PHILOSOPHIC APPROACHES TO AN ART PSYCHOLOGY

from Commentaries on the Psychology of Art, (unpublished) Rodney Chang (1980)

 

Continued from page 1, page 2

 

 

FORMISTIC CRITICISM

 

P: Formism, ... stresses the fact of the normal, seeks to isolate it, and to define value in terms of it.

RC: This contributes validity to the ways of the "art establishment" but puts down avant-garde expressions of the aesthetic. Maybe this is why progressive artists remain reactionary and rebellious towards anything that becomes established as the standards of good art.

P: From psychiatry and particularly from psychoanalysis studies we are gradually acquiring a pretty clear picture of the nature and development of a normal personality (normal?) and of the structure of human values connected with it.

RC: Including aesthetic values, of course. I disagree that psychiatry and psychoanalysis provide good norms from which to derive a normative aesthetic. I prefer to investigate the aesthetic of Rogerian humanistic counseling, one based on successful empathic relationships for success in therapy.

P: States of equilibrium are discontinuous in nature, and extend up through all the levels of natural integration... - the picture takes on an appearance of continuity and the state of relatively stable equilibrium becomes a region of slightly varying structures of varying stability rather than a point of one fixed stable structure.

RC: Of course this is contrary to organistic aesthetic thought.

P: The significance of such evolutionary factors as the survival of the fittest now begins to be seen.

RC: Yes, art also evolves and the predominating art style of a moment is the "survival of the fittest" that is contemporary in social recognition.

P: - a norm of the species becomes a norm of value.

RC: What this theory does not take into account is the influence of change. Norms must always continue to evolve in order to keep up with our ever-changing and adapting selves. Norms in the aesthetic too must continue to evolve and remain vital or else die off and make room for a new breed and generation of art.

P: In short, defining value in terms of a natural norm is as justifiable as defining it in terms of satisfaction of interest.

P: In the end nature always takes the man's place in determining norms of adjustment.... This observation is the great contribution of formism, which has a pervasive though often hidden bearing on every aspect of human life including the aesthetic.

RC: And in the end nature determines the evolution of our art, since it is determined by the normative functioning of our biological, including the physical and mental, selves, which, in turn, enables us to adjust to the art of the times which not only reflects the present quality of life but also reality. Thus do we adapt, as an organism, to our evolving aesthetic.

P: My hypothesis on formistic evidence is that certain types of social equilibrium can be developed out of organisms who as individuals would be considered relatively unstable.

RC: Ah, the Disco Doc and Da Waiting Room.

P: Aesthetic value has been defined as conformity with the norm implicit in the art object itself.

RC: Ah, the vested interest of commercial galleries to keep what wells good at the top of the market. New art is threatening to the established business of art. That is why, maybe, the artist seeking change (dedicated artistic effort) is always characterized as one that is "starving."

P: Definition - perceptions satisfying in themselves to the normal man. ...-a normal man finds satisfaction in the representation of the traits and the actions of normal men. There is an ancient theory of perception, older even than Aristotle, which states that only like perceives like ... A man appreciates in that only a normal man, with a well integrated and relatively free emotional life, can perceive normality.

RC: That sounds as if the normal man on the street is a better critic of art than the artist burdened with the heavy emotions of existence.

P: The norm is embodied there (in the work), and a normal man finds satisfaction because his impulses are in harmony with the impulses of the work, both being normal.

RC: This hypothesis embeds the work of art with its own emitting aesthetic quality. Both art appreciation and perception of the spectator and the work of art are separate entities which are harmonious with the natural norms of nature.

RC: Good art always is ambiguous with the compositional (visually and psychologically) quality mixed in together with an air of instability (constant shifts in the equilibrium of nature and therefore also "art' as contemporaries appreciate it).

P: Formism in its stress on the perceptions and reactions of the normal man thus acts as a sort of governor over the whole aesthetic field. It holds art to the healthy golden mean, to what is sane and sound.

RC: This is my least preferred world hypothesis; it cramps innovative creativity and places an authority (the norm of a society, which can be manipulated or consciously developed by those with the power, such as that of mass media advertising or political propaganda objective) as the absolute judge of aesthetic quality and value of the art work produced during a period.

P: Art here more than expresses or represents the norm. It has insight into man's emotional requirements and actively returns him to the norm.

RC: That's why original artists reject the past and its artistic masterpieces, each deriving its stature by the aesthetic norms of the period. Because art fulfills "emotional requirements," under this theory of art and reality, all art is therapeutic.

P: -the critic's aesthetic aim is to bring these all together in a judgment of the effectiveness and worth of the work of art in establishing emotional balance and in attaining for the individual the satisfaction of normality.

 

HOW THE FOUR TYPES OF CRITERIA OPERATE TOGETHER

 

P: Judgment of the Mechanist: pleasures of the senses .. such as sound (disco for me!) and in the pulse of rhythm (fixing teeth to disco background tempo for me) ... pleasures of association ... pleasures of design .... pleasures of pattern ... pleasures of recognition or of the fulfillment of type ... sensations, images, design, pattern, and type - these are the principle sources of aesthetic delight.

P: Judgment of the Organicist: highly integrated and richness of a bundle of material expressing the interconnectedness of things and reality.

P: Judgment of the Contextualist: a splendid harmony of cumulative (perceptions) ... (aesthetic feelings from the situation).

P: Judgment of the Formist: ... induces balance and adjustment of character in the (spectator) reader.

P: A critic cannot say ahead how the views will combine or diverge in judgment on a specific work. In short, these philosophical views really do draw the aesthetic values out of the works of art and into the open.

RC: Here the author suggests a serially dissection and analysis of a work of art from the different world hypotheses view points of reality. This sounds piecemeal to me - like the search goes on to provide a more all-encompassing and parsimonious view of everything at the same supreme plane of systematic organization, in order to give reality a broader awareness and actualization.

P: (the eclectic definition of aesthetic response framed by the author)- "An experience of beauty is one vivid in quality (contextualistic), highly organized (organistic), and a source of immediate enjoyment (mechanistic) for a normal mind (formistic)," or "an object of beauty is a normal perceptual integration of feelings highly pleasant (mechanistic/formistic/organistic), and vivid in quality (contextualistic)."

RC: I will compare this level of integration with that of my own proposed model (and therefore world hypothesis) of aesthetic perception (or psychology) later.

P: By the method we have followed (taking each point of view in turn and accepting the completely worked out judgments as a group) we can have both rational clarity in criticism (and art appreciation - Chang) and the reasonableness of wisdom (right brain integrated with left brain).

RC: All that is necessary to realize is that facts are relative to the belief system it extends or clarifies. This orientation brings art into the realm of empirical psychological investigation.

P: In practical criticism, a critic is dealing with perceptions ... The content of these perceptions is partly a contribution from a continuous physical object (unless the pain fades or the marble chips), partly a contribution from a continuous psychophysical subject .... The aesthetic work of art and object of criticism is not a continuant but an intermittent series of perceptions with a cumulative effect, namely, the perceptive series.

RC: All this is brought out in my book, Mental Evolution and Art, all the facts being discovered through phenomenological "scientific" tactics. This common end realization sort of supports the idea that there are "many ways to skin a cat," or to arrive at aesthetic processes at the highest level.

P: -we get the idea of a work of art being a multiple continuant on its physical side, we see that many kinds of works of art are so constituted. Prints, such as woodblocks, lithographs, etchings, have multiple continuants.

RC: Why not add Xerox copies?

P: -there are hundreds of copies of the book all of them equally good substitutes for one another.

RC: That is why I declared in writing that my book, Mental Evolution and Art, is a limited creative edition and as such, is aesthetic in itself, (I designed the jacket in order to have control and integration of the book's physical continuant - appearance) besides its aesthetic informative content.

P: Culture means a system of social relationships; and cultural objects are the instruments that mediate these relationships. ... Art is thus regarded as a cultural institution, and works of art as expressions of the culture of a period. Any single work of art is an item in this cultural expression... Wherever the perceptions of a work of art are directly controlled by tradition, there we have evidence of the action of a cultural continuant.

RC: Some of these "cultural continuants" are university art departments, commercial galleries, historical art museums, and traditionalist art columnists.

P: - the aesthetic work of art is not realized in any casual perception (as coming into the dental office with a fierce toothache or holding one's bladder in check) but is a perceptive series and involves perceptual grasp (overall realization).

RC: Pepper's "perceptual grasp" is analogous to my model's "immediate aesthetic response."

P: The aesthetic work of art actually involves a multiplicity of subjects, just as it involves a multiplicity of perceptions... Just as the aesthetic work of art is no single perception but the result of a total perceptive series, so the aesthetic work of art is not the perception of any one subject but a convergence effect among the perceptions of many subjects, which cancels out individual idiosyncrasies.

P: To summarize Pepper's view of the aesthetic, the following elements are identified:

A WORK OF ART INVOLVES:

1. a physical continuant

2. a subject continuant (the viewer)

3. a perceptive series with a funding effect (cumulative effect)

4. a perceptual grasp (overall reaction to the work)

5. a remote control over perception through:

6. a medium

7. intrinsic ambiguities (for example, metaphoric elements)

8. multiple physical continuants (whether many spectators coming up with a consensus of aesthetic quality of a work or situation)

9. "unsensory perceptions" (perceptual control of other than sensory material; for example, the seepage of meanings and memories into the sensory aggregate that coagulates the whole into what is properly called a perception)

10. cultural continuants

11. the subject continuant is always a multiple continuant

12. a convergence effect of every work of art through a. the constant physical continuant, b. the biological uniformity of the human subjects, c. a common culture, and d. the funding effect in the perceptive series - all of which tend towards a considerable objectivity and stability in the perceptive structure of the aesthetic work of art.

... with due consideration of personal idiosyncrasies of inheritance, and the influences of environment and culture, there does not seem to be any insurmountable reason according to our analysis why highly objective judgments should not be obtainable not only of the aesthetic content of a work of art but also of its aesthetic value.

P: -organicist: integrated perception

-formist: normal perception

-contextualist: vivid perception

-mechanist: discriminating perception

-these perceptual demands emanate from the interpretations of aesthetic value intrinsic to the respective world hypotheses.

 

 

A COMPARISON WITH CHANG'S MODEL OF AESTHETIC PERCEPTION

 

My aesthetic model has been derived from over ten years of phenomenological searching for not just the real nature of art but also, as unconscious need for a personalized and clarified philosophy. One that integrates not only the divisions and compartments within the art world, but art with life itself. Thus I turned to personal experience and time to search for a unifying sense of all my socially separately learnings and activities. What does it all mean and what does it all add up for the meaning and quality of my life? Would each successive life situation and formal block of instruction in different fields add up to a rare realization that gains a purview of the contemporary reality (Great insight through experienced perception)? Could I gain a greater "perceptual grasp" than most by doing more than is normal?

So, like Pepper, I started adding up different view points (of art instructors of what is good composition), and analyzing my successive experiences and perceptions in uncovering the processes of art, or more generally, the sense of beauty.

 

In mathematical form, the elements and their relationships are as such presented:

 

 

artformula80.jpg (77462 bytes)
Rodney Chang's model of art appreciation and perception, 1980
(guiding art philosophy for developing digital internet cyberart)

 

 

My model is based upon a quantitative sizing up of the potentially aesthetic material in order to come up with an integrated personal interpretation that supports a judgment of quality of experience and elicitation of the feeling of the aesthetic or art. Like a computer our brains sum up an aesthetic situation, subtracting the psychological turn-ons from the turn-offs, in order to almost simultaneously determine the resultant intensity of aesthetic quality felt from the stimulus. Much of the elements determining taste of course go on unconsciously and even automatically (one dogmatically rejects a certain brand of work or look). One "knows" what one likes and dislikes.

My model takes into consideration the actual effect that politics, capitalism and industrialization, social aesthetic conditioning, the unconscious and the personality of the spectator have on the final "grasp" of the aesthetic stimulus perceptually. The physical constituent (for example the canvas and paints themselves) of a work of art is thought of as just a stimulus for creative thinking that is passed from artist to spectator. When nobody looks or experiences in some other manner, there, strictly speaking, exists no "art" in the "work of art."

Quality is influenced by time and fashion. Popularity of materials (for example, digital tools for the 21st Century) to work with varies with the time and culture; goals for creating art change too. The aesthetic object or situation is the vehicle for active communication of feelings and awareness between two people, the artist and his public.

Norms come into play in the aesthetic experience by placing brakes on too sudden changes in art. It's like a stabilizing factor of the evolving art that is adapting to our new needs. Thus does my model incorporate formistic thought. Just as my approach to isolating the spontaneous aesthetic perception (which leads to appreciation) is one of cumulating and summation, so is its nature quite mechanistic as a view of human nature. Psychophysical elements are definitely included, for the physiological sensations of art media play excitatory and therefore sensuous roles for the aesthetic experience. The model is "hedonistic" in that it defines everything that adds up (or subtracts from) to an aesthetic experience as "art appreciation" or pleasurable.

Of course the model is highly organistic in nature, for it states that larger entities, like art appreciation or aesthetic experience, are the accumulation of other multi-level relationships of the human mind. The model points to the possibility of creating new art with universal appeal; it serves as a tool to create art defended by art criticism standards of the different world hypotheses. For example, Da Waiting Room is the aesthetic manifestation of 1) an individual's attempt to make his environment and psychological space integrated and thus reflect his personality to others, 2) the realization that the aesthetic experience can be found in real life situations besides traditional objects of art (contextualistic), and 3) everything in the world, including seemingly conflicting goals and situations, can be interrelated at a higher level of unified harmony, once creative insight and problems are worked out to mold the final aesthetic refinement of a work of art. The cited art work challenges the norm of contemporary art, not to dethrone art but to serve as catalyst for further growth and direction (real life situations) of this new form of art.

From such an eclectic (just like my "personality") model of aesthetic perception can be drawn a personal philosophy, an accidental reward for the continued and disciplined study of art. I call it Transformative Philosophy. That's a fancy term that stands for a view of the world as one characterized by constant evolution through adaptive and maladaptive change, which at the same time, maintains a constant relativity of all phenomena and things. Reality is relative, and so are facts. Evidence cannot pinpoint an ultimate reality but only support present or emerging hypotheses of these changing relationships of specific things tied to a higher order of permanent unity. The wholeness of the universe is expressed as the final answer to personal conflict and aesthetic value. It is my duty to discern how all these different fields of study have interconnections that can be expressed aesthetically as a method of proving their existence. My art shall be based upon attention to change (in the world and in art) attached to a higher level of organization that maintains a sense of universal (or natural) unity among the artist, the spectators and work of art. (This was written prior to the computer, its derivative digital art, and the virtual world of the internet and its global cyberculture became a part of the artist's life)

 


 

Note: (2001)-My art shall be based upon attention to change (in the world - high technology-and in art-digital art) attached to a higher level of organization (the internet) that maintains a sense of universal (or natural) unity among the artist (integration with art history, traditional media and digital expression), the spectators (global virtual community) and work of art(online cyberart).

 

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