would teach me to be an artist because I had rudimentary ability in drawing that I had revealed at an early age, and I was encouraged to develop this to a professional level of skill. Everyone thought art school was how you learned to become an artists, but what I discovered was that art teachers thought art could be created by attaining a value in your work by skilfully making an object. This way of thinking gave me a nagging doubt because this idea of art seemed artificial, and I began to suspect that the more skilled I became at reaching this definition of a work of art, the more I was stopping myself sensing a deep natural state of mind.
Art school was all about establishing yourself as a professional artist through your skilled training, contacts, and your ability to create objects that upheld an established idea of the 'significance' of art as a commodity to sell in the marketplace. I saw this as unconvincing, and it seemed to me that artists gain a place in society through value judgements – the aesthetic sentiments – that they learned to look for because of other peoples ideas of what art is about. This view may have been acceptable in the days when those in authority looked down upon everyone else, but this elitism stifles open minded enquiry. I cannot speak for other artists, but it felt to me as if I was being taught to remove, rather than reveal, an underlying raw experience, and I set myself the task of finding out what lay beyond the first layer techniques and the second layer aesthetic sentiment of value judgements upheld as a requirement by art institutions.
In doing this my work became less controlled and more erratic as I used intuitive raw animal responses rather than established intellectual method, and I became a disruptive influence in the art-class. I threw paint at my canvases and exhibited this sense of rawness as my projects, but my art teacher became distraught because she was unable to comprehend that learning to draw and paint in a controlled way was manifestation of a behavioural response that was driving an underlying motivation out of my mind.
Some people thought that I was trying to find a third way of ‘inner’ experience related to some sort of mystic state of mind beyond material values; as if my idea was to mimic Vassily Kandinsky's abstract attempts to get colour and shape to reflect ideas concerning the spiritual in art. This was the furthest thing from my mind because what I had realised was that we all spend our waking hours ridding our thoughts of an old 'animal' way of sensing objects and events. This biological point of view became my focus for a more realistic explanation than Kandinsky's dreaming about a spiritual ‘inner’ artistic influence, and, to me, what was inside an artists head was recall of an old animal raw way of sensing the world.
As I delved deeper into this idea I argued against design, and my work deteriorated to the point of becoming anti-art. I saw that you cannot create art through technique because the more perfection and achievement you attain, the more your mind is propelled away from an original insight. I became an outsider who sensed raw inner 'animal' insight rather than one who looked for some sort of artificial arrangement of material that imposed social meaning upon the art experience. I dropped out of art school and stopped striving for design in my work, and in place of this I presented anything I could find that made me look with uncertainty rather than learned knowledge. Anti-art offered greater ability to provoke a natural response from my mind, and I became convinced that design – guiding paint to create a unique picture – was how artists learn to suppress the remains of an old inherent 'animal' way of sensing objects and event by translating the experience into false values. My reason for writing this essay is to put forward this view that we unknowingly create art objects to hide, rather than reveal, an old way of sensing what we see. My argument is against design, skill and above all, judgement of preferred taste as the criteria for the meaning of art. I take this position because I regard seeking to find 'high' values in anything is the result of a behavioural response, and I believe that the reason an artist strives to reach a designed creative output is because they are unconsciously working to suppress stronger recall of their raw 'animal' mind. They fail to realise that as they work their mind continues to judge whether-or-not something is approachable or should be avoided, and, furthermore, when we come to look at the finished work we will bring this same unconscious response to a judgement about what we see. We will look at the art object and get a feeling of like or dislike shrouded in aesthetic sentiment, but behind this experience, hidden in our unconscious, is this old recollection of an 'animal' response that once attract us to what we see, or compelled us to run away.
Most of us do not get any hint of this raw experience in day-to-day encounters with objects and events and we just react to accept or reject the things around us at a surface level of observation. Those who get a little recall of the raw impulses will be driven to remove this disturbance, and this response is what I believe pushes an artist to unknowingly work to take material to rearrange it to get an object to displays a 'higher' value in our view of the world. This value makes the work approachable by suppressing the feeling of rawness that arises from the depth of the artists mind, and this unconscious behavioural response is being appeased in the making of art. The more skill the artist imposes over the work, and the more judgement of preferred taste we look to discover, the more the old feeling of rawness is removed from our powers of perception.
Of course, you may wonder what on earth makes me think this old 'animal' way of sensing is the underlying cause of our age old need to make art? Surely, art lifts us out of the coarse vulgarity in life and, therefore, this must be the purpose of art! Whilst this is true, we must remember that for every cause there is an effect, and the fact that we strive to lift ourselves out of animal life would be because, under this principle, our mind has evolved to remove any disturbing sense of uncertainty that arises into our powers of perception from the remains of our older raw way of perception. All the wondrous art objects created since the dawn of human kind hide this underlying response, and it is this response that an artist needs to understand because without this awareness they are blindly reacting to an unconscious influence at work behind their desire to create.
I make this assertion because the one thing that is consistent to all artists, regardless of how skilled they are or where they work, is that they all act to rearrange material. Few artists allow loss of control to dictate the result, whereas the majority feel compelled to take raw material – paint, clay, stone, sound, movement, etc.– and rearrange these elements to replace a sensation of uncertainty and not knowing with a controlled creative result. Uncertainty and unpleasant results created by intuitive responses bring manifestation of the remains of our old animal fear of rawness, and most artists unknowingly set out to overpower this disturbing sensation at the start of a work. To do this the artist struggles to create a design, but this creation then represents an artificial object because, having unconscious recall of raw experience, they have responded to suppress this feeling and removed it from their mind.
We have all evolved to rid our minds of any recall of a long lost way of sensing the world around us, and we all now look to experience our surroundings through intelligent learned understanding. This is what separates us from animal life, and most of us no longer feel the need to respond to lessen any sense of rawness in day-to-day awareness. Safety and assurance surrounds us to such a degree that fear of any uncertainty, that once provoked the raw response, is almost a lost experience to us. It seems it has transmuted in civilised living into a sense of dislike, and this has become all that remains of the impulses from this old inheritance of an animal way of sensing objects or events.
Very rarely are we disturbed by recall of the animal view, and it is only in extreme cases do we find ourselves surprised by an instinctive reaction. In most day-to-day situations these instincts are not strong enough to disturb us, however, it is my contention that some perceptive individuals amongst us retain a little memory of our old 'animal' way if sensing by instinct. This sensation will provoke disorder within their controlled day-to-day view of the world, and it is this that I believe brings a sense of rawness back to mind. These artists find that everything seems to disturb their view of the world around them. The experience generated by consciousness seems subdued, and some people sense this disturbance more than others. It manifests itself as an acute discomfort for the sights, shapes, sounds and movements that go on all around us, and we all, artist or not, respond to impose order into our thoughts to remove this sensation.
My wife reveals the remains of this response through her compulsive need to clean the clutter I live with. She feels disturbed by disorder and responds to this 'inner' instinctive feeling by tidying up around the house. A clean house gives her a value judgement of aesthetic sentiment and a sense of safety and assurance. I prefer to avoid this sentiment and create disorder because it gives me recall of my old animal state of mind. We are attracted by opposites, but you find many artists do not realise this and work to remove disorder from their work. Under this principle, taking raw paint and directing this substance to make a work of art is a more pronounced reaction to the way our minds work day-in and day-out to suppress any sense of rawness to stop a bombardment of sensory inputs that once revealed everything around us through instinct.
Any artists with recall of this bombardment will create objects that displays 'higher' values than that of other objects. This pushes the artist further away from the cause of their need to create the art object – which is a stronger sense of disorder – and, because all our minds have evolved to remove this disturbance from our powers of observation, we will all, to some degree, look to find 'higher' value judgements in the world around us.
If we apply this idea to people who paint pictures, carve sculpture, make music, choreograph dance, and even to architects – who take piles of stone and get builders to rearrange these into a 'higher' order to make a building – we can see they are all unconsciously responding to remove rawness from their minds. In the case of the architect the completed building surrounds us with a sense of designed safety and assurance that, before this achievement, would provoke a less agreeable raw experience sensed through disorder.
What we are looking at is an evolved response that results in our mind seeking to 'feel' more comfortable when it recognises the assurance in artistic achievement but uncomfortable when this sensation is missing. At a subconscious level the art object – painting, sculpture, building, skilled performance – attracts us whilst the disordered materials – the raw paint, clay, stone, etc. – repeals us. Psychologically, therefore, whilst an artist is working to create an object they are acting to remove a sense of exposure to recall of an older way of sensing the world. The end result is a work that is classed as art because it upholds 'high' values that offset a 'lower' experience of mind.
This psychological insight into what an artist is doing is now possible because we understand our ancestry arose through primitive mammals, the great apes, and Homo Sapiens. Our 'higher' way of thinking being an adaptation of 'lower' impulses from this inheritance, and, therefore, art – as an attempt to order and control our awareness of sight, shape, sound or movement – would be a response to uphold a neurological phenomena that has developed to give us a more accurate way of sensing. We look to impose order in the world around us – the basis of the traditional idea of art – because the sense of assurance this gives us lessens the remains of a raw view that once generated our powers of observation by instinct.
Before we understood this our ability to bring order into the world, and to impose this ideal over nature, was believed to be evidence of preordained influence. Primitive people looked out at the world and imagined it had been made by a great designer. They saw bestial creatures that seemed perfectly placed in nature, the stars filled the firmament with astrological signs, and ugliness and disorder in this creation repelled them. It was thought we must be blessed with a divine gift, and placed in this designed universe to give glory to the creation, rather than, as some now believe, that the universe emerged by chance and accident and our place is the result of a set of circumstances that arise if all the right elements emerge in the right place to allow life to evolve. In this modern ungodly idea our 'higher' mind has emerged to suppress an unconscious dislike of uncertainty and push us to modify nature for our own ends. We arose to conquer nature, not because it was preordained, but because it offers the best chance of survival.
With the rise of the scientific empiricist view – that revealed we hold ninety-nine percent of chimpanzee DNA in our genes – we can now consider that we recognise design in the world, and create order and organisation around us, because we have evolved a more advantageous response to our surroundings than blind reaction by animal instinct. We imagine patterns in the random distribution of stars, or we picture faces in twisted tree roots and wind eroded rocks, because this removes our old 'animal' sense of uncertainty from our view of the world. This gives us a deeper awareness of our surroundings and better control over our actions through an intensified power of observation. Creating a work of art may seem far from this biological view, but it represents an act that enforces a sense of design into an artists thoughts, and this removes a raw way looking.
Skilfully created images probably emerge from prehistory because they taught us to suppress a less successful way of sensing the world. Painting an image of something you see in the real world allows you the think of that real object in an imaginary way, and this gives you control over your responses. This helps you ignore any remains of your 'animal' instincts that are still generated in a raw way in the depth of your mind, and the definition of art, under this criteria, is not the result of making skilled objects, but sees skill as a response that drives artist to work to suppress stronger recall of our old way of sensing the world.
Most thinking people now understand nature was not designed by an omnipotent hand, but that it evolved very complex adapted forms through the accumulation of the best possible outcome to responses to the environment. Less successful genotypes being bred out of the system by failing to compete and reproduce, and whole species going extinct and being replaced by more adaptive forms through environmental disasters. We have minds that have emerged by this unguided selective process and we will have, in all probability, retained deep unconscious intuitive recall of old ways of sensing objects and events.
This idea was unknown in the past and superstition or religion enforced the argument for design. Any suggestion that we had emerged as mutations of apelike ancestors – because changes in the environment created challenges that had to be resolve mentally rather than physically – would have seen you dragged to the stake to be burned alive. For those of us who now accept that animal physiology underpins our earthly architecture, and cognitive science looks to instinct as a base output upon which complex nervous systems are founded, using raw art to look towards what remains of our 'animal' mind is not such a blasphemous thing to do.
The mind-body question still rages between those who believe our self-awareness is somehow separate from the physical fabric of the brain – dualism and idealism – and those we see it is a product that can be reduced to the complexity of neurological phenomena – physicalism – but, for an artist, this question is academic. All an artist needs to understand is that learning to create design in their view of the world suppresses a natural state of mind. As to whether-or-not you chose to try to rediscover this natural way of sensing without design will depend upon how perceptive you are to what remains of the animal experience you have inherited from your distant ancestors. You will either be unaware of this inheritance and, therefore, work to uphold the principles of design in art to suppress this sensation, or be aware and look to remove design from your work to reveal the underlying view.
This hypothesis predicts that we should expect to find two distinctly different types of artist. We should find individuals who guide their materials to make superbly crafted work, because they are unaware that their mind responds to propel them away from an older 'animal' experience of objects and events, or artists who understand this and look to disrupt any sense of control being imposed over what they do. All artists before modern times will fall into the first category, simply because you need knowledge of your animal origins to comprehend that your mind is working to remove an instinctive way of sensing from your view of the world. This knowledge was not available until modern times and, therefore, no artist in the past worked to explore a way of creating objects without design. Under this concept, art can be understood as an innate response that propels us to more and more creativity because, unconsciously, we act to keep an old inherent way of sensing, that still generates 'raw' experiences of objects and events, suppressed in our powers of observation. For any artist aware of this idea the challenge becomes one of removing the imposition of design, skill and meaningful content from their work so that an older natural way of sensing by instinct can be returned to what we look at.
© CJ Hollins. Whitby, England, 24 October 2015
The following works are made from paper dipped into paint without design or skilled workmanship. I deliberately avoid the traditional idea of a recognisable picture painted on a flat surface and surrounded by a decorative frame because I want my work to confront the viewer with a real experience rather than an imaginary view. I do this to provoke an older intuitive sensation from our powers of observation that is lost when we look at recognisable content in paintings, photographs, sculpture - or ordered patterns in music or dance. Any art that puts forwards an intellectual learned idea directs your mind to look away from the reality that confronts you. Our ability to look for recognisable images and patterns in the world around us is a behavioural response that has evolved in our species because it gave our distant ancestors a better chance of survival in the animal world they lived within. We, therefore, find that we inherit minds that ‘feel’ disturbed by any recall of the older way of sensing. We are born to learn to look for images and patterns in what we see, but, in doing this, we suppress the older way of sensing by direct intuition. As an artist I sense that the way we learn to look is, therefore, an artificial construct of the mind that stops us sensing in a natural way, and the purpose of my work is to try to rediscover this lost view that once allowed us to see objects without intelligent or intellectual ideas contaminating the view.