[-empyre-] Artists as internal mental sense organs

Hello all! I'm going to dive in right up to my neck with the statement
of a lot of matters of opinion. 

As I see it, all art is to some extent synesthetic. It features the
selective mistranslation of external-sensory or internal perceptions.
This transformation can be on the easily communicable surface, with
substitution of, for example, color for sound. It can also be deeper, as
when the original signal percieved is the mind itself functioning. In
the specific and limited case of art, what qualifies as "interesting"
often involves major category errors, figure/ground reversal, garbling
of cause and effect, and generally a lack of adherence to logic. 

To try to explain my theory of this phenomenon, I'll state what I hope
won't be too simplistic a general viewpoint to function as a backdrop
for future conversation in this vein. First a bit of natural history:

The mechanisms of perception and comprehension, ostensibly tasked with
keeping us more or less in sync with our surroundings, were not
"designed". They grew reactively, coevolving with the viability of the
species' animal survival. Human brains have many functions that are
evolutionarily old. Consequently they are overwhelmingly complex and
(currently) inscrutable, and surely built by chance upon the unlikely
interrelation of disparate phenomena. It is a system with great
redundancy and obscure cross-linkages. It is also a system with enormous
potential for multiple simultaneous and often non-communicating
perceptions, with heavy emphasis on pattern recognition and immediate,
non-reasoned apprehension. This was exactly the sort of brain most
useful to a nonverbal animal living in an ever-changing world. 

The development of language caused an enormous shift in the function of
the brain. Due to the limitations of our oddly repurposed organs of
communication, it became necessary to break up the ongoing swirl of
perception and parallel thoughts into discrete chunks that could be
symbolically encoded and serialized. It is my feeling that this change
built upon a similar transformation that occurred much earlier, with the
advent of the focusable eye and the need to move it, scanning the world
in parts and reassembling them in an internal model. 

Needless to say, language vastly facilitated the development of culture,
the seemingly extra-cranial part of mind (seemingly because, in fact, it
exists exclusively within the minds of the participants, without our
conscious acknowledgement). Language conferred enormous and radical
survival advantages. Adopting it caused a cascade of brain changes that
are even now not fully complete. Chiefmost among these changes was the
necessary suppression of the parts of the brain that can not speak.
Consciousness as we live it is primarily a mind in the symbolic, serial,
one-thing at a time mode required by language.  

People are not monolithic thinking machines but are rather divided
communities of coexisting and competitive entities. These entities are
able to compete for limited mental resources more or less effectively
based on their mastery of language. In our present human brains, the
entire axis of holistic, spatial and instantaneous comprehension largely
suppressed and atrophied. It is expressed primarily through dreams and
rare moments of waking epiphany.  At such times, one has a sense of
suddenly knowing a fully realized constellation of concepts without
really knowing why.

As the Human Genome Project so clearly demonstrates, evolution rarely
discards anything, especially anything useful. The older, animal form of
understanding is in fact tremendously useful, providing an alternate
form of cognition and a great source of insight and novelty. It still
throbs away under the surface of our consciousness, always associated
with the non-verbal. I maintain that it is in fact the core of what feel
to be our "true selves". Contact with this axis of the mind is
associated with a deep, unshakeable validity and a sense of

Language and culture brought a means of sharing work and a context in
which to do so. Those bodies best suited (or often arbitrarily assigned
by culture) to a task specialize in that task and derive sustenance from
the other participating bodies of the culture. The entire range of human
activities has thus been divided and codified. 

Perception itself is such a task. Communication is a task. The work of
artists, as I observe it, is to train their conscious minds to perceive
the functioning of their own suppressed, nonverbal and evolutionarily
ancient mental processes and function through various, multi-modal means
as conduits of communication to the similarly suppressed entities in the
minds of others. Art is therefore a means of enabling the parts of our
minds that know, but can not speak, to participate in conscious life.
Often, the only means of accessing that part involves the cultivation of
non-standard cognitive pathways and mappings. To assume the profession
of artist is to become a surrogate sensor and (mis-)translator of the
internally perceivable to the external world. 


This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.