A proposal for art to avoid categorisation

The Theory


The essential requirement for an object to be understood as Primalism would be its ability to provoke an inherit animal way of sensing objects and events from the depth of our minds. In art this would require the creation of a work that will be difficult to categorize because when we fail to recognise an object or event our mind begins to recall our old animal way of sensing. We learn, at a very early age, to stop this experience entering our view of the world by projecting intelligent ideas of recognition over all we see and do. This creates a sense of categorization in our experience of the world, and for any artist aware of this the task becomes one of finding a way to avoid all learned intelligent ideas about what confronts us. You begin to become aware that all such ideas work to suppress our old inherent way of sensing.


The difficult realisation with this idea of art as a primal sensation is that, in any attempt to establish the concept, you would be imposing a form of classification that would undermine the purpose of the work. The very idea of art itself seems to suppress a direct primal way of sensing an object; you look to find an image in a painting or sculpture, or listen to harmony and melody in music, or enjoy the story in a book because you have learned to expect the art experience is given form through this content.. What few rease is that the ideas brought to mind by the subjects portrayed in the work will stop you sensing what confronts you in a direct primal way. Primalism would be an act that tries to guide our powers of perception towards rekindling our old inherent animal way of sensing an object or an event, as opposed to creating a work that helps us suppress this experience behind learned understanding that has been moulded into a work.


Primitive art, or art brut (raw art) created outside the boundaries of official culture should not be confused with this proposal for Primalism. Primitive art, although created by native or naïve states of mind, still allows for categorisation within the western concept of art. Primitive forms, created free of academic discipline, still display principles that fall within the established dogma of traditional artistic ideas: naïve paintings, tribal sculpture, folk music, etc. For consideration as Primalism all categories of art would have to be avoided, and the principle of the concept would be to stop our intelligence using our powers of recognition to suppress an old inherent way of sensing any object or event. In the case of Primitivism this principle is not upheld because crude primitive works of art, like sophisticated civilised works, are made by the imposition of ideas that work to suppress our underlying animal state of mind. The difference is only in technical content, whist the essential cause of our need to make art objects remains the same in both examples. A primitive mind works to transform this primal sensation in their minds into myth, superstition or folk law, just as a modern mind will transform the sensation into a religious image, a symphony, or a picture of a tin of soup. Primalism would require that the art experience be identified as a sensation that is generated by intuitive forms of animal perception before any intelligent learning are imposed over this sensation in our minds. We cannot give recognition to this sensation through our present day powers of intelligence because our minds have evolved, and work continuously, to suppress this original sensation in the depth of our minds. The primal sensation can only be known to us when we possess no intelligent or intellectual ideas to apply to what we see. In this state of unknowing we would be forced to sense what confronts us using our old animal powers of instinct, and the experience this would generate is what a Primalist would be seeking to explore.


Primalism would uphold that we have inherited a far older way of sensing once known to our ancestors before our present day powers of intelligence evolved. This older way of sensing would have been animal in structure and generated solely by instinct. This way of sensing would now underlie our modern intelligent mind, and our present day way of organising our powers of perception will be working to suppress the old view in all we see and do. This old sensation would now be dormant but, if provoked for any reason, would generate an experience our intelligence has evolved to overpower. This suppressing of our old animal state of mind is what we all do, and so our minds work to take the old inherent primal sensations in our perception of the world and bring them within the sphere of conscious intelligent awareness. What we want to discover through Primalism is the underlying sensation that is still generated in our mind before it is given any structure through our conscious intelligent awareness, but our problem will be that our minds now work all the time to transform this original way of sensing. We do this because suppressing our animal state of mind gave us advantageous traits in the struggle for survival, and we are now born to learn to overpower any hint of the old view. We now live all our lives with a subconscious need to dismiss any disruption in our intelligent powers of recognition, and, for this reason, any artist who tries to look without intelligent learning will find they are trying to create an intuitive experience of the world generated by animal instinct.


To rekindle this primal 'animal' way of sensing would require the artist to make work that our learning fails to recognise. Such art would provoke the old inherent experience from the deepest areas of our mind; as opposed to just showing us work that we look at through our intelligent learned understanding. Such a primal creation would have to be made by intuition and the artist would be working to avoid all imposition of intellectual and intelligent ideas influencing the work. Also, the viewer needs to be forced to look at the end result without being able to call into mind any intellectual or intelligent ideas to give recognition to what confronts them. Any such imposition will suppress the primal sensation of the work. A Primalist would have to uphold and reflect an animal awareness within our experience of any object or event, and, to do this, such an artist would have to discover a way of working that cannot be categorised. In all cases to date artists have created work that ends up being brought within the classification of art. This concept has, until modern times, been imposed over an artist by the strict imposition of a sense of intellectual and intelligent constraints that distinguishes what was, and was not, acceptable as art. To be an artist in the past required you to learn to make objects by an established set of rules and this, in effect, stopped artists searching for an experience in what they do that can only be sensed when you look without rules.


Because modern artists can now disobey the rules we should be able to create works that provoke our old way of sensing by instinct, but what appears to have happened is that the concept of art has adjusted to suppress this effect. Today anything can be placed into the category of art and the work need not be made with any skill or learning. This widening of the concept of art implies that we are subconsciously adjusting our ideas of art to stop the primal sensation of the subject being explored. Any underlying sensation of an object that begins to provoke our old primal powers of perception will drive our minds to suppress the experience, and it seems that in art this manifests itself in the widening of the concept of art to encompass more and more things that can be classed as art. It appears as if the very concept of art itself reflects, like our day to day intelligent view of the world, a mannerism our intelligence displays that makes us seek ways to stop our older inherent animal way of perception infringing into our powers of observation. The modern concept of art now allows an artist to call anything art – like a toilet urinal – but expanding the idea of art to include such works is a psychological slight of mind that works to stop the original purpose of the urinal provoking a primal sensation felt in an art gallery when you are confronted by a non-art object. Placing an object like a urinal in the world of art removed our idea of art, but once you adjust your idea of art to include urinals you have overpowered the initial disruption to the concept of classification. Once anything can be called art, using the power of a none-art object to provoke our old animal way of sensing within the art environment is lost. In days of old any artist who failed to make a work to the established ideas immediately created disruption that began to provoke our animal sense of intuitive awareness. The response was to reject such work as inartistic. Today, because people can call anything art – even if they don’t know what art is – they can at least use the concept of categorisation to stop themselves encountering the primal sensation of an object that no longer upholds the rules. An artist reacts against established art practices, this creates an original intuitive object, but, once accepted as a new form of art, no matter how inartistic the work may be, the object becomes something brought within the idea of categorisation. This idea them suppress the initial disruption to our ideas about what confronts us, and we find the concept of art has widened to stop the primal view being sensed.


The very idea of art itself seems to be a concept that our intelligence uses to suppress the original experience of our primal way of sensing any object or event. We seem to have developed art as an idea for a way of overpowering uncertainty in an artists creation. In this day and age this is revealed more clearly than in traditional art practice because modern art has become a byword people use to generate a concept of categorisation that then works to suppress any disturbing feeling arising from a confrontation with an object we don't recognise as art. The unidentified avant-garde object – created by a pioneer artist - generates a sensation of uncertainty, this brings to mind our old inherent way of sensing by animal instinct, but our intelligence gets to work to suppress this sensation by widening what can be called a work of art. Before the 20th Century most people knew what principles a work of art should display, and in most cases these principles were those of well-composed pictures, sculpture, music, dance, opera, or craft objects like macramé. Any deviation to this established idea of art generated an immediate sense of rejection. In the old days if you wanted to call yourself an artist you learned to uphold the established rules. This you did by apprenticeship to a master artist, or you acquired your standing by academic qualification. Today the view has changed and anything can be called a work of art. To succeed in this environment it is not what you do that is important because your sole desire becomes a quest to get anything into the art world that will gain you recognition as a modern artist. This has degraded the concept of art and, whilst essential for opening our minds to a new idea of what art is about, it has also introduced a disadvantage. Once anything can be a classified as a work of art how can an artist find something that will disrupt the established view?


An artist who wants to reveal a primal way of sensing in their view of the world needs to create an object that removes all the established ideas that define what an art object is, but in a world that allows anything to be called art this has become near impossible to achieve. If, as I state here, art arose in prehistory to help us suppress a sensation generated in the depth of our minds by recall of inherent perceptual traits left over from our animal origins, then this is what artist have always confronted in the depth of their minds. Artists, like all the rest of us, work to suppress this underlying sensation in what they do, and anyone who understands this will find themselves trying to discover a state of mind we once lived with before we evolved to impose intelligent ideas over what we see. Because art is an intelligent idea our need to make such objects must have arisen in prehistory to help us suppress our primal way of sensing, and the task for a modern artist therefore becomes one of having to discover ways to create objects and events that provoke, rather than suppress, the primal view in any object or event. This would imply having to make work that cannot be degraded by categorisation, and, because art upholds classification, the very word itself will suppress the primal sensation of the object. To experience any object in a primal intuitive way you need to sense it by instinct and that means looking without any intelligent idea about what you see. You have got to stop people seeing what you do as art. This is what Marcel Duchamp tried to do when he presented a ready-made as a work of art. He placed a non-art object into the world of art, and this removed the idea of art; unfortunately, the idea of art adjusted to allow anything to be looked at as a  work of art and this suppressed the sense of disruption the Duchamp gesture created in the first place.


For a work to qualify as Primalism, it would have to avoid being recognised as art. The work would need to continuously generate a sense of uncertainty against any attempt to place it in the category of art. To do this the artist would also have to remain outside the art world and, in this day and age, few are willing to live in solitude and isolation without wanting some recognition for their work. I try to create objects people will not class as art, but in today's world this is harder to do than ever before. When people tell me I am not an artist because what I do does not uphold the established principles, I am delighted. I am ecstatic because this implies what I have created is not art and therefore my work avoids an established intelligent idea. I don't want to be an artist who upholds an idea called art because I am trying to become a primal thinker who tries to look at all things without established ideas. An artist is looked upon as someone who understands an idea called art, but, to me, what we call art is a sensation generated in our mind before you can impose an idea over it. If you call yourself an artist people will look at your work to find an idea called art, and this classification will suppress any possibility of your work provoking a sense of animal intuition within the viewers mind. To get even the smallest glimpse of this sensation from your work you need to understand all intelligent learning has evolved to propel us away from an original inherent way of sensing. A work of Primalism would have to be an object that avoids as much categorisation as possible. Not only that, the artist would also need to remain unknown. Only the object is important not who made it, and what would distinguish a work of Primalism from everything else in the world would be the ability of this object to disrupt our established ideas so that it provokes an animal sensation from the depth of our mind.


Christopher John Hollins. 21 June 2013


Footnote on epistemology and nature versus nurture in relation to Primalism; My responses to concerns raised by submission to the Journal of Artistic Research.

All my research articles – and my art objects – look towards identifying the cause of the art experience as opposed to describing the effect. I am seeking to model a sensation that generates an inherent way of sensing without learning, because I believe art establishments are geared to kept this concept out of the art experience. It is a psychological response of intelligence to reject ideas that imply art originates from a way of sensing the world though animal intuition. The view that the animal mind underlies our powers of reasoning sits uncomfortably in art because animals do not display the need for artistic enterprise. The concept I advocate implies art is an animal sensation we work to bury by the creation of art objects. Animals don't feel the need to do this because they live with the sensation - generated by instinct - that our minds work to suppress in our view of the world. Art objects are, therefore, not art but constructs made to hide the art experience that is, in my view, an animal way of sening the world generated by instinct.

The objections. 

 (1) The work needs to be central rather than secondary. Practice as research will be dictated by theory, and, in my case, the theory demands simple uncluttered projects. Thus, throwing crumpled paper dipped in paint is all that is required to uphold the concept. Quantifying to create larger, more complex work will not clarify the concept any more than one singe act. 

 (2) The ideas are, in principle interesting, but the theory is naïve. Try to grasp the basic premiss rather than dismiss a naïve view. We are talking about a prototype concept in art that will remain naïve for a long time. No individual will formulate a complex theory at this stage of insight. My job, as an artist, is to discover a way to experience a primal state of mind and any requirement to stop exploration to formulate theory to prove the concept would severely curtail the possibilities I seek to expose.  

 (3) It is not easy to escape our epistemological stance (categorisation) or to avoid 'following the rules'. My epistemological stance asks as to whether-or-not our minds create experiences in our powers of perception that are cloaked by our conscious learning. From the point of view of a philosophy of mind avoiding the rules would be the most likely way to get a look at such an inherent sensation. I, as an artist, look to understand the art experience as a form of perception based upon unconscious activity. Rules impose conscious controlled actions over the creation of an art object and, therefore, you have to work outside the rules to get to what you want to see. 


The concept of looking without learning would be an attempt to model an 'animal' sensation structured through intuitive responses rather than controlled actions. What you seek to provoke from your mind can only be sensed when you fail to understand what confronts you. From this point of view the art experience requires you to discover a working procedure that is not controlled by any learned implementation that directs the end result. You are looking to act in a way that all your learned understanding will find difficult to comprehend. This is not because you want to make art that is confounding or deliberately ambiguous, but because the view you seek to explore will be hidden by any rules you learn to impose over how you go about making an art work. We are creatures who nurture a 'higher' level of conscious awareness from a 'lower' level of natural responses. This way of evolution creates a mind that seeks to suppress an animal way of sensing with learned thinking. For an artist the art experience will either be thought to be something you can learn to create – the traditional concept – or something you are born to hide behind learning. My position is that of the later view. Modern art arose to brake the rules because it is only when you look without rules does an older inherent way of sensing re-emerge into your mind. Modern epistemology would have to look towards a biological basis of artistic procedure. The closest concept I know is found in E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology, and Evolutionary Psychology, where a basic response to the environment would require no a priori knowledge of the external world. The response only has to ensure the living creature reacts in such a way as to ensure survival. The Insect mind works by this process, and, unless you are going to reject the concept of evolution and insist we are special creations of divine decree, then mindless responses will underlie all our cleaver thinking. The model would predict that, for example, you will not run into a solid wall because you hold intuitive responses that you have inherited from your distant animal ancestors; who learned by trial and error that running into solid walls was not a survival trait. The intuitive responses that ensure you will run around solid objects is now ingrained into the genetic architecture of your brain. The problem, from the artists point of view, is that we are now born to replace this intuitive response with intelligent learning. The epistemological question is, do you need to learn about solid things to know how to avoid them, or do you hold this response without learning, but begin to cloak this original experience through the making of a 'higher' refined awareness. In my view we will inherit an unlearned way of sensing the world, and we will, in all probability, look to suppress the unconscious responses such an experience would engender. This is my epistemological point of view, and rightly, or wrongly, it allows me to see that my need to make art would, at its root cause, be a response to sensations that are arising from a unlearned vision of events. Somewhere, deep within my mind, a primal way of sensing the world is working, and all my learned understanding, from the day I was born, is now structured to suppress that experience. We have, therefore, evolved to neutralise the nature of our powers of perception with a nurtured view, and it you want to sense by instinct you have to find a naïve way to look without learning. 


CJH 2 September 2013                    

Translation of theory into practice



PROPOSAL. Paper soaked in acrylic paint, screwed up, trampled upon,swept and thrown, whilst damp, into a heap in the corner of a room.


EXPLANATION. I am making a Primal Gesture in an attempt to create an environment that removes all intellectual and intelligent ideas about what confronts you. I have been searching most of my life for a way of working this is spontaneous and allows my mind to act free of the imposition of control and organisation that learned ideas impose over how we experience what confronts us. I want to make objects that rekindle a deeper intuitive sensation for shape and colour that can only be sensed when we find our intelligent ideas about what we see are disrupted. In this state of mind we begin to generate an older way of sensing that once showed us how to see the world through instinct. Our animal ancestors used to live with this sensation before intelligence evolved, and we still inherit this way of sensing. It has been passed down to us in the form of genetic information, but we are born to learn to suppress the instinctive animal view our mind once generated for us. In its place we construct, at a very early age, a state of mind that intercepts this old way of reacting to sight, shape, sound and movement by transforming the sensation into our intelligent powers of recognition. We do this by learning to generate ideas that we impose over the impulses generated by instinct. This makes us look at all things through a conceptual acuity that works to suppresses the old inherent way of sensing. For an artist with this understanding there is, within our view of all things, an inclination that our intelligent mind works all the time to stop us sensing in an older direct and intuitive way. For an artist to get a glimpse of this other view requires a search to find a way to make objects that will confound all ideas about what is, and is not, an art object. In this installation there is no attempt to impose artistic skill over the work. It places before you an object that anyone could make. It simply consists of paper soaked in paint, crumple up and throw in a room, but what you need to realise is that this none-art gesture holds the possibility of creating a sensation generated in your mind by instinct. Most people, unaware of what I am trying to do, will call into mind their intelligent ideas about art, and these ideas will then set to work to suppress this old experience of being confronted by an object that tries to avoid categorisation. In relation to ideas of art my work is just crumpled paper thrown in a room, but this learned view is generated by the way our intelligence has evolved to identify what confronts us. I want people to look without this learning, and, therefore, the object made of crumpled paper is just a way of disrupting our intelligent powers of recognition. Many will fail to realise that their sense of rejection for crumpled paper being called a work of art is a response, generated by their intelligence, that works to stop an experience of what they see that only comes into mind when they fail to recognise what confronts them.