This question has intrigued me for many years. As a modern artist I have learned to respond without imposing any preconceived ideas into my working practice, because any such content directs the experience of the end result away from the sensation I want to provoke. Understanding how ideas influence the result is essential knowledge for any modern artist because, without this, you are not going to be able to discern the difference between a product that reflects a learned way of making an object, from one that has been created to look towards chance and intuition. You have to see that any ideas about what you are trying to do at the start of a work will impose conditions that will dictate the outcome. Your very way of thinking will set up initial circumstances that anticipate a certain kind of result, and this, in my estimation of the art experience, will contaminate what you do.
Any research into modern art will face this problem, and so any attempt to model the art experience requires you to discern two distinctly different modes of thought that artists display. You are going to have to consider looking towards describing artists who work in an environment of intuitive insight void of all intelligent and intellectual input, or you will be looking into artists that set out to display some sort of learned idea that uses art to portray meaningful content. The former working procedure looks to create by provoking an unconscious way of working, and this was unknown before modern times. Any artist working by intuition or instinct would have been seen as producing undesirable results, and only artists working within established rules and regulations came to be accepted in art history. This is a reflection of the way our minds have evolved to impose learned ideas about what we experience over intuitive insight. We are taught to attain a level of competence in a given field of enterprise and, if you fail to show this competence, you are unlikely to be given recognition in what you do. This standard of competence is looked for in art as it is in any other profession. This is the way we are brought to status in society, but, for any artist who wants to sense the world by intuition, learned understanding is going to always influence the result. To create an experience in an intuitive way require an open mind that understands that learning, of any kind, directs our powers of observation away from a base sensation in our experience of the world.
What I am trying to grasp here is a way of sensing that our powers of recognition work to stop us experiencing when we look at any object or event. For this reason I will not be describing the art experience as a procedure that sets out to impose an idea upon an end result; like the story in a book, or recording social interaction through film, or any other media. My position is that, to come to know the art experience, you have to learn to sense any object or event without any idea about what confronts you. This is, obviously, difficult to accept, but, at least in the field of painting, the concept began to be explored through abstract action painting in the late 1940's. This, along with art brute, laid the foundations for the view that the art experience is something beyond intellectual reasoning. Unfortunately, the movement opened the floodgates to much abuse, and the serious side of this idea was lost in a plethora of art criticism engendered by those with no understanding of the original aim. To try to regain some validity to the idea that art is a sensation only known when all learning is absent from our powers of perception - the basis of action painting - I will be considering that any object can be used as a work of art. You don't need to be trained in technique to come to the art experience, but it will help if you can get to grips as to why not learning, and stopping yourself using reasoned thoughts to recognise what you see, can produce a unique sensation in your experience of what confronts you. Indeed, my view implies any preconceived idea about art as some kind of messenger or recording device that reflects intellectual understanding will propel your mind set away from an experience that only enters into consciousness when these higher thought process are absent, or disrupted, in your mind. What I describe here is a state of mind that will remain unrealised in any artist who is manufacturing a product that tries to uphold art as an idea displayed through a learned procedure. All subjects that artists have portrayed over the ages, the hunting images on cave walls, or the modern counterpart; the big dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde, have to be seen as having been made to STOP both the artist and the spectator facing an experience that can only be know when we fail to form an idea about what we see. Research into this view of the art experience would require looking towards raw sensations hidden behind our learned way of comprehending objects and events. Any other starting point based on intellectual ideas about the experience would contaminate the result. Art as a sensation that is triggered in our minds by recall of a base sensation of any object or event would require both the artist, and the researcher, to understand that any intellectual or intelligent idea about what they look towards visualising will be working to subdue the very experience they seek to discover.
I have come to realise that in order to get to the art experience, as I see it, I must learn not to understand what I am doing. I believe you need to reach an unconscious state of mind, but, at the same time, I am aware that to attempt this way of working I have to set up initial conditions. This is of some concern because any conscious influence upon an unconscious act will filter into the outcome, and what I, as a modern artist, am trying to achieve is a way of sensing before I impose any conscious idea over what confronts me. I want to sense by instinct, but to understand this view I have to look through learned understanding, and learned understanding works to take my instinctive view of the world and transform it before I can comprehend it.
Researching this idea will be a minefield because at every step your conscious mind will be looking to stop the unconscious view being sensed. Any attempt to model it will be working to destroy it. This is how our minds have evolved to look at the world. In day-to-day life we wake up each morning, look out upon the world and transform a raw animal experience of what we see into a learned conscious view. We are now born to do this because this way of thinking gave our distant ancestors a greater chance of survival in the animal world they lived within. If, as I suspect, the art experience is a little recall of the old inherent animal way of sensing by instinct from which our present way of thinking is derived then, in any attempt to grasp the old experience, your mind will be working to stop you attaining your goal. You will find yourself looking at an object, or encountering an event, and you will call into mind a learned intelligent idea to stop yourself sensing in an old inherent way. For any artist, or researcher, seeking to grasp this concept of art, you are looking to describe a view that is generated before our consciousness gets to work to suppress the original experience.
The problem is going to be one of finding a way to grasp a sensation that comes to mind without learned understanding. If the desire of a modern artist is to create an experience generated in the mind by original primal impulse -as it is for me – then this requires you to look in an unconscious way. You are working to create without conscious thought because you realise that your mind has evolved to stop you coming to know this original experience in all you see and do, but in any attempt to grasp an unconscious act you are forced to set up initial conditions before you begin. This raises the question as to whether-or-not you will have already laid down a working procedure that will contaminate the result. Any research into this idea of the art experience will face this problem, because to conduct meaningful research requires logical thought, but in a search for a sensation generated by intuitive instinctive responses, logical thought works against what you are trying to picture.
The dilemma in any attempt to analyse the modern art experience is that you are trying to grasp a vision of something that cannot be pictured in a reasoned way. What you make will transform the experience you are trying to describe because you have evolved to take an original way of sensing the world by intuition and translate that experience into reasoned thought. This very way our minds’ work destroys what a modern artist comes to realise underlies their need to make art. The art experience is going to get lost in translation in both artistic practice and research procedure.
Research projects into this concept of art as an inherent intuitive sensation in our minds would require a different approach to all other fields of enquiry. The researcher is looking to decipher a sensation generated by a state of mind that gets recall of an experience we are now born to suppress in our view of the world. The actual experience you are looking to model cannot be analysed in a logical way because the sensation an artist tries to envision is hidden in their view of the world, and can only be known when thinking is free of intelligent command. Like meditation, you are looking to reach a state of mind that you can only attain through direct experience, and any descriptions about this state of mind will always give false interpretation. Descriptions will contaminate the view because what you sense originates from a state of mind that can only be reached when the higher working of the intellect are absent from your thoughts. Such an experience holds a structure our conscious mind has no way to picture, and our very way of thinking is working to suppress this primal sensation in our minds. If a modern artist wants to create this raw sensation, they will be working to find a way of presenting an object that our learning cannot recognise, and any research into this will be looking to model a way of understanding without imposing any ideas that have evolved in our minds to suppress this experience.
In practice this imposition of learned ideas over raw sensual awareness is revealed in art when we look at paintings, photographs, magazine images, etc. These objects direct our thoughts away from the raw primal sensation of what confronts us. In my work I try to get people to realise that the uncontrolled application of paint to canvas, or paper, with no recognisable images is a closer experience to an underlying raw sensation generated in our minds by intuition and instinct. All recognisable content and intellectual ideas imposed upon the material to create a picture, or describe an idea, will propel your experience away from this base sensation of what confronts you. You are born to learn to look for recognisable images and to project ideas over what you see to stop yourself sensing this raw experience, and any attempt at description, or analyses, will drive what you seek to experience out of the work. Our learned way of thinking has evolved to overwrite our intuitive unconscious way of sensing and, therefore, consciousness is translating an inherent view, not to reveal it to us, but to suppress it. This is the way our minds have evolved, and so we take our original powers of animal instinct and bury those sensations behind intelligent awareness. For any artist seeking to discover this buried view – the intuitive way of sensing – the insight you seek to grasp will be lost if your mind imposes learning over what you do.
The modern artist comes to realise that the experience they seek to encounter cannot be pictured through our intelligent way of comprehending what we see. Research into this type of artistic experience will be very difficult to organise because what you will be trying to model is a sensation that you cannot quantify into a logical structured thesis. Any hypothesis will have to be built upon learned understanding and this very way of directing your thoughts to create a workable idea will suppress the view you want to comprehend. How, you might ask, is Research Based Artistic Practice to be structured to model an experience that is generated in the depth of your mind by impulses that exert their influence before reasoned thought?
The artist is perhaps more fortunate than the researcher. The artist can, at least, throw paint to create an uncontrolled intuitive sensation, but the researcher cannot throw words. Throwing paint is, in this sense, more revealing than a careful arrangement that mimics a recognisable image, or word that describe an artist’s intentions. By removing all intelligent control over the act of painting the artist who throws paint has got rid of the need of their mind to impose commands that have evolved to overpower an original sensation in what we see. To research this would require you to model this intuitive act in words that cannot visualise the sensation. You can describe the procedure, but you need to understand the end result is a translation of the inherent sensation NOT a picture of it.
For Researched Based Artistic Practice finding a way to model an unconscious sensation is a vast challenge because you are looking to find a way to describe a phenomena that cannot be given structure through any established working procedure. How do you explain art as an act that can only be sensed when you relinquish the very state of mind you possess that allows you to understand what you do? The act needed to get to the art experience – if it is a primal sensation in our experience of the world - defies explanation. You cannot model a phenomena that can only be sensed when your reasoned thoughts are absent from your conscious mind, and, for an artist who works towards this goal, you are not trying to picture this experience because you come to realise you can only provoke it.
Any modern artist who learns to act without thinking encounters the problem that their work will be thought to be trying to portray, or express, the art experience. This is the old idea of art that is being imposed over the new understanding, and, for modern artists of Jackson Pollock's, Mark Rothko's, or Willem De Kooning's insight, the answer was to work and not to think too much about what you do. For research this is problematic, because the purpose of research is to establish procedures that will allow analysis from a result, but if the result has transformed the sensation the artist tried to experience, any attempt at analysis will be looking in the wrong direction. The result is the effect of the art experience but you need to understand the cause. Your research must not corrupt the result otherwise the conditions set up to arrive at a logical conclusion will be flawed. Any uncontrolled act that is intuition based will be very difficult to decipher. It cannot be modelled into any logical structured idea, and, from the research point of view, you are looking to explain a state of mind that is creating its experience without intelligent learning. One could suggest an approach based upon a study of behavioural responses – perhaps by measuring the salivation of the artist in a similar way to the reflexes in Pavlov’s Dogs – but this idea of art as a behavioural response is unlikely to gain popular acceptance. People prefer to believe the higher workings of our mind give us control over what we do, rather than enslave us within unguided biological interactions. If the art experience is, as I believe, an unconscious influence that artist work to suppress in what they do, then, like it or not, a behaviourist concept would seem to be the most fruitful direction for research into what causes the art experience in the first place. What an artist does with this experience will either work towards suppressing it, or be an attempt to expose it. We need to look at the history of art as having originally arisen to stop us coming to know sensations generated in our minds by animal instinct, because the concept of evolution was unknown to these artists. Today this knowledge is widely accepted and some, but not all, modern art shows signs that a psychological event is at work when an artist sets out to create art. Under evolutionary prininciples you will be working to rid your thoughts of any primal sensation about what confronts you. This is what all our minds have evolved to do, and art research would have to adhere to a concept that sees the complexity of the human mind as the result of a need to suppress an old way of sensing. For a modern artist who comprehends this view, the quest would become one of finding a way to create art without reasoned thought. Analysing this kind of act places artistic research on a plane with evolutionary psychology. You will be looking to explain the very core process of a human behavioural trait that has, from our prehistoric origins, evolved to stop us all regenerating an original experience of the world that our ancestors once lived with by instinct. We would, under this premise, have been driven to create art by an animal sensation that our minds work to overpower. The actual cause of art would be a response triggered in our minds because we have evolved to generate a power of perception from a state of unconscious awareness, and the making of art objects came about NOT to reveal, or express, this unconscious way of knowing the world, but to bury it.
The concept of art as it is described to-date has yet to be adjusted to this understanding. Art history still holds doggedly to the idea that the art object is a product of high intellectual thoughts. Only modern artists are in a position to see that our minds will still possess instincts that once revealed an experience of sight, shape, sound and movement sensed in an intuitive ‘unlearned’ way. They have gained this insight by rejecting all intellectual work procedures that were used to enforce the 'learned' idea of art. A modern artist sees that to come anywhere near to the art experience, you cannot impose learning over what you try to do. The researcher faces a similar problem in that analysis has to look towards describing uncertainty and disorder as the core of the subject. Traditional artists never face this experience. They are taught from those who preceded them to learn to make art that is meaningful and is made in an established way; not to reject the procedures and look towards chaos. Traditional artists unknowingly, whilst fully occupied with the task of creating an art object in a controlled and ordered way for some social or commercial reason, are working to suppress, rather than provoke, our old way of sensing the world. To research art as an attempt to get to this old view would require making a work that displays no useful purpose and has nothing to say. No decorative elements or social comment or anything that will give the viewer a way to think that they are looking at a product of higher learning. Art created by raw intuition would be what you are trying to place before the viewer. An experimental construct designed to provoke unconscious forces at work behind our intelligent powers of recognition. This idea was not understood until modern times, and only when we get to a point in history where artist stopped creating useful products for society do we see the beginning of the realisation that art objects have always been made to suppress an animal way of sensing.
We are now privileged with a place in history that allows some of us to work free of commercial demands, but this has divided artists into two distinctly different camps. There are those who believe art can be created, displayed and appreciated, through the making of a work, and there are those who realise this practice arose to destroy the art experience. Any work, to these later artists, will contain the imposition of learned understanding that buries what you try to sense. The only reason for an object in this view of the art experience is to get it to provoke a primal animal sensation from the depth of your mind. Any object could do this and, therefore, any object could be a work of art, but if you want to get any object to provoke this view you need to find a way to sense it by instinct. Few objects will do this because you hold very well established learned ideas that you project over what confronts you to stop this instinctive sensation entering your thoughts. If you believe the art experience is recall of our old instinctive way of sensing - as I do - then, to get to this sensation you need to find a way to look at objects without all the intelligent ideas you use everyday to give recognition to what you see.
Any research into modern art would be looking to differentiate these two different approaches to understanding what the art experience is all about. The first research model would look to describe the art experience as something that has, until modern times, always made a product structured through either traditionally based methodology, like painting, sculpture, music or dance, or modern equivalents that uses newer tools like film, performance, etc. The second research model would assert that our need for art is caused by a sensation that artists inherit that gives them a little inclination of an old experience in their view of the world. Whatever they do will be a transformation of this experience, and the experience itself cannot be structured through any learned ideas used to model the outcome. The first challenge of any research project on art would have to set down a position on this understanding. Either you are researching a predictable established idea of art – the traditional approach that allows you to study what an artist describes through the work – or you are looking to understand that any such content in a work is the effect of the art experience, not the cause. In this later view you are looking to establish a hypothesis that, as I state here, would imply art objects do not create the art experience, but work to destroy it. What you seek to research is an unknown entity in our experience of the world that art objects have, until modern times, worked to suppress. This idea is what I believe modern art points us towards understanding. The art object, in this scenario, is not something created in an attempt to uphold an established concept called ‘art’ because you need to realise art cannot be given any form of concrete identity. The object becomes an enigma designed to provoke an inherent sensation from any observer who confronts the work. That this sensation is the cause of the art experience is debatable, but, in this day-and-age, our understanding of our animal origins gives us good reason to suspect that such an inheritance would endow some of us with recall of instinctive powers of perception. With our beginnings founded in an animal state of mind we will almost certainly possess sensations of perceptual acuity generated by redundant genetic traits, and, in the light of this idea, the history of art objects would reflect a need to suppress, rather then explore, these old sensations.
If, as I state her, the art experience is caused by an inherent way of sensing by animal instinct, then all qualities of an art object are a distraction. Any object could be a work of art because you are looking to sense in an intuitive raw way, and to do this you need to remove all ideas that pertain to art as some sort of special creation. This idea that any object could provoke the art experience from your mind is the opposite view to the traditional approach, that sees art as an object that reflects the ideas the artist holds in their mind. The traditional concept of art sees the discipline as the outcome of a higher state of learning that can be attained through practice and then projected as intelligent intellectual content over materials to make an art object. This working procedure could be analysed; for example, both primitive images on cave walls, or highly intellectual works of conceptual art - like voices from underground workers played to visitors in an art galley - place ideas before us that we know how to translate into intelligent reasoned thoughts. We can call to mind ideas about hunting rituals, and understand words that tell us of working conditions that have been endured, but these ideas will always work to stop a way of sensing by instinct entering our thoughts. Both the prehistoric art, and traditional and modern counterparts, allow us to formulate intelligent intellectual ideas about what we see, but for some artists this is now seen as a suppressive way of working. If you want to sense by intuition you have to rid your work of all intellectual and intelligent ideas. This view of art sees a direct experience of any object that cannot be given form through a learned working procedure. We are looking towards raw primal sensations that are generated at an unconscious level of mind, and any attempt to model these sensations will be filtered through thought processes that have evolved to suppress the experience. The art experience itself arises from a state of unconsciousness, but this experience would require us to ignore the ways we make art to reflect learned understanding. What this view of art looks towards is the psychological cause of the effect that any object has upon our mind when we fail to generate a recognisable idea to identify what we see. Any artist, knowingly or unknowingly, motivated by this inner sensation, will be working to translate this experience if they create an art object. They will either be working to suppress this unconscious sensation, or get a little recall of it. We are looking to realise that artists have, until modern times, create art objects to rid their thought of this other inherent animal way of sensing without intellectual ideas. They work to replace this seemingly empty state of mind with a construct they fill full of recognisable content generated through intelligence. It is what we all do in our experience of the world from the day we are born, but this way our mind works drives our experiences of what confronts us away from an older sensation of objects and events.
To get to this older way of sensing requires an approach that will not impose an established principle over what the researcher is trying to visualise. From a modern artist’s point of view any Research Based Artistic Procedure would need to be undertaken from a premise that the best an artist can hope to achieve is to initiate a set of circumstances that will bring to mind a sensation of uncertainty. You cannot portray this sensation, or model it in a predictable way, because you are looking to describe something sensed in an unconscious way. You are working so that the result will not suppress what you try to see. The nearest analogy is, perhaps, found in the scientific approach to modelling Quantum Mechanics. In this discipline uncertainty becomes an integral part of the result. Sub-atomic particles cannot be given a precise position (mathematical in this case) because the act of observation changes the initial conditions. The best a Quantum Scientist can hope for is to predict the probability of an event. For a modern artist this way of thinking upholds a similar mind set that needs to be understood to grasp the idea of art as a primal sensation within our powers of perception. The idea is that you cannot paint, sculpt, compose, or dance to create the art experience because your mind is driving you to act in this way to transform the base sensation that generates the experience in the first place. You are working to subconsciously get rid of the sensation, and to research this phenomenon would require finding ways to understand looking without learning. If you are a painter you need to paint without thinking. Any attempt to guide the paint through controlled thoughts will contaminate the result, and the realisation is that what you try to comprehend is beyond the way your mind has evolved to translate your view of the world. You have no choice but to use intelligence to go about trying to discover the art experience, but this way of thinking has evolved to take the original sensation and transform it. What you will end up with is not a model of the art experience, but an intelligent restructuring of a transformation of that experience that works to destroy what you want to picture. The best you can do is, like Quantum Mechanics, set up a working procedure that provokes the sensation rather than attempts to picture it. This would require the creation of an object that generates a sensation of uncertainty and unknowing from the spectators’ mind. You need an object that neither you or your audience knows how to comprehend. In this state of uncertainty a widow opens in the mind, and, for a short time, all learning is pushed aside. All intelligent powers of recognition will fail to formulate, and an unconscious way of sensing by animal instinct will flood into your experience of what confronts you. This experience is an underlying sensation that our minds have evolved to suppress in our powers of observation, and, for a modern artist, this would be the most probable cause of their need to remove all traditional working procedure from what they do.
Research Based Artistic Practice would have to take this effect into account in any model of the art experience. It would have to look towards understanding the art experience as a sensory behavioural trait that has, until modern times, driven artists to work towards imposing a greater sense of order and organisation over sight, shape, sound and movement. The artist, like all the rest of us, has evolved to rid their minds of any feeling for an original sensation of what confronts them. That feeling was, and still is, generated by their inherent powers of instinct and, under the principles laid down by the theory of evolution, we will all have inherited this old way of generating our power of perception. All our minds will now be working to stop this sensation entering our conscious level of thought. Presumably, artists are more attuned to this old experience and have, therefore, always been driven to create objects that display a greater sense of order and organisation, because our minds work to suppress the old experience. If you get a greater recollection of this inherent sensation you will find yourself working harder to suppress it. If you are an artist you will take colours, shapes, sounds and movements and rearrange these materials because you will ‘feel’ these sensations hint at a deeper level of sensory experience. You will paint pictures, make sculpture, compose music and choreograph dance because these works impose more order into your awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement to give recognition to this ‘feeling’ your mind is working to overpower. You may believe you are creating a work of art, but this is your intellect imposing its design on uncertainty. Only when we get too modern times do we see this process challenged. Artist begin to suspect that control and organisation in art practice arose to help us subdue our old inherent way of sensing the world, and, to counter this, they reacted to established working procedure.
For an art researcher this will manifest a contrast between artists who work to suppress an inherent way of sensing objects and events, and artists who, having realised what their minds are doing, try to create objects that provoke an old inherent way of sensing without learned understanding. The former working practices can be analysed using established research procedure, but the other idea, that sees art as an inherent sensation generated by animal instinct, requires new research technique. It requires finding ways of describe a sensation that our minds only encounter when our intellect fails to recognise what confronts us. Only when faced with an object that we find difficult to comprehend will we get a hint of an unconscious state of mind, and, for a short while, we glimpse an inherent way of sensing. Artists have always felt this deeper sensation in their experience of the world, but, until now, they where never in a position to understand what they confronted. With acceptance of the knowledge that we evolved from animal origins we can now begin to understand that each and every one of us, artist or not, look to bury a primal experience behind all we see and do.
C J Hollins 4 September 2013