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Pearls from artists* # 357

Udaipur, India

Udaipur, India

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The term hermeneutics has been used to describe the task of understanding and interpreting ideas and texts.  In a similar way, we need to set for ourselves the task of developing a hermeneutic of the visible, addressing the problem of how we understand and interpret what we see, not only in the classical images and art forms created by the various religious traditions, but in the ordinary images of people’s traditions, rites, and daily activities which are presented to us through the film-image.

Rudolph Arnheim, in his extensive work on visual perception, has shown that the dichotomy between seeing and thinking which runs through much of the Western tradition, is a  very problematic one.  In Visual Thinking, he contends that visual perception is integrally related to thought.  It is not the case, according to Arnheim, that the eyes present a kind of raw data to the mind which, in turn, processes it and refines it by thought.  Rather, those visual images are the shapers and bearers of thought.  Jan Gonda, in writing on the Vedic notion dhi, sometimes translated as “thought,” finds similarly that the semantic fields of the word in Vedic literature does not correspond as much to our words for “thinking” as it does to our notions of “insight,” “vision,” and “seeing.”  Suzanne Langer has also written of the integral relation of thought to the images we see in the “mind’s eye.”  The making of all of those images is the fundamental “imaginative” human activity.  One might add that it is the fundamental activity of the religious imagination as well.  She writes, “Images are, therefore, our readiest instruments for abstracting concepts from the tumbling streams of actual impressions.”            

Diana L. Eck in Darsan:  Seeing the Divine Image in India

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Pearls from artists* # 354

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

My earlier work had taught me that artistic activity is a form of reasoning, in which perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined.  A person who paints, writes, composes, dances, I felt compelled to say, thinks with his senses.  This union of perception and thought turned out to be not merely a specialty of the arts.  A review of what is known about perception, and especially about sight, made me realize that the remarkable mechanisms by which the senses understand the environment are all but identical with the operations described by the psychology of thinking.  Inversely, there was much evidence that truly productive thinking in whatever area of cognition takes place in the realm of imagery.  This similarity of what the mind does in the arts and what it does elsewhere suggested taking a new look at the long-standing complaint about the isolation and neglect of the arts in society and education.  Perhaps the real problem was more fundamental:  a split between sense and thought, which caused various deficiency diseases in modern man.      

Rudolph Arnheim in Visual Thinking 

Comments are welcome!

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