Rejecting anything that provokes a return of this old animal sensation is a behavioural response that has evolved in we human beings, and it is not just confined to art. Few of us realise we are conditioned by life itself, and by the way we learn to survive, to look for what we know how to recognise in our powers of perception. We don't look around for what we don't know how to recognise because this brings the uncomfortable 'feeling' of animal recall, and so our mind works to find an idea - any idea rather than no idea - to impose over what we see. If I failed to learn to recognise a bus then the chances are that one day when I cross a road I will get run-over by one of these types of vehicle. The chances are that I won't survive very long because I have failed to learn to recognise buses, and so, just as it was essential for our distant ancestors to learn to recognise tigers and lions, we are born to look towards ever greater powers of certainty as a way of sensing what confronts us. It is therefore a natural response, when we find ourselves confronted by any object or event that fails to fit into this model of how we respond, to start to think up ideas to remove as much uncertainty from what we see as it is possible to do. We look to project the best idea we can call to mind over what we see to stop it provoking the sensation of the unknown. This is what most people do in art galleries. They look for ideas they have learned to apply to the things they see, and this response is what a meaningless black square hanging on a wall challenges. It disrupts your learned idea of art and brings to mind an older way of sensing generated by instinct. This view is only provoked from the depth of your mind when you fail to recognise what you see.
It is here that art lovers and artists part company. The art lover, and those artists who work to satisfy this audiences craving for meaningful creative work, look towards making and displaying recognisable objects that uphold established principles. These principles, in art, have always been about workmanship, engaging subjective content, or fine performance, etc. and these criteria enforce upon the art experience a class of object that we know how to recognise. Remove these established principles in art and you are faced with objects that begin to provoke an underlying behavioural response from the human mind that emerges with loss of recognition. This response has evolved to look to suppress the unknown from your view of the world, and so you 'feel' disturbed and unsure when confronted by something in an art gallery that fails to display the values that create your idea of what constitutes the art experience. The general response is to find a way to reassert your control over your powers of recognition, and the easiest way to do this is to reject anything that fails to display the required values that are expected of art.
A simple black square does not try to represent something other than what it is, and it is an object that you have to look towards not understanding. There is nothing profound or meaningful in this object and if you find yourself thinking up such ideas then you need to realise your mind is working to find a way of suppressing the sensation of unknowing that a meaningless object will begin to provoke from your mind. This is what we do in life and so we find ourselves thinking this meaningless black square has been placed in an art gallery to say something profound. We think about gestalt, or that this work has something to say about social injustice, or even ideas as bizarre as suggesting a black square is a gateway to an alien world - reminding me of the black obelisk from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is very difficult to create an object that stops people doing this. Trying to look without imposing any ideas over your experience of an object creates in we human beings a negative response, and we seek to suppress this experience of what we see. We look to dismiss the work as fraudulent art, or to find the nearest idea we can apply to what we see to rid our thoughts of any sense of the unknown.
C J Hollins, April 2014