WHAT IS ART?
J. Consc. Studies 7, No. 8/9, Aug/Sept 2000, pages 7 - 15
What is Art?
Editorial Introduction to
Art and the Brain, Part 2
Joseph A. Goguen
What is art? What is beauty? How do they relate? Where does consciousness come in? What about truth? And can science help us with issues of this kind?
Because such questions go to the very heart of current conflicts about Western value systems, they are unlikely to receive definitive answers. But they are still very much worth exploring - which is precisely the purpose of this collection of papers, with particular attention to the relationships between art and science.
1. What is Art?
The very last essay of Paul Gauguin was on the importance of the question "what is art?" A trip to the dictionary (noting also cousin words such as "artifact," "artisan," "artificial," and "article") may suggest that "art" refers to something skillfully constructed by human artists. However, the artists themselves have been pushing the boundaries of any such definition, challenging our preconceptions, and leaving most philosophers, psychologists, and critics well behind - to say nothing of the general public.
Let us first consider "found art," also called "readymade" art, which challenges the role of the artist as the constructor of art. An especially famous example is Duchamp's urinal, the submission of which to the 1917 New York Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists generated considerable controversy, resulting in its exclusion by the society's board of directors. This object has a pleasingly smooth form, which follows its function in a most logical way. Presumably it was more the function that offended the bourgeois sensibilities of the board than the form itself, or the lightened role of the artist. Some other examples are Warhol's Campbell soup cans, Damien Hirst's dead animals floating in large tanks of formaldehyde ("Mother and Child, Divided," a dissected cow and her calf, winner of the 1995 Turner Prize - continuing the tradition of upsetting the bourgeoisie, but enlarging the role of the artist to include the comissioning of tanks), and the exhibition of various configurations of objects like rocks, trees, and ropes (many artists have followed this line, e.g., Barry Flanagan).
Environmental art pushes the definitional boundaries by placing art outside the museum, in a (more) natural environment. Well known examples include earthworks, e.g., by Robert Smithson, and wrapped buildings by Christos. Conceptual art challenges the materiality of art, by using physical forms that may themselves be relatively prosaic or even boring, such as hand-lettered posterboards, perhaps to suggest a concept, or a reconceptualization of an existing situation. In addition, there are traditions, such as performance art and body art, that give new roles to the artist, e.g., as part of the artwork, and also challenges current ideas about boundaries among various art forms, e.g., between theatre and visual art, or between music, literature and theatre; current performance traditions in rock music do the same (e.g., Beck). We might also consider high fashion, interactive video games, graffiti, antique furniture, websites, etc.
It should not be forgotten that non-Western perspectives can be very different. For example, traditional societies do not distinguish between art and craft, and may not have designated specialists who regularly and exclusively perform such tasks. Moreover, art and craft are often fused with religion[[FOOTNOTE: Two examples are icons in the Eastern Christian Orthodox church tradition, and Tibetan thanka paintings, both of which are (ideally) produced in a spirit of deep devotion.]].
In Japan, the arrangement of rocks, plants and water has reached an extremely sophisticated level in the construction and maintenance (often over hundreds of years) of formal gardens; the traditions of arranging flowers ("ikebana") and of cultivating miniature trees ("bonsai") are also relevant, and today have a considerable popularity in the West.
Another form of distancing between art and artist comes from the use of random operations. In literature, this was made famous by William S. Burroughs' use of "cutups" in his novels (Naked Lunch, etc.), following the use of a similar technique in art by Brian Gyson. John Cage also used chance operations in his musical compositions; he particularly favored variants of the methods used in I Ching divinations. In such cases, the role of the artist becomes more like that of the critic: to evaluate and then select some results as superior to others.
From all this, we should conclude that social context plays a key role in determining what art is, or even if it is. Clearly the Western tradition is evolving, to the point where anything can be presented as an art object, and where the role of the artist is subject to wide variation. In addition, evidence from other cultures shows that the very notion of art is culture-dependent, so that what appears in one tradition as an aid to meditation, or an indication of rulership, or an aid to drinking water, may appear in a museum case in another tradition.
2. What is Beauty?
Beauty is often taken to be the measure of quality for art. In the Enlightenment tradition, epitomized by Kant, the beauty of objects is judged in absolute terms by rational autonomous subjects.
Insofar as this view fails to distinguish between art and nature, it fits well with the dissolution of this boundary in contemporary art, and more generally, with the dissolution of the boundary between the natural and the artificial (or virtual) in post modernism. Moreover, it neatly disposes of the problem of the cultural relativity of the nature of art, by rendering it irrelevant: everything is art, and everything is subject to judgements of beauty in exactly the same way. However, the Enlightenment view is burdened with other difficulties, many of which can be seen to arise from its presupposition of mind-body and subject-object dualities. Such issues are of course by now very familiar in consciousness studies.
Perhaps the simplest theory, and one which was widely held until recently, is that art is beautiful to the extent that it imitates nature; we might call this the correspondence theory of beauty[[FOOTNOTE: After the correspondence theory of truth in semantics, with which there is a close analogy. This theory is well illustrated by many 18th century English estates, whose large gardens and parks are carefully landscaped to achieve a casual "natural" beauty, which seamlessly merges into the surrounding countryside.]]. This provides (or appears to provide) a simple rational criterion. But unfortunately, this criterion depends on not only a separation between subjecty and object, but also between art and nature[[FOOTNOTE: Notice that without this distinction, everything is natural and thus everything is already maximally beautiful.]], and therefore it falls prey to the previously discussed problem that the very notion of art is culturally relative, rather than being a universal a priori given. In fact, and perhaps even more disastrously for this theory, it is also unclear what counts as nature, given triumphs of modern science and technology such as the rise of the virtual (e.g., special effects in movies), the strange products of bioengineering, and the ever slowly dawning realization that humans are natural.
It is also evident that this theory fails to account for much of contemporary art, which is often radically non-representational. And finally, it is not very clear that there can exist any very good rational basis for judging how well art works imitate nature; it is easy to cite many problematic cases (e.g., unicorns, or the work of landscape, bonsai, and ikebana artists). But perhaps we are beating a dead horse here; so let us move on.
Another unsatisfactory approach to beauty attempts to measure it by the viewer's emotional response. Let's call this the "I know what I like" approach. There is little hope for such an approach in its naive form, which is purely subjective. However, there are more sophisticated forms, in which scientific instruments are used to measure the response, and large datasets are collected, in order to average out individual variations and eliminate outliers.
As a result of this methodology, conclusions will tend towards primitive factors that are valid for the lowest common denominator of the sampled population. Also, like the correspondence theory of beauty, this approach presupposes a strong split between subject and object. On the positive side, least common denominator results might include many interesting and important low level perceptual phenomena. On the negative side, the limitation to relatively crude response measures will exclude all of the more complex forms of judgement that are built on top of mere perception, and that seem so important for understanding great art.
Although such approaches could produce useful guidelines for several aspects of design, they probably have much less value for fine art. On the other hand, their results should be a significant input to any mature theory of art, and would deserve the same admiration for stability and reliability that is associated with the best fruits of the scientific method.
The Romantics had an entirely different point of view. As John Keats famously wrote (in the Spring of 1819) in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn":
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Although this clearly echoes Plato[[FOOTNOTE: Discussions of relations among of the good, the true, and the beautiful go back (at least) to Plato (-360), in the Republic and various dialogues. This theme has been echoed, expounded, varied, and developed through the ages, e.g., by Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas and Kant, and it continues into the present, where these three are generally taken to be the quite distinct domains of ethics, logic, and aesthetics, respectively.]], I presume that Keats intends the Romantic notion of "artistic truth," which generally meant some kind of emotional truth, i.e., an accurate expression of the feelings of the artist, rather than truth in some philosophical or scientific sense, such as corespondence to (some notion of) reality.
Heidegger has gone more deeply into Kant's philosophy of art than did Kant himself or his followers. Kant's notion of the absoluteness of art is explicated by Heidegger as follows (Kockelmans 1985)[[FOOTNOTE: Although we cite a somewhat dubious secondary source, it is used only as a convenient repository for quotations.]]:
... the beautiful for Kant is that which never can be considered in function of something else (at least as long as it is taken as the beautiful) ... When all such interest is suppressed, the object comes to the fore as pure object. Such coming forth into appearance is the beautiful.
Thus art is for Kant the beautiful presentation of some form, and through it, the presentation of an aesthetic idea which lies beyond the realm of the concepts and the categories. Through this beautiful presentation of an aesthetic idea the artist infinitely expands a given concept and, thus, encourages the free play of our mental faculties. This implies that art really lies beyond the realm of reason and that the beautiful is conceptually incomprehensible.
This theory of the beautiful as the pure presentation of form has much in common with the romantic view. However we should carefully note that it excludes role of the the artist, the cultural context of the art object, and the preparation of the viewer, all of which seem crucial.
Heidegger's own theory of art has much in common with (his version of) that of Kant, but he takes Kant's ideas further, drawing also on his vitalizing reinterpretations of Nietzsche and Hegel, and of course taking a phenomenological perspective; perhaps surprisingly, Keats' poem again resonates, although it requires a very different interpretation. The following quotes are from Heidegger (1960):
Art is ... the becoming and happening of truth.
Beauty is one way in which truth appears as unconcealedness.
Truth is the unconcealedness of that which is as something that is. Truth is the truth of being. Beauty does not occur alongside and apart from this truth. When truth sets itself into the work [of art], [beauty] appears. Appearance - as this being of truth in the work and as work - is beauty. Thus the beautiful belongs to the advent of truth, truth's taking of its place. It does not exist merely relative to pleasure and purely as its object.
Heidegger's notion of "truth" comes from (his interpretation of) the ancient Greek word aletheia, which he takes to mean non-concealment, the condition of the possibility of understanding or interpretation. This differs greatly from the notion of truth in science, as the following quote, again from Heidegger (1960), makes clear:
... science is not an original happening of truth, but always the cultivation of a domain of truth already opened, specifically by apprehending and confirming that which shows itself to be possibly and necessarily correct within that field.
Heidegger's approach to art allows for culture, under the heading of what he calls "world," it explicitly includes the artist, and it takes account of viewers. Also Heidegger's approach applies equally well to representational and non-representational art, e.g., conceptual art, found art, and earthworks. But very abstract philosophical views of this kind, though they may help with avoiding certain misunderstandings, and with deconstructing other theories of art, do not seem to provide much help understanding particular works of art, and this seems to me a serious defect.
Another theory of beauty, often dubbed "modernist," says that an object is beautiful to the extent that its form conforms to its function[[FOOTNOTE: Despite its name, this theory goes back at least to Plato (-360), and his reduction of art to utility is consistent with his distrust of artists for their capability for political disruption.]]. This is perhaps as well illustrated by Duchamp's urinal as anything (though that may not have been the artist's intention). On the other hand, this criterion is hardly applicable to uselss objects, such as impressionist paintings, cubist sculpture, and poetry (though all these can of course be put to various uses, such as making money, impressing friends, and reducing stress). Moreover, this aesthetic produced, or at least justified, architectural monstrosities in the 1950s and 60s, for example, the huge crime-ridden high-density low-income high-rise housing projects, that many communities throughout the world are now trying to get rid of. It seems fair to say that this theory is pretty much discredited as a general theory of beauty, though it retains some currency in such areas as industrial design, due in part to the great success of the Bauhaus movement.
Incidentally, the above discussion constitutes a good illustration of the dependency of theories of art upon social and cultural conditions. For not only art, but also theories of art, depend upon, reflect, and vary with the social conditions of their production, including of course the cultural milieu.
In his Poetics, Aristotle (-330) defines art as imitation, but he is not so naive as to call for the imitation of nature, but rather of "men in action." Moreover, here as in most things, Aristotle takes a balanced approach, and does not attempt to reduce art, or the measure of art, to any one thing. In particular, he does not propose any notion of beauty as the measure of art, but rather introduces a number of quality criteria, concentrating on the example of tragic drama, but also discussing several other art forms, e.g., lyre playing.
Aristotle says that the aim of tragedy is to arouse fear and pity in the audience though the imitation of heroic action; his criteria of excellence include unity of time and place, skillful use of language, especially metaphor, several aspects of plot structure, including certain key types of scene, and aspects of character development. His approach skillfully combines analytic, historical, ethical, and pragmatic views of drama, and of course, it has been enormously influential, and remains so to this day. It seems that for Aristotle, as for many contemporary artists, beauty is at most a secondary concern.
On this last point, and much else, I would agree with Aristotle. An additional point is that beauty is even more difficult to define than art, as well as being even more culturally relative and time-variant. But before passing to our main question, we should note that Aristotle's approach is not applicable to non-representational art.
3. Art and Science
The method of science calls for precise repeatable measurements, and for an objectivity that excludes all subjective factors on the part of the experimenter. This is very different from the method of art - indeed, it is nearly the opposite. That artists directly engage their subjectivity in their work is one of the few assertions that is very widely held among the highly diverse plethora of contemporary artistic movements. Moreover, repetition (at the time of creation) is anathema to most artists.
[[FOOTNOTE: For example, Monet famously painted the same cathedral many times - but they are all different, often radically, e.g., in using a very different colour scheme. Anthony Freeman adds the following remark: "Paradoxically, the scientist reveals truth by coming up with consistently identical results, while the artist reveals truth by coming up with consistently different results."]], and this proclivity is much reinforced by the nature of the art market, which tends to value scarcity (other things being equal).
Objective measurement also differs greatly from the creative aspect of art, though it may of course be used in the technical support of artistic production (e.g., mixing paint, tuning musical instruments, fitting together parts of a sculpture, using perspective).
These considerations imply that art and science must play significantly different kinds of role in any relationship that may be forged between them. One very simple theory is that art and science explore such completely disjoint domains in such completely different ways, that it is impossible for there to be any meaningful relationship between them.
While this might be comforting to many, it is clearly false. For example, during the Renaissance advances in geometry fueled a corresponding advancement of perspective in painting. Advances in technology have obviously been essential enabling factors for many contemporary art forms, such as cinema, and electronic music. Many other examples could easily be given, some of which seem to involve rather complex interconnections between art and science (e.g., the video-based art of Nam Jun Paik, which appears to use the medium to criticize it).
A relationship that excites little controversy, because it seems to raise few deep philosophical questions, is the use of science to authenticate art, for example, through chemical analysis and carbon dating of pigment, canvass, and other material.
The use of the fractal dimension computations of Taylor, Micolich and Jonas (this volume) to authenticate or date the drip paintings of Jackson Pollack also has this character. Such applications should not be confused with the much more controversial reduction of art to science, e.g., via measurements of viewers' physiological responses to art. While such reductive approaches have difficulty taking account of factors like culture and the role of the artist (Ione, this volume, pages 21-27), they are potentially applicable to non-representational art, as noted by Ramachandran (this volume).
Moreover, there is little doubt that artists and art lovers can learn some valuable things from scientific studies of perception, as well as from related subjects such as the neurophysiology and cognitive psychology of vision; e.g., psycho-accoustics is a well developed area of musicology that has been applied many ways in music.
Conversely, some might wish to reduce science to art, by emphasizing the creative side of scientific research, and then claiming that this differs little from painting or musical composition. While such a claim seems valid as far as it goes, it fails to impart much insight, and it also leaves out a great deal that seems important, such as the mathematical character of most scientific theories, and the repeatability requirement for scientific experiments that was discussed above.
Both art and science are part of culture, and as such, both their nature and their relationships are bound to be complex, and to change over time and location. It therefore seems naive to expect to find any simple (or even complex) description that reflects the timeless essence of their relationship. As for the future, it would seem wise to expect the unexpected, given how rapidly art, science, and technology are all evolving at present.
For example, how will the internet relate to art, as it progressively matures and permeates society? Some things seem relatively clear: we will surely see much more of digital media, and of the digital manipulation of art forms; and probably we will see radical new integrations of media when network bandwidth becomes sufficiently great. But will this make much difference? We will see new kinds of art, but will we see new kinds of aesthetics? Probably we will see new theories of art as well, but will they be any better than the old ones?
This essay has explored some the most popular definitions and theories of art and beauty. We seem forced to conclude that it is difficult, or even impossible, to define art and beauty, or to adequately classify the complex relationships between art and science. Since we don't know precisely what art is or what role it plays in our lives, and the huge variety of positions that have appeared in JCS suggest that we also don't know precisely what consciousness is or what role it plays, there would not seem to be a very solid basis for considering the relationship between art and consciousness.
Moreover, it is clear that nearly all of whatever brain activity it is that corresponds to aesthetic experience is unconscious, and it is even doubtful that the ideal viewer of a great artwork should be conscious, because one (often claimed) effect of great art is to merge subject and object in an ecstatic epiphany that transcends individual consciousness; see (Goguen 1999) for some related discussion.
Finally, I have repeatedly argued that scientists and philosophers interested in art should take an inclusive view of what art is, rather than focusing just on painting and perhaps sculpture, and that they should also try to find ways to take account of the role of the artist, the cultural context, and the artistic sophistication of the viewer, if they aspire to a truly adequate theory.
Conclusions like those of the previous paragraph will be disappointing to many philosophers, and to the purveyors of grand theories of any kind. But perhaps such conclusions are refreshing in a way; perhaps clearing away the conceptual baggage of definitions and theories can help us to approach art in a fresh way, so that we can experience it more deeply and authentically, which is surely no bad thing. Also, these explorations, however tentative and mutually contradictory, are valuable in actualizing this conceptual clearing as a process, and the issues involved are deep, affording us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be human.
This is the value of asking the question "What is art?". Finally, dramatic scientific advances like fMRI, and the continuing decline of dualistic theories of consciousness in favor of embodied theories, offer solid grounds for thinking that genuine progress can in fact be made in the scientific and philosophical understanding of art, as is also supported by the fine papers in this volume.
5. What the Authors Say
As might be expected, the authors in this special issue display a splendid diversity of opinion on the difficult issues that are highlighted in this introduction, as well as on many other issues.
For example, the authors in the section of commentaries on the paper by Ramachandran and Hirstein (1999) - hereafter abbreviated R&H - exhibit a wide range of responses.
The distinguished art historian E.H. Gombrich argues that the R&H approach fails to take account of much of the art found in today's musuems, while in his reply to Gombrich, Ramachandran claims that Gombrich has not paid sufficient attention to certain aspects of what is actually in museums.
Ione, who is an artist, argues forcefully for the need to take account of artists in discussing art, and also claims that the underlying Platonic presuppositions of the R&H approach greatly limit its applicability. McMahon applauds the way that R&H avoid a Kantian antimony, "that there are genuine judgements of beauty and that there are no principles of beauty," but also argues that their approach fails to distinguish beauty from other forms of pleasure; moreover, she proposes models involving both low level perception and higher level processing as a more promising solution.
Wheelwell argues, with perhaps excessive rhetoric, that the R&H reduction of beauty to evoked skin conductance response fails to get at the most important aspects of art, and that it confuses beauty with arousal; she also introduces a bracing feminist perspective.
The second of the three parts of this volume consists of selected papers from a conference entitled "Perception and Art" held in Brussels in May 1999, as one of two components of the "Cognitive Science Conference on Perception, Consciousness and Art." An introduction to these papers by Eric Myin appears on pages 47 to 59 of this volume; I especially like the Gibsonian perspective that Myin takes in his essay.
The third part of this volume consists of two additional papers. The first of these, by Alva Noe:, is a lovely meditation on the experiental nature of some contemporary art and philosophical implications of the perspective behind this art (though written in the reverse order). In particular, Noe: highlights the transparency of perceptual consciousness as a problem for philosophy, art and cognitive science, and claims that it is resolved by taking an active, embodied and temporally extended view of perception. The work of the sculptor Richard Sera is presented as exemplifying this view.
The second paper, by Taylor, Micolich and Jonas, is a fascinating empirical study of the drip paintings of Jackson Pollack, using the notion of fractal dimension from chaos theory. It is found that these paintings have a fractal character (i.e., exhibit self-similarity), and that their fractal dimension gradually increases with the date of the painting, from 1.12 in 1945 to 1.72 in 1952. This regularity raises the possibility of using fractal dimension to authenticate "newly discovered" Pollack paintings (if any such appear), and even to determinate their approximate date.
The paper goes on to relate Pollack's art to theories about automatism and the role of the unconscious in art, that were current in his time. This paper also speculates that the abundance of fractal patterns in nature makes them a naturally attractive form for art and artists.
Finally, I should mention the two book reviews in this volume, written by English and by Goguen. The first of these covers a book entitled Reframing Consciousness that contains 63 papers from a conference held in Wales in 1998, on the intersection of art, consciousness and technology, while the second applies a strengthened Gibsonian viewpoint to a recent book by Maurice Hershenson, Visual Space Perception, from the field of experimental psychology.
I thank Eric Myin and Anthony Freeman for their comments and suggestions, Wesley Phoa for inspiration from an essay, and my wife Ryoko for her patience.
1. Aristotle (-330), Poetics, trans. S.H. Butcher, Dover, 1997.
2. Goguen, J.A., Editorial Introduction, Art and the Brain, pages 5 - 14, Imprint Academic 1999 (also, J. Consc. Studies 6, No. 6/7, June/July 1999).
3. Heidegger, M. (1960), The Origin of the Work of Art, in Poetry, Language, Thought , trans. A. Hofstadeter, Harper & Row, 1975.
4. Kant, I. (1790), Critique of Judgement, trans. J.C. Meredith, Oxford 1997.
5. Kockelmans, J., Heidegger on Art and Art Works, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht 1985.
6. Plato (-360), The Republic, trans. D. Lee, Penguin, 1979.
7. Ramachandran, V.S. and Hirstein, R., The Science of Art, in Art and the Brain, J. Consc. Studies 6, 1999.
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EXCERPT FROM JOHN CURTIS GOWAN'S
"TRANCE, ART, AND CREATIVITY"
Art is the final product in the parataxic totemization of the traumatic aspects of the numinous element. The trauma first appears in archetypes and dreams which are already totemized to the extent that the experience can appear in consciousness with the ego present, albeit in an altered state (dreaming). Arieti (1967:337) tells us that "the creative process thus consists of an unconscious animation of the archetype."
This animation consists in a transformation of the fearsome aspects of archetype and dream into creative fantasy in the waking world. It is a replacement of prototaxic dread with syntaxic creativity, so that the parataxic represents a transitional mode in which those procedures nearest to the prototaxic show the former characteristics, and that one nearest the syntaxic (art) shows the latter.
As one proceeds through the mode, the totemization continues with consensual validation as seen in myth, for as Abell (1957:145) points out, "The arts are to society as dreams are to the individual."
Abell points out that visual art mirrors the psychic tensions of a culture. Speaking of the gargoyles of medieval art he says (1966:122)
The grotesque appears to be a symbol, unconsciously created of collective psychic states that existed in medieval communities, psychic states which in turn owed their nature to the historical circumstances of medieval life.
Abell with psychological accuracy places the inception of demon
and monster myths in the traumatic reaction of primitive man to aspects of natural phenomena. He says (1966:155):
No doubt in other instances ... the objective basis for a particular demon, and especially for its particular location, was a specific, awe-inspiring or fear-inspiring phenomenon of nature.
Afterwards society further totemizes and softens the image by making it explicit in ritual, whence it becomes habitual instead of horrifying (e.g. "Have you drunk the blood of the Lamb?"), and therefore it becomes part of a security-producing reaction formation.
Harding (1965:137) says:
These mythologems are the subject of mythology, of legends, of folklore and fairytale, and significantly enough, the same themes repeat themselves in history and are to be met with as well in all significant drama and epic. They also form the theme of fantasy, whether this is the basis of great art or the idle occupation of an empty hour, and they appear in dreams and in the products of active imagination.
Finally the psychic tension is constructively expressed in art forms which have the dual advantage of providing cartharsis to the artist and simultaneously producing socially useful and valuable objects which give comfort, delight, and understanding to others. Indeed, art is the highest procedure of the parataxic estate not only because it results in aesthetic products, but because its symbols have ceased to be private in great part (or iconic) and now can be shared with others (have become symbolic). Read (1951:251) quotes Tolstoi in this regard:
Art is human activity consisting in this: that one man consciously by means of certain external signs hands on to others feelings that he has lived through, and others are infected by these feelings and also experience them.
Since as Read also points out (1951:260) "The real function of art is to express feeling and transmit understanding (i.o.)," we have come a long way in the parataxic mode from mere panic reaction to a traumatic situation.5
Art, therefore, stands at a crossroads in cognitive development. It looks backward to the reaction formation of a traumatic image, and to the myth and ritual which can recapture the ultimate reality, of which that image is the veiled icon. Read, in discussing primitive art, for example, quotes Kuhn in saying (1951:76):
Not only (has art) an aesthetic value, but a significance ... in religious ... or magical experience. By the symbolic representation of an event primitive man thinks he can secure the actual occurrence of that event.
But art also looks forward to creativity, for as Mookerje (1966:14) puts it, "Art is not a profession but a path toward truth and self realization, both for maker and spectator." Art therefore is a kind of vestibule before the syntaxic mode, for its function is to portray new concepts intuitively before they can be conceptualized and expressed cognitively. To paraphrase Edvard Munch: art is the crystallization of ideas through images and symbols. As in Munch's case, these motifs start in the form of obsessive archetypes (the shadow, the sick girl), proceed as a form of self-identification, and finally (with great art) free themselves from the iconic mode of private symbols and become part of the external public world. Thus we can trace in a single masterpiece the long journey from the collective unconscious (archetypes) to the personal unconscious (icons) through creativity to the personal preconscious, and finally to eternal collective display (art).
Collier (1972:109) speculates:
. . . genuine, powerful symbols cannot he deliberately or selfconsciously produced; they can only be discovered in the unselfconscious involvement with the developing image. It seems that symbols develop from, and allude back to, those modes of apprehension which we attribute to intuitive or unconscious sources. Consequently, there is a degree of ambiguity or unintelligibility about the more powerful symbols for they are born from the deeper regions of the self, from beyond the fringe of reason. They give intimation of a meaning beyond the level of our present powers of comprehension.
As Harding (1965:218) so well puts it:
But a symbol may arise in the dreams and visions of an individual representing a reconciliation of the opposites. Such a symbol is transcendent, usually of a paradoxical nature, and always carries the value of a numinous experience. Symbols of this kind can never be exactly described, nor can the value they represent be definitely stated, because they contain more than conscious man can formulate with his mind.
Walter Abell (1957) traced this progression magnificently in chapters 7-10 of his book The Collective Dream in Art,and we owe much
of the development in this and the two previous sections to his genius. The evolution of psychic tension into art passes through a number of successive phases each more ameliorating than the previous. This growth and change is seen not only in developmental process in the individual artist but also in the transformation from myth into art in a culture. First comes the raw prototaxic stimulus. Then comes the initial traumatic response, - that of shock and complete or nearly complete repression of the memory of the experience from ego consciousness, although often expressed in various defense mechanisms. Repression sets up psychic tensions which seek to work their way out into consciousness, first through archetypes and dreams in an altered state, then with images that are menacing but difficult to interpret cognitively. Later these tensions may find consensual validation through myth and ritual, with a final explication in art forms. It is almost as if the numinous element which is responsible for the initial prototaxic trauma continually presses for higher and more conscious representations of itself in the parataxic (and later in the syntaxic) mode.
These successive concepts of the numinous element in the emerging consciousness of man start with horrifying conflicts with demons and dragons, who are first seen as all-powerful, and then begin to lose some of their superordinate advantage and dreadful malignancy. Successively the numinous is apprehended under the guise of a supernatural animal, a genie or fairy, and finally a talisman, growing in potentiality for beneficence as it decreases in dread. At the same time the human mind becomes more and more able to see itself as a possible victor in these encounters. Myth and ritual ameliorate these psychic tensions and offer further social sanctions by institutionalizing the traumatic element into a form which becomes commonplace and therefore comforting. Finally, the process of totemization is completed in art. This, then is the function of the parataxic mode, to humanize and gentle the raw prototaxic response to the numinous, so that it may be received without trauma or excursus, socially validated and institutionalized, and finally expressed in creative production in art.
To deal with art as the final parataxic juncture between the ego and the veiled numinous element requires discussion of the following aspects: art as image-magic, art as a representation of the numinous, metaphysical art, art and creativity, followed by a summary of the procedure. To this task we now turn.
The parataxic mode is characterized by the production of images. These images first served the objective of magic elements (symbols). This indeed was the origin of visual art. They then served as signs (as in icons); finally as pictures, as in modern art.
Arnheim (1969:135) distinguished between three functions of images: (1) pictures, (2) symbols, and (3) signs. He says: (Ibid:137) "Images are pictures to the extent to which they portray things located at a lower level of abstractness than they are themselves." Similarly (Ibid:138) they are symbols when portraying a higher level of abstractness. Finally (Ibid:136)"the image serves merely as a sign to the extent to which it stands for a particular content without reflecting its characteristics visually."
Arieti (1967:61) defines image as "a memory trace which assumes the form of a representation." He says (1966:62) "It is an inner object." Arieti (1967:68) defines a paleosymbol as a "cognitive construct standing for extended reality with private symbolic value which cannot be shared" (and hence is parataxic).
Arieti (1967:80) points out that:
A homonid arrested at the phantasmic level would have great difficulty in distinguishing images, dreams, and paleosymbols from external reality.
He goes on to point out that such an individual "cannot ask himself why certain things occur." Calling this "acausalism," he points out that when the phantasmic level is too difficult to bear the child "may escape" into the outer world or become hyperkinetic. This developmental recapitulation of evolution continues into the next stage, as Arieti (1967:121) tells:
Whereas the phantasmic world is mainly visual and is populated by images and ghosts, the paleologic world is predominantly auditory. Language makes its entrance at this point.
The dimensions of this primitive world are different from ours. Collier (1972:169) tells us:
Drawing practiced in this way, for these ends, thus becomes a kind of wizardry. It is the magic ritual by which spirit forces become perceptible and subject to the will and control of man. One important result of such image-making rites is that it allowed early man to participate in the workings of nature's mysterious forces. Henceforth, he could feel less alienated, believing that through his magic he had some influence in the animal world and so could control his own destiny - he could modify natural events to his own advantage - particularly in the all-important matter of success in the hunt.
Collier (1972:169) adds:
The important thing to stress is that these early drawings or paintings were not made for aesthetic reasons - they were not intended as decoration or to give pleasure by virtue of their formal beauty. In the cave complexes of western Europe the images are found in the more remote caverns and corridors, not in the places used for domestic purposes. And in many instances these more remote areas would have been difficult to access. All of which tends to confirm that these "art galleries" were private places where special rituals were practiced. The use of such secret places for the performance of ritual or magic is prevalent in many cultures throughout history, suggesting that an archetype is at work here also.
Art preserves some aspect of its magic origin. Collier (1972:174) says:
The magic of art was that it represented a re-creation of the visible world as man gave form to his own vision of reality. The psychological effect of such an act must have been profound. When man creates his own reality - be it only in images - external nature loses her omnipotence, for man feels his power to modify and even transform her. Man is no longer nature's creature in the sense that he accepts the world and her authority unquestioningly and blindly. It is in the creative act, in the construction of images whether they be of science or art, that he gains his independence, sense of purpose, and ability to live with uncertainty and fear. In reading the words of so many contemporary artists I am struck, over and over again, by the relevance of their statements to the ancient understanding of art as therapeutical magic. Pablo Picasso has probably expressed this attitude most strongly. In the following statement attributed to him, he refers to his reactions on seeing the first exhibition of African art in Paris: "Men had made those masks and other objects for a sacred purpose, a magic purpose, as a kind of mediation between themselves and the unknown hostile forces that surrounded them, in order to overcome their fear and horror by giving it a form and an image. At that moment I realized that this was what painting was all about. Painting isn't an aesthetic operation; it's a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires. When I came to that realization, I knew I had found my way (Gilot, 1964)." 1 think that these
words would have made a great deal of sense to the animal cave painters of Lascaux. But the intriguing thing is that a great twentieth-century painter will make a statement of this sort.
Speaking of art as magic, Bradley (1973:5) says:
Belief in this ability to control in some way unknown forces which have affected his life has been an integral part of his art production. Power, control, and influence over these aspects of life which directly affect existence has motivated man to produce unusual expressions that communicate the most inarticulate of these freely - which are often by definition the most profound.
We see in the artistic process in the individual a recapitulation of parataxic totemization in the evolution of the species. As the savage started by creating the first art (as in the cave drawings) as a kind of magic, which makes sacred the numinous (and traumatic) experience by presenting an outward and visible form for an inward and spiritual state, the modern artist does the same in trying to tame fearful and obsessive archetypes from the collective unconscious. As he gradually brings these ideas into the preconscious (that is within the spasmodic control of the ego) we say he becomes creative. What have been disturbing private archetypes (menacing because not understood), are transformed to creative expression in the artist and to public delight in seeing his art. For truly the artist has worked magic, but in a different and more enlightened way than the cave-magician foresaw. For what has happened is that impulse reaction to a disturbing image has been transformed by creative function into actualization for the artist and aesthetic appreciation for the spectator. The inner has become outer, the private image a public statement, the trauma a creative product, the psychic tension a productive emotional release.Numinosen."
3.63 Art as a Representation of the Numinous9
Art is more than the mere visual description of nature; it represents some aspect of nature transformed. It is more than photography; it is impressionistic; it is more than naturalism, for it continually reminds us of the numinous. While nature, therefore, is most often the "trigger" for great art (as it is most often the trigger for a mystical experience), great art brings us in contact not just with nature but with the presence behind nature; this presence may be veiled, clothed, housed, and panoplied, but it is there, and all great art is aware of it. And this is the meaning of transcendence.
This ability of the artist to transcend nature and "see beauty bare" does not come without hard discipline. It requires (as noted by Myerson
1970) the perception and expression of reality through choice, extraction, transposition, and transmutation. The search of the impressionists for a method of indicating on canvas the impact of sunlight on scenery is an example, and the works of Monet, Seurat, Dufy, and Villon are illustrations. Huxley (1947:117) puts it this way:
It is by long obedience and hard work that the artist comes to unforced spontaneity and consummate mastery. Knowing that he can never create anything on his own account, out of the top layers, so to speak, of his personal consciousness, he submits obediently to the workings of "inspiration"; and knowing that the medium in which he works has its own self-nature, which must not be ignored or violently overridden, he makes himself its patient servant and, in this way, achieves perfect freedom of expression.
The gulf between the pagan beauty of art and the austere void of the Spirit is nowhere better delineated than by MacGregor (1947:xi) in his introduction when he declares:
People who are attracted to the beauties of sense on the one hand and the mysteries of God on the other are inevitably confronted with a tantalizing situation. For it is evident that between the two experiences there is both an immense gulf and a remarkable similarity.
He resolves this dilemma as follows (1947:xiv):
The goal of religion must always be some kind of union with the divine. But if this is the terminus ad quem,6 what is its terminus a quo?7We take the view that it lies in aesthetic experience.
Collier (1972:8) puts it: "A work of art manifests a double reality: art shapes man's visual perception of things outside himself, while embodying also the workings of his inner mental life." Collier (1972:41) says:
The unconscious may be likened to a ready-made storeroom and powerhouse combined. When the artist is affected by the current from this source the rational consciousness retreats. . . . Further, the artist cannot control the mechanism by which these primary deposits of imaginative experience move into consciousness. It is not possible for him to will (i.o.) these elemental things to come . . .
Collier (1972:51-2) feels that at times the artist "shapes collective experience" and becomes a "channel through which unconscious, universal life forces are expressed and shaped."
The function of art as the highest manifestation of the parataxic mode is to present the numinous element veiled and totemized in beauty and utility in a public (rather than a private) explication of image. In accomplishing this aesthetic miracle the various art forms allow for, prefigure, and illustrate, the partial suspension of time, place, and ego-activity. We see this in the performing arts in the dramatic unities of time, place, and ego-action. We see it in the lyric poetry of Keats "Ode to a Grecian Urn," and Eliot's "Burnt Norton;" in the music of Beethoven and Mozart; and also in modern art from the impressionists to metaphysical art.
Brelet (Langer, 1961:104) notes the parataxic time-transcendence of music: "And transcending that actual time form in which it takes its flight in time, music escapes from time, for the very nature of music is to be forever contemporaneous with those moments during which its performance makes it actual." Again he remarks (Ibid:108) "Musical time transcends the moments of actual tone experience, and takes shape in a silent and spiritual now." His views are echoed by de Selencourt (Langer, 1961:153) who states:
"Music in reducing the passage of time to an irrelevance gives an analogy or foretaste of the experience of eternity." And again, "for music suspends ordinary time, and offers itself as a substitute."
Bayer (Langer, 1961:190, 193) says it this way: "Phenomena of the aesthetic order are all characterized by a certain constancy; and this constancy is revealed to us by a study of rhythms.... Rhythm is thus the essence of art."
Aldrich (Langer, 1961:6) points out that in contemplation of the visual and auditory "feel" of the art object one "gets lost," that is "the sense for the physical location of both object and percipient vanishes at once." This parataxic space-transcendence is also matched by parataxic ego transcendence for "in such moments one's own feelings appear as the aesthetic quality of a thing of beauty." This possibility indicates the falsity of the notion "of the self or ego as something cramped within the limits of the native organism."
Indeed Baensch (Langer, 1961:23) asks the prime parataxic question:
How can we capture, keep, and fix feelings so that their content may be presented to our consciousness with universal validity without their being known in the strict sense - i.e by means of concepts? The answer is we do it by creating objects ... called "works of art". . . .
Banesch (Langer, 1961:25) asks the question "what is the principle of form for the work of art?" and answer it in one word: "rhythm."
The same principle holds true in verbal artistry. For example, Morgan (Langer, 1961:93) speaks of this genius of drama in saying:
Every playgoer has been made aware of the existence in the theatre of a supreme unity, a mysterious power, a transcendent and urgent illusion ... endowing (the spectator) with a vision, a sense of translation and ecstasy, alien to his common knowledge.
Morgan contends that this illusion does more than purge by pity and terror; "it transmutes him" liberating his spirit until the play's end when the illusion is broken and "we return to our little prison." Dramatic illusion then is numinous for "it is the suspension of dramatic form and is to be thought of as men think of divinity" (Ibid:98).
Of all secular men, the artist is most in touch with these numinous elements in his inner life. Stang (1965:175) quotes Gustave Vigeland, the great Norwegian sculptor as saying:
I never had a chance. I was a sculptor before I was born. I was driven and lashed onwards by powerful forces outside myself. ... I am convinced that there are strong forces outside us which we have no control over. . . .
Again, speaking to Dedekan in 1921 about the unconscious, he remarked:
It is divine.... It is not controlled by will. The imagination functions by itself. Creating works of art is no game; it is agony. All true artists are humble because they do not know when the gift will be taken away.
Indeed, many artists find themselves astride two realities at the same time. It is not only the poet to whom
"They flash upon the inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude."
Consider this quotation from de Chirico given by Goldwater and Trevas (1945:440):
Everything has two aspects; the current aspect which we see nearly always and which ordinary men see, and the ghostly and metaphysical aspect which only rare individuals may see.
When the sculptor Vigeland was commissioned to do a statue of the great Norwegian mathematician, Abel, he boldly discarded conventions of the past, and posed Abel naked upheld by two gigantic
forms. Stang (1965:83) describes Vigeland's concept:
The two wingless figures which carry Abel on his flight were termed genii by Vigeland. This vague concept, these genii, occurs constantly in the artist's works - only occasionally in the finished work, more frequently in the studies in the round, and repeatedly in the drawings. As a rule these genii are symbols of poetic inspiration, sometimes of germination and growth, and occasionally of ideas themselves.
Oliver Wendell Holmes in a Phi Beta Kappa paper at Harvard8 said in part:
"The more we examine the mechanism of thought, the more we shall see that the automatic, unconscious action of the mind enters largely into all its processes. Our definite ideas are stepping stones: how we get from one to the other, we do not know: something carries us; we do not take the step. A creating and informing spirit which is with us, and not of us, is recognized everywhere in real and in storied life. It is the Zeus that kindled the rage of Achilles: it is the muse of Homer; it is the Daimon of Socrates. . . . it shaped the forms that filled the soul of Michelangelo when he saw the figure of the great Lawgiver in the yet unhewn marble. . . . it comes to the least of us as a voice that will be heard; it tells us what we must believe; it frames our sentences; it lends a sudden gleam of sense or eloquence . . . so that . . . we wonder at ourselves, or rather not at ourselves, but at this divine visitor who chooses our brain as his dwelling place, and invests our naked thought with the purple of the kings of speech of song."
Because creative art is an upwelling from the preconscious (the other) the artist is sometimes as much in awe of it as the spectator. Collier (1872:40), a noted artist himself, has this to say about this phenomenon:
Speaking from personal experience, I would have to agree that at times an unconscious factor does take over. After completing their best works, many artists have been unable to understand how or why the image has taken on a particular form or quality. On some occasions it seems that from the first, the emerging image has dictated the nature of its own genesis and development.
There is often an element of surprise present in the accomplishment of truly creative acts - a standing back by the artist and a silent exclamation: "How on earth did I do that!" To lose one's self-awareness in the making of a work of art is to become tuned
in to a guiding and controlling force not present in the routine operations of consciousness.
The difference in submission of the ego to the numinous in the prototaxic mode and the disciplined skill of the artist in taming the numinous in a kind of parataxic symbiosis is great. This intuitive relationship is a prelude to the greater cognitive control of the syntaxic mode. Collier (1972:72) makes this point plain:
There is a widespread belief that inspiration absolves the artist from using his reason, from the demands of normal mental deliberation. While this may be true to some, it does not appear to be the case for others. Eugene Delacroix, for example, inspired to paint the large Massacre at Chios by the powerful feelings this contemporary event generated, made many deliberate changes as the work progressed. For him, the initial experience of vision was not lost because he exercised a conscious control as the image developed. Although the passionate intensity of the first urges to paint remained, the developing image itself demanded modification as it materialized. He was constantly appraising; re-painting the background one day, re-drawing a figure another, until the work was "right" and he knew it to be finished: it was a case of intense and inspired feeling uniting with a controlling aesthetic intelligence.
Read (1960:51) sums up the relation of art to the numinous element in concluding:
Images totally distinct from words or any signs used in discursive reasoning, assume an autonomous activity . . . and produce an effect . . . which may be personal . . . and beautiful, or may be supra-personal, and will then convey what Goethe calls "the deepest secrets of creation" or what Dr. Erich Neumann has called "die Gefuhlsqualitat des Numinosen".
3.64 Metaphysical Art14
Beginning with the impressionists, the recent history of modern art can be interpreted as a parataxic and perhaps abortive prefiguration of the ecstasies of syntaxic graces. The impressionists, particularly Manet, Renoir, and Sisley started the movement with their rediscovering through light the numinous qualities inherent in nature - in other words, the parataxic explication of a nature mystic experience (see section 4.71). The post-impressionists extended this intuitive relationship to the next level of the Adamic ecstasy with its time distortion. One can sense the numinous in the work of Munch, Radon, and Nolda. Metaphysical art, especially that of de Chirico and Carra with its
perspective distortion and empty squares prefigures the knowledge-ecstasy (section 4.73) in which space is transcended. Then came the surrealists, with Dali, Tanguy, and Tlitichew, who began the dismantling of personality as required in the knowledge-contact-ecstasies (section 4.74). This procedure was continued by the abstractionists, the geometric art (reminding one of the yantras), the illusionists, in which there is further depersonalization corresponding to the higher knowledge-contact states (section 4.75). Prominent in these endeavors were Klee, Mondrain, Max Ernst, and others.
What we are witnessing here, therefore, is a kind of historical dumbshow preceding the play, in which through the evolution of art, the liberation of man from the triple prison of time, space, and personality is prefigured. We shall further explicate this deliverance in chapter 4.
It is this new quality of a higher relationship to the numinous which gave such scope and vigor to impressionism, and it is characteristic that the central issue should be the explication of light on natural objects in a new manner. Collier (1972:109) grasps this point well when he says:
The often-quoted phrase "to clothe the idea in perceptible form," was the proclaimed gospel of the Symbolist movement, and we can use it as a clue to distinguish between expressive and symbolic transformation. At the risk of oversimplifying the problem I would suggest that a predominantly expressive work arouses our feelings - our sympathy or revulsion, fear, anger, desire, and so on. Yet an image that is strong in symbolic allusion does more than awaken feeling. It involves us in speculation. We find ourselves wondering about things; about abstract principles and concepts such as those that occupied van Gogh when he pondered on the essence of human love or on the validity of hope ... on the idea of a thing in the mind rather than on the thing itself. In our response to symbolic art we are generally led through feeling to thought. But we respond to expressive art much more simply and directly because our feelings can take us over, without benefit or need of meditation.
Schopenhauer (Carra, 1971:9) is quoted as saying:
To have original, extraordinary, and perhaps even immortal ideas, one has but to isolate oneself from the world for a few minutes so completely that the most commonplace happenings appear to be new and unfamiliar, and in this way reveal their true essence.
de Chirico (Carra, 1971:15) tells of his own artistic revelation in the Villa Borghese, "In the gallery I beheld tongues of flame ... I received the revelation of what a great painting is."
Carra (1971:20) tells us that de Chirico set out to find the daemon in everything, the daemon being the numinous element concealed behind every appearance. de Chirico is quoted as saying: "The fearful void discovered in this way is itself the inanimate and calm beauty of matter." The act capturing this element is magical.
M. Carra (1971:23) quotes Cardo Carra as saying: "Ordinary things reveal those forms of simplicity which tell us of a higher state of being which constitutes all the richness of the secret of art."
Speaking of another metaphysical artist, Savinio, Carra (1971:26) says: "His metaphysical inclination was directed instinctively toward the interpretation of images representing the links between yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in which the phantasms of the subconscious, evoked by the intelligence, are the sole actors in an interior world." It would be hard to compress the expression of action of the preconscious in art into a clearer statement.
Carra (1971:155) quotes Savinio as saying: "We live in a phantasmic world with which we are gradually becoming familiar .... Phantasmic meaning incipient phenomenon of representation ... the initial state of the moment of discovery when man found himself in the presence of a reality hitherto unknown to him."
Carra (1971:181) quotes Rathke as saying about the "metaphysical" artists:
What they all have in common is the endeavor to transform the pictorial representation of reality in such a way as to make visible the concealed reality that lies beyond.
An example is Max Beckmann's The Night. Carra (1971:182): "The cramped attic room in which the scene is set symbolizes the prison in which man is confined."
Carra (1971:87) quotes de Chirico on metaphysical art as stating that "we should keep control of all the images which present themselves . . . in wakefulness ... and ... in dreams. . . ." He rejects drug-induced dreams as a stimuli to creativity, but "to discover the mysterious aspects of objects" can be accomplished by "an individual gifted with creative talent." He defines art as the "net which catches these strange moments."
Abell (1966:331) senses this concept when he reports:
"Fill your mind with the ideas of your century" said Goethe to the young poets of his time, "and the ideas will come." That is the essential creative principle of psycho-historical thought. . . .
What the creative artist needs is intuitive access to the accumulating pool of collective feeling which has not yet been channeled, or has been only channeled into either intellectual or artistic conceptions. . . . His task is not so much to reflect the ideas of his century, as to help find and formulate them; not so much to fill his mind with the ideas of his time, as to help fill his time with the ideas implicit in its cultural destiny.
Creative activity, thus conceived, extends the energies of the artist in two dimensions, one inward, and the other outward. Inwardly he must in some sense be a mystic, seeking to establish communications with the obscure depths of the conscious and unconscious psyche; sinking his consciousness into the collective unconsciousness in order that the accumulating collective charges may reach him and use him as a conductor. Like Dante he must have experience which will enable him to give a first-hand account of the negative and positive reaches of psychic reality during this epoch. Otherwise his work cannot participate in the destiny of his epoch.
3.65 Art as Creativity
It should be obvious now that we have come to parataxic creativity, or to the creative process with images in a non-verbal mode. We shall see that this procedure extends into the syntaxic mode with verbal creativity, but for the time being let us examine the first surfacing of the phenomenon in the arts. It may be noted that the performing arts come to the left of the visual arts, which come to the left of compositions in mathematics and music (in the syntaxic mode) which come to the left of verbal creativity.
Despite the fact that the parataxic nature of visual art makes for some difficulties in investigating the psychology of artistic creativity, there have been some explorations recently. We note a few representative studies under four headings: theory, factor analysis, measurement, and training.
Theory: Hammer (1968) devised a projective technique which yielded fourteen hypotheses differentiating the truly creative art student from the merely facile one. Flannery (1969) studies the interplay between the intellect and imagination in artistic creation. Sechi (1970) connected art, language, and creativity in an Existential framework. Billig (1972) examined the relationship between creativity and psychosis in reference to schizophrenic art. Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1971) found a positive relationship between discovery-oriented behavior and originality in art students. Noy (1973) viewed art as belonging with dreams and fantasy to the primary process ego functions.
Factor Analysis: Trowbridge and Charles (1967) found that technical art competence increased with age, while creativity remained relatively constant. Schnitzer and Stewart (1969) using fifty high school art students found significant relationship between many of the personality measures, but none between personality and originality. Popperove (1970) analyzed psychic qualities of creative artists in terms of SOI factors, relation of creativity to intelligence, motivational aspects, and creative activity survey. Blottenberg (1973) using the Graves and Meier extracted three factors from a 20 x 20 matrix: art-diagnostic tests, art interests, and art ability. McWhinnie (1973) measured correlations between the Welsh Figure Preference Test and the Embedded Figure Test.
Measurement: Dudek (1967) examined creativity in art and Rorschach movement responses in doctoral research. Rawls and Boone (1967) in a similar study found "whole" responses predominated among creative artists. Pang and Shillinger (1968) used the Barron-Welsh Art Scale on prison inmates, finding first offenders higher than habituals. Laynor (1968) compared the Torrance Tests with artwork judgment and teacher choice. Ford (1968) studied socio-economic status with reference to artistic creativity. Rawls and Slack (1968) compared artists with non-artists on the Rorschach. Dawson and Bailer (1973) conducting a twelve-year follow-up of elderly persons, the experimentals of whom took a course in oil painting and the controls of whom did not, found two-thirds of the experimentals still alive versus three-eighths of the controls.
Training: O'Toole (1967) examined the effects of massed and spaced practice on artistic creativity. Berkowitz and Avril (1969) found no relationship between short-term sensory enrichment and creativity in art. Brittain and Beittel (1969) analyzed levels of creative performance in the visual arts. Vetlugma (1970) discussed art instruction for creativity. Carter and Miller (1971) found that group creative art activities enhanced visual-perceptual abilities in brain-injured children. Slapo (1971) studied how to help sixth-grade children incorporate more original ideas into their art production in an effort to free children from responses similar to teacher's directions. McWhinnie (1971) studied perceptual behavior in sixth-graders in relation to their art, especially perceptual field independence, and level of differentiation of figure drawing, and found that there were discrete areas of perceptual behavior.
3.66 Art: Conclusion
A great work of art is the vestigial and durative trace of an aesthetic mystical experience. Pollock (O'Hara, 1959) called this a "total engagement of the spirit in the expression of meaning," and said that it was agonizing to achieve and harrowing to maintain. Collier (1972:71) points out that this is the same state described by Mondrian as "pure thought," by Malevich as "nonobjective feeling," by Kandinsky as "secretly implanted vision," by Klee as "subconscious creativity," and by Michelangelo as the "eye of the soul." The parataxic analogue of prototaxic trance and syntaxic mystic ecstasy or samadhi is the altered state of consciousness which produces great art.
In this transformation, the artist experiences "prathahara" or the withdrawal of the sense organs from the percepts of the physical world. Malevich said: "the contours of the objective world fade more and more." And under the spell of inspiration the artist experiences a release from clock time, and an escape into the "Eternal Now," for as Collier remarks (1972:71): "Common to all inspired creative acts is a change in the artist's sense of the duration of time."
The poet James Baldwin describes the poet as a "witness-bearer" to the transfiguring force inside man, the same phrase used by Gurdieff with regard to mystical experience. Collier (1972:113) quotes the artist Bacon as saying, "I would like to trap a moment of life in its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting." Collier notes that poets also express a similar feeling and gives Keat's Ode to a Grecian Urn as an example:
Thou still unravished bride of quietness
Thou fosterchild of Silence and slow Time. ..
Bold lover, never can'st thou kiss
Though winning near the goal - yet do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss
For ever wilt thou love and she be fair. . . .
Though silent form does tease us out of thought
As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st
Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Collier (Ibid: 114) concludes that "to be immortalized is to be removed from time and desire" and so the chase is never completed. But if duration is, in Collier's words (1972:115), "the quantitative aspect of art" he finds (1972(114): "the artist stands out of time wherein all events must be consummated." He does this by transcending time through entry into the "Eternal Now" in his aesthetic experience, for as Collier (1972:1116) remarks: "The ability to control time seems
to depend... upon an expansion of consciousness in which the rational processes no longer play a dominant part."
The artist in his aesthetic ASC simulates intuitively and parataxically the shedding of the three great illusions which must be cognitively faced in the syntaxic mode. (1) He is no longer bound by the sensory percepts of the physical world; (2) He transcends time, and (3) He loses a sense of separateness, and moving beyond self becomes at one with universal forces of the cosmos.
Because art, through contact with the numinous, gets us outside of time and space, it predicts the future:
Wassily Kandinsky puts it another way. He talks about "a prophetic power" possessed by works of true vision:
There is another ... which also springs from contemporary feeling. Not only is it simultaneously its echo and mirror but it possesses also an awakening prophetic power which can have far-reaching and profound effect.
The spiritual life to which art belongs, and of which it is one of the mightiest of agents, is a complex but definite movement above and beyond.... Although it may take different forms, it holds basically to the same internal meaning and purpose.
Collier (1972:59) notes that in this statement Kandinsky "puts the issue in a nutshell." "He describes inspiration as a secretly implanted power and informs us that its purpose is to give men, by means of the images of art, a glimpse of higher and transcendent experiences."
But, as usual, the Greeks have the last word; all this was known long ago:
For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him; when he has not attained to this state he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles.
3.7 PARATAXIC MODE
We are now at the end of the middle mode which is characterized by the veiling and totemization of the numinous element through
five procedures: archetype, dreams, myth, ritual, and art. What is there to conclude?
1. The first virtue of the parataxic state is that, in whichever
procedure, it offers, through the medium of images to the average sensual man, a method higher than that of trance, yet easier than that of regeneration, of interacting with the veiled numinous element so as at least in part to transcend time, and thereby escape from the first dimension of the triple prison of our existence. We have variously glimpsed this time transcendence as The Great Time, primordial time, mythical time, The Spacious Present, the durative topocosm, all seen in myth and ritual, experienced in archetypes and dreams, and finally explicated in art. Whether in the performing arts in the time of the play, or in the time suspension which music evokes, or in the plastic arts, such as the durative topocosm of Shelley's "Grecian Urn" or de Chirico's empty squares, there is transcendence of clock time to a wider purview. It is this aspect of the parataxic which is so freeing, for it allows iconic representation of reality outside time without forcing man to the cognitive implication of that fact (which involves mystic redemption).13
2. A second virtue of the parataxic estate is the production and distribution of sounds and images. These sounds and images are appreciated as having meaning within themselves, apart from and anterior to their cognitive meaning. They stand for a higher order of abstraction, at present unrealized, but none the less powerful. Because of their veiled numinous qualities, sounds and images act as generating entities, or archetypes, being revealed only in their products as art. As prototypes of these presentations, from archetype to art, from myth to mandala, they embody basic motifs of existence.
3. A third virtue of the parataxic estate is that through the veiling of the stark numinous there emerges the conception and expression of beauty and utility. The prototaxic numinous element, which is a dreadful mysterium tremendum, is transformed by the process of totemization and gradually refined through five procedures into a thing of grace and beauty, and this beauty has immediate face validity as in art or music. It is as Emerson said, "Its own excuse for being." The transformation of the dread and horror of the primitive numinous to a manifestation of beauty seems a magical process. No one explicated this better than Shakespeare in the magic of Ariel's song:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones is coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell;
Hark, I hear them, Ding, Dong, Bell.
Here Ariel, the fairy of Prospero, the wise magician, tells of the transmutation of a cadaver, a most horrible object into a thing of beauty.
4. A fourth virtue of the parataxic estate is that it leads by degrees to non-verbal creativity. This path proceeds from the rather reactive reception of images as archetypes in the preconscious, to their elucidation in dreams, their explication in myth and ritual, and their culmination in art. This unfoldment of the creative process in the individual (which simply represents better cognition of the numinous) not only prepares him for the higher creativity of the syntaxic mode but improves his mental health by putting him more in touch and congruent with the preconscious. It gives the ego a working relationship with the numinous which enables him to draw on this source, and will later develop into further cognitive control in the syntaxic procedures. It is therefore heuristic and developmental.
5. A final virtue of the parataxic estate is that, unlike the prototaxic mode which emphasizes man's animality, and the syntaxic mode which emphasizes man's divinity, the parataxic mode emphasizes man's humanity. Though this vision of the numinous is only partial, it is within the purview of everyman. For the parataxic is the exemplification of the "I-it" relationship, as the syntaxic is for the "I thou." This "I-it" encounter is best seen in the impress of the craftsman upon his material, in which, through mastery of his particular medium, he transcends his discipline and in doing so approaches the Tao. Though the artist may be "in the world, he is not of it." And as such examples as Rembrandt or Hans Sachs indicate, in the perfect execution of craftsmanship, though resting upon psychomotor skills, there is a foretaste of liberation.
In our next (and final) chapter on the syntaxic mode, the full cognitive liberation occurs in gradually ascending levels of mind expansion whose glories were long ago foretold by Popol Vuh:
Let there be light!
Let the dawn rise over heavens and earth!
There can be no glory, no splendor
Until the humanistic being exists,
The fully developed man.
1. Some of the material in this section is taken from the M.A. thesis of the author's sponsee, Deborah Zeff.
2. For the remainder of this quote as applied to dreams of scientists, see 4.354.
3. Compare St John Perse: "The worst catastrophes of history are but seasonal rhythms in a vaster cycle of repetitions and renewals.
4. The remainder of this section is from the M.A. thesis of Deborah Zeff, a sponsee of the author.
5. Read (1960:37) also note that: (art) "is a unique mode of discourse, giving access to areas of knowledge closed to other types."
6. Literally the "term to which," i.e., the destination.
7. Literally the "term from which" i.e. the point of departure.
8.... as quoted by Whyte, L. L. The Unconscious Before Freud. New York: Basic Books, (1962:163).
9. Novelist John Gardner glimpses the relationship between art and the numinous in The Resurrection (1966:200-202).
10. The relativistic aspect of our clock time is also shown in the similar hypothetical experience of a space voyager who, traveling near the speed of light, finds that his clock has run slow compared with the passage of time on earth.
11. Inspection of Table VI, page 183 will reveal that the basic myths grow straight out of the basic archetypes.
12. Compare this with the developmental system of ethics proposed by W. G. Perry, Forms of Intellectual and Moral Development, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
13. Note the similar symbolism indicated by the melting clock faces in Salvador Dali's art.
14. Let us suppose that an artist receives a parataxic (pictorial) comprehension of the triple illusion (of time, space, and personality) and tries to express this psychic tension through his art. How will he do it? He will portray some example of clock time being transcended, as above. He will illustrate some distortion of space as in perspective changes or emptiness. Finally he will indicate depersonalization and abstraction in outlining the human face and figure. But these developments are precisely those of modern surrealistic and abstract art.
15. See note 28, page 173. The uruboros represents primeval unity of sub-human man and nature in which he was "innocent" because not yet self-conscious; (our OSC had not yet evolved). In trance and schizophrenia we may see regression to this primitive undifferentiated state in which the ancient archaic vestige may erupt when the ego defenses which keep it in its place are removed.
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