PHILOSOPHIC APPROACHES TO AN ART PSYCHOLOGY

from Commentaries on the Psychology of Art, (unpublished) Rodney Chang (1980)

 

continued (from)

 

RC: Aesthetic perception is what art is. What we like is the "quality" of things; the most intensely being works of art. If enough people have the same preference (although preference can be fostered from a multitude of psychological reasons), it becomes a statistic or datum that can be defined or described. Thus what the norm likes becomes the "standard." Standards thereby eventually remain standards for other than the original aesthetic change (or evolve), or as people change their relative sense of quality for things, so will the numbers change in describing the new aesthetic situation or social aesthetic perception.

 

MECHANISTIC CRITICISM

 

 

P: That pleasure is good and pain is bad is generally taken as fact not to be doubted without ridicule, so evident as to need no further evidence. On this datum the mechanistic theory of criticism is based.

RC: Also called the hedonistic theory of aesthetics.

P: The universe is conceived as a huge aggregation or system of essentially separate individuals. ... The higher level entities are described as combinations of lower level entities, but the entities on any one level are separate entities with their own locations in the space-time field and their own autonomy. Even atoms have movement.

RC: In such a way can the elements of composition be viewed as autonomous entities but tied together in some sort of balanced equilibrium by the skills of the artist.

P: Definition of the aesthetic field is then that of objectified pleasure. ... the aesthetic field as that of completely absorbed pleasant experiences. ... This .. is a description of fact. It is as fully empirical as possible with the data available. It is tied in with, and has the corroboration of a great mass of empirical description from psychology, biology, and physics.

RC: Thus the mechanistic model calls "art" a pleasurable experience, i.e., psychological.

P: Things liked or disliked for themselves would thus be the field of aesthetic values and the values would lie in the feelings of pleasure and displeasure... Aesthetic value is defined as feelings of immediate pleasure and displeasure, whence objects of aesthetic value are objects which produce or attract these feelings, then for the hedonic view this definition becomes the basic qualitative criterion of aesthetic judgment.

RC: I wish there isn't the negative connotation of being hedonistic. Doesn't everyone, in fact, seek the good life and seek pleasure instead of pain? Isn't achieving happiness pleasure seeking? Why be jealous of others' achieved level of happiness?

P: The more of immediate pleasure in an experience the greater the aesthetic value, and a great work of art is one that can be relied upon to produce a great deal of pleasure.

RC: Like a good looking lover.

P: ... since pleasures received from objects vary with the person and his mood or physiological state, it follows that all elementary aesthetic judgments in the form "This gives me such an amount of immediate pleasure" are relative .... It is unmeaning to say that what is beautiful to one man ought to be beautiful to another.

RC: This is the theory of beauty "is in the eyes of the beholder."

P: Every judgment supported by evidence of introspective report or external observation that "this gives immediate pleasure to so and so" is an objective statement ... And as for general assertions, every work of art designed to appeal to a certain public is in the nature of a prediction that members of this public will derive immediate pleasure from that object. These predictions are verified often enough to provide a great mass of material for systematic general aesthetics. The bases of these generalizations are the essential biological similarity of human organisms, the similarity of their capacities for intellectual, emotional, and sensory development, and the similarity of reaction induced by identical cultural surroundings.

RC: This is what my book, Mental Evolution and Art says about aesthetic perception. It's more than psychological - it's tied to our evolutionary biological selves.

P: "It is unintelligent not to get the greatest pleasure out of life that life can give. In this we discover a certain obligation to ourselves, one that has its roots within ourselves.

RC: Agreed.

P: -hedonic standard of beauty: the emergence of a general obligation to refine our senses so as to obtain the most pleasure of which our bodies are capable ... the genius of hedonic criticism lies in its sensuous discrimination.

P: Actually the judgment of the capacity of a work of art to give pleasure is perfectly objective. When the relevant variables are put in, such as the degree of an individual's hedonic discriminations and the influences of his cultural environment, the judgment is not only objective but stable and a sound basis for prediction. ... a work of art of great aesthetic value is one that affords a great deal of immediate pleasure to a highly discriminatory taste.

RC: - the art critic.

P: Santayana writes, "Nothing has less to do with the real merit of a work of imagination than the capacity of all men to appreciate it; the true test is the degree and kind of satisfaction it can give him who appreciates it most."

RC: This places the most power aesthetically with the professional critic. There is no other competing standard of beauty other than himself. The sanctioned "discriminating expert is the concrete embodiment of the hedonic standard."

RC: Upon the hedonic standard of aesthetics could I defend the quality of art of Da Waiting Room. I consider myself the best judge of the aesthetic content and quality of the work, with full understanding of how I, as the artist, conceived it as art, not merely dental clinic space. Da Waiting Room is art dependent upon eliciting the feelings of pleasure - through the space's interior decorating, hung art, and disco music, while playing with the cultural limitations of isolated situational perception (usually a disco and dental office are visually and therefore conceptually separated and thereby deemed incompatible). Da Waiting Room aesthetic question to its recipients of pleasurable feelings is this - if we, through "common sense," eliminate the possibility of the coexistence and integration of disco dentistry, how probably is it that mental limitations of other elements of our varied environment restrict our visual and experiential "reality?" Through the manipulated juxtapositions the different elements of eliciting pleasure (disco being the standard of audio pleasure here) are tied together by the mental experiencing of its intended population (patients, staff and the community in general) for identify as a larger aesthetic whole than any of its pleasure-evoking constituent parts (including my hung paintings). Being the only expert on the art project for eighteen months, I consider myself the best critic of the "work of art." I know it is "read" as "art" by several ways: by comments like "I really like being in this place but don't know why" (it's abstract to him but he can sense pleasantness from it) and large happy eyeballs of exploratory children waiting their turn for dental treatment in the dazzle of pleasurable sounds and sights.

I believe there is more to "art" than the feelings of pleasure derived from the senses. This will all be brought out - the similarities and differences of this and the following three world hypotheses derived aesthetic hypotheses with later discussion of my own "model of aesthetic perception." The latter of which has been formulated through phenomenological study and participation with conceptual art projects such as "Da Waiting Room" and "Marine's Window."  Notice that this world hypotheses does not place innate aesthetic value in objects but see aesthetic quality as projections of the human mind that produce pleasure. From the hedonic perspective, a work of art or art per se is psychological.

 

CONTEXTUALISTIC CRITICISM

 

P: The basic concept of contextualism is a context of activity.

RC: "Da Waiting Room!"

P: Contextualism is the youngest of the relatively adequate world views and is still in its tentative stages.

RC: So is its art derivatives like happenings, installations and Da Waiting Room.

P: A situation includes both agents and circumstances, so action and the situation go together. The agent is faced by circumstances within the situation, and the act is his response to the problem they present. Through it the total situation, including both agent and circumstances, is changed in some way. ... The situation is one. It is a natural fact with a natural unity, not a construct made and existing only in the mind. ... It is not an assemblage of people, things, events, qualities and relations, pleasures, pains, and interests, combined in and by the perspective of some given individual (Disco Doc). All these are among its constituents, but it is itself an independent unit (aesthetic unit). Its unity is constituted by a characteristic quality, which is unique in each situation.

RC: Apply all of the above to Da Waiting Room - it is "art."

P: We are always acting within a limited setting which includes various circumstances, and probably other actors in addition to ourselves. In this sense the situation, including both agent or agents and the circumstances confronting him or them, is the unit of experience. Moreover, it has value quality, as is suggested by such descriptive words as those above: cheerful, dynamic, and hostile.

Aesthetic experience is obviously to be found, on such a view, in the human situation... the contextualistic definition of the aesthetic field: voluntary vivid intuitions of quality. ... The more vivid the experience and the more extensive and rich its quality, the greater its aesthetic value ... Value lies in the situation as a whole, and the aesthetic value lies in the intensity and extensity of its quality.

RC: Da Waiting Room is quite a vivid experience to go through as a patient. If the curiosity or even ambiguity of environmental space doesn't get you, the colorful and energetic artwork will - or just the loud pulsating disco music.

P: Intensity and depth of experience - that is the contextualistic standard of beauty.

RC: The longer I experience Da Waiting Room the more intense the aesthetic experience becomes. Of course I have become fatigued by the outer visual shell (the physical elements of composition of the space) but the conceptual content continues to intensify my spirit through growing identity and attachment to the aesthetic statement and the rekindled first impression/reaction through empathy with the day's new patient's appreciation of the space.

P: For it is the quality that determines the unity and range of a situation (at least aesthetically) and it is the fused details and relations that determine the content. There is accordingly no sharp line in experience between the aesthetic and the nonaesthetic. Aesthetic value runs out into all life...

RC: Da Waiting Room (1997: also surfing the Internet environment plus entering into a virtual online museum plus viewing cyberart in a vrml context)

P: The normal structure of a mechanistic book of aesthetics is from the elements to the wholes; that of a contextualistic book from the wholes to the details... handling of conflict for aesthetic purposes is a peculiar contribution of contextualism.

RC: Yes, in any art project the artist works both ways - with particulars that will add up to the whole effect and with the overall concept or purpose of the work of art before getting on with the actual fabrication of the piece.

P: So far as art depends on culture and not upon instinct, the art of one age cannot be vividly repeated in another... critics are required in each age to register the aesthetic judgments of that age.

P: The perception of a work of art is clearly the awareness of the quality of the situation.

P: Strictly speaking, the quality of the picture is only realized on the occasions when it is actually perceived. Each such experience is an aesthetic experience ("art" occurs).

RC: This is exactly what I wrote in Mental Evolution and Art.

P: -the aesthetic work of art is the cumulative succession of intermittent perceptions. it is P1 + P2 + P3... The aesthetic work of art is not continuous but intermittent. ... the potentiality of the cumulative series of perceptions and of the ideal of the fully realized and funded perception at the end of the series lies in the actual continuity of the physical work of art.

RC: Every day that I return to work I receive another Pn + 1 to my cumulative perception and experience of Da Waiting Room. Monotony must be counterbalanced by contextual richness and empathic experience by daily new patients (fresh initial perceptors).

P: - a new function for the critic: contribute as far as he can to the complete realization of great works of art. ... It is an act of producing the values latent therein.

RC: And so I keep writing and teaching about The Waiting Room.

 

ORGANISTIC CRITICISM

 

P: Organicism, traditionally known as objective idealism, is the world hypothesis that stresses the internal relatedness or coherence of things ... -observation at first apparently unconnected turn out to be closed related, and with the fact that as knowledge progresses it becomes more systematized... Value in the sphere of knowledge is integration of judgments; in the sphere of ethics, it is integration of judgments; in the sphere of art, it is integration of feelings. ....Finally, it conceives all of these as contained in a total integration of existence or reality.

RC: Thus by paying attention to any one aspect of the above, like the sphere of art, one can hope to discover other higher level connections of reality and gain a more integrated sense of existence.

P: Like contextualism, it is not impressed with the apparent boundaries of men's bodies (like the mechanistic hypothesis). It deals with situations, but regards a contextualistic situation as merely a way station to a larger integration.

RC: Thus organistic thought goes beyond the Ying-Yang dichotomy and the acceptance of mutual equality of the different major world hypotheses. Everything culminates into an absolute unified whole; if one looks long enough one can find interrelationships between/among things. Disco-dentistry, art psychology, work-play interaction and dental art are just a few examples of how I am developing understanding and applications of higher integrations of specific knowledges.

P: To reach the organistic idea, one is not far off if he starts with the vivid situation of the contextualist and instead of stressing the quality and defining the unity of the situation by the quality, stresses the organization and defines the unity of the situation in terms of its organization .... Organistic definition of aesthetic value: the integration of feeling.

RC: Organistic thought is similar to Buddhist ideas of a unity of the universe. Thus a painting ought to, by organistic criticism, bring about a deep and profound feeling of integration in the observer of the work of art.

P: The organicist is not much concerned about defining feeling precisely, because in the higher integrations it merges with the ethical and logical connections anyway.

L: If disco and dentistry are not kept separate entities in the mind, through constant repetitive physical correlation together, such as The Waiting Room, they become associated and eventually become a new situation that is more than just a dental office and discotheque added together.

P: The aesthetic field is really defined by its origins among pleasures and the kind of connections indigenous to these origins rather than by any special sort of subject matter.

RC: Da Waiting Room becomes aesthetic because of the inclusion of the pleasant origins of disco, dance and the unpleasant origins of dental treatment. Together they blend into a new perception of receiving the treatment in a more humane and tolerable manner, characterized by less feelings of anxiety and elements of actual pleasure.

P: It takes imagination, we say, to feel them (connections) out. And here we come upon the organicist's special use of the term "imagination." .... It is the process of following out and building up feeling connections. With this in mind, another definition of aesthetic value for an organicist could be "imaginative integration."

RC: Teachings derived from Da Waiting Room.

P: Aesthetic material is not just what the eye and the ear respond to but also the images and meanings and emotions below the sensory surface. Anything that begets a feeling connection is aesthetic material. And ultimately there is probably nothing that may not be drawn into an aesthetic integration. Politics and business, medicine (dentistry), factory labor, (disco)...

RC: It's my hope that the supreme use of my knowledge of the psychology of art is to achieve the ability to do the "ultimate" Pepper speaks above of.

P: When it is necessary to ask an artist what he was trying to do, either the spectator or the artist is weak... In the hands of a competent artist a work of art makes itself, so to speak, and the further it gets along the more nearly it does so literally....(computer automatic image processing experimentation by Chang, 1990s)

RC: I guess this means too that in abstract art, the ability of the artist to induce the spectator to recognize the material "below the sensory surface" is a creative responsibility which serves as a criterion for success and attainment of aesthetic value.

P: -demands of feeling in aesthetic materials, bringing into the work materials called for by other materials till a complete organic unity is established. Then the work stops of itself, is self-explanatory, and objective.

RC: Each side of Da Waiting Room, i.e., the disco and the dental treatment areas, suggested alternative successive visual changes in the overall environment. For example, visual observation of the dancers required a see-through glass wall from the dental chairs, and the loud party volume disco required a separate volume control for chair-side dental relaxation to the same music.

P: An understanding spectator is a critic, and a critic is simply an understanding spectator who is perhaps a little more articulate in communicating the experience he has in a work of art ... Even the difference between artist and spectator is partially broken down on this view. ... The artist creates, the spectator recreates.

RC: This is almost exactly the way I describe the creative connection between artist and spectator in Mental Evolution and Art. Except I said that the artist creates the imaginative stimulus and the spectator continues the aesthetic power of the object by using his creative interaction with the piece for the sake of developing art appreciation feelings.

P: When the spectator is dissatisfied, then the question is whether the spectator or the artist is wrong in his imaginative construction.

RC: Both are creators, but either the work doesn't possess aesthetic quality integration or the spectator is not sensitive enough to be aware of the integration bestowed before him.

P: If the "literary' (psychological) values integrate in their feeling references with the plastic (materialistic) values, or vice versa, they are intrinsic materials of the work of art.

RC: I use the dental situation as a base from which to derive a special aesthetic value - application of aesthetic theory to dental work.

P: -sensations, images, thoughts, and emotions seek to come together of their own accord about a perceptive center such as a physical work of art.

RC: The Waiting Room is the "perceptive center", not the shot and drill.

P: It joins artist, critic, and spectator, or all who seek aesthetic values, into a community united in the creation of objects (or situations) of the highest aesthetic worth.

RC: some patients will never understand Da Waiting Room because they are just there for the dental treatment. They don't know or care "beans" about art. Life is too demanding for many of them to have the opportunity to focus on that aspect of life. They're too realistic about their life's limitations. On the other hand, many art critics would turn down an invitation to come and experience the environmental space, because to them, it's outside the realm of the fine arts. Too bad these have not acquired a higher integration of aesthetic sense and purpose.

 

Continued