PHILOSOPHIC APPROACHES TO AN ART PSYCHOLOGY

 

from  Commentaries on the Psychology of Art, (unpublished)
Rodney Chang (1980)

(Foundations for Pygoyan Oil Cyber-paintings, 2007)

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Looking into the psychology of art I have touched upon the areas of intellectual thought of 1) psychology itself, especially perceptual and cognitive psychologies, 2) current aesthetic problems and concerns (i.e., the cutting edge of evolving art), 3) processes of creative thought and behavior, 4) phenomenological historical studies of past great artists, and 5) the aesthetic realm as differentiated from the nonart range of reality. Now I include still another important ingredient of art psychology, that of 6) philosophy. Indeed, art, or the aesthetic, is complex. Surely it extends beyond what the typical "art instructor" passes onto his student apprentices.

Why philosophy? Because one of my psychological art realizations is that ART IS PHILOSOPHICAL, besides psychological. That particular insight provided much understanding in regards to my questions on self identity and behavior. Quite abnormal, I observe, for most professionals called dentists. Why my continued attempt to broaden my academic awareness and range of knowledge? Why my compulsion to know "what is art"? Why my lack of enthusiasm for traditional ways of learning and making art? Ultimately this all leads to the "Who am I?" - in order to adopt or develop an internalized philosophy of life that provides a rational interpretation of the facts of life that gives one not just reason and peace of mind but also purpose in life. In my lifetime, I had to gain, through personal effort, as good an understanding as anybody of the aesthetic. It just seemed the love for art was in my blood from birth. But it seemed to be limited by just what institutions taught students it could be. So I wandered into other pastures of study - biology, dentistry, education, psychology, civics. Each remained more or less in its own academic world, staying within its own theoretical and categorical boundaries. Dentists learned only about teeth, artists taught good composition and how to mix paints, and psychologists trained to objectify their measurements of behavior. In fact so little cross-exchange goes on that friends wondered and warned of the cumulative effect on one brain! I must admit I've had my fears too - as to what would become of this fragmentary accumulation of information and ultimately ME!

Attempting to design some alternative education for myself was not easy. Art is right brain. Psychology is left. Now try to convince a traditional institution of higher education to grant you a degree in Art Psychology. Some administrator may wonder, how can intuition and taste be compatible with statistical treatment of science? Such lack of comprehension, at the highest intellectual level, provides evidence of the state of fragmentation and separation of our current knowledge of the world.

I did find myself become less enthusiastic about my field of interest when I tried, as scientific researcher, to chop up "art" into a cut and dry factor analysis. Art has always been somewhat magical or mystical - I had to at least be sure to maintain the unconscious or irrational in any derived equation of art appreciation or response. But yet the demands of a Ph.D in "psychology" required an adherence to strict quantitative and traditional scientific modes of investigation.

Then it dawned upon me that all of the above has to do with a less rigorous discipline - philosophy. Everything cannot be measured in the realm of philosophy but can still be truths and values. For example, an explanation and interpretation of an aesthetic model or theory. The model can be tested by empirical experimentation for validity, but also through compatibility and extension of a school of philosophy. If one adopts a mechanistic philosophy to interpret the data and facts available in order to construct a reality (a system of understanding and beliefs of the causation of phenomena), then he can easily accept a mechanistic aesthetic model with which to judge art. Philosophy provides alternative ways of interpreting the facts of experimentation. Opposing camps in any field sprout up because facts are valid when they support the respective opponents' theoretical models. In other words, philosophy points out that there can be different truths derived from facts about phenomena, truths that are declared because they are compatible with a particular philosophical belief or world view. Perspective plays a role in how we perceive or derive "facts".

So it seemed that turning towards philosophy might provide some understanding of my most unusual life. It seems that my quest for understanding of different fields of study stems from an inner frustration and realization of a "division of labor" mentality of organized higher education - at the expense of not providing a more liberal art approach to education and ultimately life itself. I now see each degree earned as a fragment of information that show how everything fits into a larger whole and awareness, one based upon My broad but specific interests. Why can't a dentist also be an artist? I am not there yet, but this phenomenological approach to study promises to bear fruit. 

I can also see now why there's a problem with an "Art Psychology". Much of my problem in studying the aesthetic has been in feeling forced to convert art into statistics. But now I know that the study of art psychology can also include feelings and belief/assumptions and still be objective.

Philosophy provides alternative realities by which to create scientific questions about the nature of these dissimilar realities. Research works out the details of proposed alternative world philosophies/realities/hypotheses about life and existence. During my tenure as a student of aesthetics I now see the strength of my results to be dualistic in character at different levels of interpretation. At the lower level, art provides me a therapeutic way to treat dental patients with less anxiety on both sides. At a higher level, my art is integrated into an internalized view of the world, a philosophy. With an overriding philosophical point of view, my facts of art psychology would be "scattered" and thereby less meaningful. In art one can be loose and relaxed enough to draw from unknowns in order to create new things or awareness. However, this mixture of the irrational with the analytical does not block the ability to look at art critically and objectively. If a process, although some of its elements may be less than "scientific", produces new art, at predictable levels, then it becomes a legitimate modus operandi for human progress.

What follows is a detailed commentary by me on the important ideas by Stephen C. Pepper in The Basis of Criticism in the Arts that are relevant to art psychology. Dr. Pepper presents four major different world philosophies, or "world hypotheses" as he refers to them, and from such independent stands then defines what the "aesthetic" is, as logical extensions of these alternative philosophies. I will use my art environment/happening, "Da Waiting Room," as an art illustration when making comments on Pepper's ideas and lastly, compare and contrast my own model of aesthetic perception with the models of aesthetics proposed by these different world hypotheses.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Pepper (from here on, "P" for Pepper): All that philosophy does is to see to it that all the relevant facts are brought into consideration ... Dogmatism - an attitude of belief (or disbelief) in excess of the grounds of belief (or disbelief)... The great breeding ground of dogmatism today is the appeal to certainty... Multiplicative corroborations give us the kind of facts which we associate with physics and with the sciences generally... it is the corroborations that comes from taking an observation repeatedly...till we are quite sure there has been no error....It is the corroboration of one observation with another, or of one man with another.... Facts so corroborated were called data... Structural corroboration requires a hypothesis to indicate the way in which the evidence may converge to corroborate a fact. The hypothesis holds all the corroborating facts together in a system and, in so far as the hypothesis is verified, the whole system of facts gains in probability.... In tracing the main evidential support of (art) criticism to structural corroboration, and hence finding that we are thereby led to world hypotheses, we discover that criticism is philosophical in its foundations. Sound criticism is the application of a sound philosophy to works of art ... A sound philosophy is an empirical one, nothing more than as complete a systematization of the world's evidence as can be made, nothing more than a world hypothesis describing the structural lines of corroboration of evidence.  In applying world hypotheses to the problem of criticism we are simply making use of all the evidence available, so that our judgments may have the widest possible empirical base.... But in world hypotheses it appeared that there are a number of alternative ways of organizing the world's evidence; that is, that there are a number of alternative world hypotheses. (The main ones) I call formism, mechanism, contextualism, and organicism. None is completely corroborated by its evidence, so that we cannot accept any of them as an entirely true or adequate description of our world. We might regard them as four different approximations to the nature of the world. They are cornering it, so to speak, from different sides. Since they all seem to be about equally adequate we cannot dispense with any of them until a definitely superior hypothesis should appear... The four alternative relatively adequate world hypotheses represent simply the best organizations of evidence achieved up to the present time, and consequently the best knowledge of art at our disposal... we are on our guard against types of criteria (in criticism of art) that rest their claims on common sense and the closely allied appeals to certainty and self-evidence and tradition and other ways of taking things for granted, and against those that rest their claims on authority not backed by evidence, and those that rest on animism and mysticism, which are very inadequate world hypotheses... It follows that good criticism is, ... criticism based on a good philosophy. For a good philosophy is simply the best disposition of all evidence available... A thoroughly competent critic is one who has both intimate experience with the art he is judging and possession of reliable criteria of criticism.

So here is presented Pepper's view of art criticism. It is the best interpretation of a work of art available to the expert, one's who's judgment is based upon an empirical philosophy derived from an operational systematization of the facts of worldly observations. It makes good sense that "art appreciation" should be an extension of our mental selves and our perceived relation to the world. Art is a product of the psychology and philosophy of man. As such art is rooted in "real life," and as such, can be observed empirically for better understanding of the hidden processes of aesthetic experience. People's responses and feelings towards a work of art can be added up into some sort of cumulative prediction of future behavior affect by the same work of art on future spectators. Art can be studied like another field of psychology. The effect of art on people can be measured and predicted. Now Dr. Pepper presents-

 

A Theory of Empirical Criticism

 

P: ... human preferences are facts ... have a firm basis in the structures of human behavior and the human mind. .... there is emphatic need for the evidence of the nature of the mind, since the aesthetic experience draws heavily on emotion, memory, perception, imagination, and, in fact, on every major topic of psychological investigation.

RC: Thus I, as an art graduate student of painting and drawing, left at a loss in my search for the meaning of art, when I completed the traditional program leading to the Masters of Art at a state university. It was only natural that I should turn to psychology, a department outside of the fine arts, in order to find out for myself what the art professors were not teaching or did not know. Once I brought some books on aesthetic theory to class. My professor of painting said they looked interesting but "if time was spent reading all that material, when would there be time for painting?"

P: History, anthropology, social theory, physics, psychology, and really also biology are all involved.

RC: I would say my natural impulse is towards art and creativity. Thus intuitively it may have been that I was attracted to study other fields outside of art in order to get a better grasp of the true nature of art. I think everything, every field, is involved in "art." At the lowest level, every field of human activity requires good design for its equipment and work situation. At the higher level art can be an ideal set for the desires for further growth and development of the specific fields.

P: You might think that it would require a superman to bring the results of all our knowledge to bear on the objects of a special field... the structure of knowledge as a whole has been a human interest for many centuries... called philosophies... better called world hypotheses ... comprehensive understanding a major pursuit.

RC: Is that what has been driving me? The search for a personal philosophy not just for art but towards life?

P: The big issues over the nature of knowledge and the organization of evidence go on between the schools, between the integral world hypotheses. If, then, anyone wants to apply the whole weight of our knowledge to any specific field, the way he can do this is to direct these world hypotheses upon the subject matter of his field and see what the results are.

RC: I intend to use my tools of art psychology to interpret the living condition and problems of different fields normally without any fine arts representation. (computer graphics, 1985-, internet cyberculture, 1997-. sci fi writings integrating UFO phenomena and fine arts, 2005-)

P: My position is that there is a preponderance of evidence for connections for fact in nature but that the precise manner of the connections is open to hypothesis.

RC: A better chance to fabricate a valid hypothesis about the facts of nature is by taking a sampling of them from different areas of study, to detect and cast out the built-in biases (intellectually and occupationally) of the different built-in value systems of each field or occupation. By such an eclectic education matrix can one see facts of different fields, isolated from each other, in a broader light. One can start to search for an overall explanation or philosophy of the "connections" among facts with more objectivity than that of a strict specialist of information. Wisdom is nurtured when we look for universality that lies beyond the obvious facts.

P: (Art) judgments are applications of one or another definition of the aesthetic field held by the critic, and the empirical legitimacy of these judgments depends on the empirical justification of the definition... It has rather recently been discovered that definitions are the ultimate basis of judgments of value ... We now clearly see that the basis of the whole matter is a definition.

RC: yes, what is "art?" What makes the "eyes" different for each beholder?

P: It is essential that a definition employed as a criterion of value ... should contain a truth reference... should be responsible to the relevant facts ... responsible to the facts and empirically secure ... Otherwise, the definition would be completely arbitrary and irresponsible and totally unfit for its function as a basic criterion on value ... (must) frame a descriptive definition of the aesthetic field for each world hypothesis. This is the fundamental criterion of aesthetic judgment for the view concerned. This gives us a qualitative judgment for what is or is not aesthetic. Quantitative standards are directly developed out of this definitional criterion by noting what quantitative factors there are among the characters of the definition which describe the aesthetic field. Since these standards are derived from a description of the relevant facts, these standards are as firmly based empirically as the definition itself.

RC: And thus Pepper brings aesthetic judgment or criticism and appreciation into the realm of science. An approach for art psychology, although science is not the only one (for example, the use of inspiration to solve artistic problems).

 

CONTINUED