Quotes and thoughts on the embodied mind, with painters in mind!

Over recent decades, a great deal of new research has been done on the brain and how it functions. ‘The embodied mind emphasises that the body helps to shape the way we think, feel and behave, it is an embodied and relational process, that regulates energy and information flow.’ With the Cartesian paradigm -body and mind – ‘we have logical, linear, sequential meaning,’ but this leaves out ’emotions, intuition, creativity and a capacity to dare to try different solutions.’ In the Cartesin paradigm, ‘Taking advantage of the benefits brought about by the right hemisphere of the brain, such as creative imagination, serenity, a global view and a capacity of synthesis are not considered. In Antonio Damasio’s book,’Descarte’s Mistake’ he writes ‘the vision of the human being as a whole, is the key to the global development of the being.’

Meaning comes out of experience.

The writer, James Joyce wrote, ‘Our creativity has propelled human evolution.’
Classical styles of Chinese landscapes developed from the desire to leave the problems of society behind and look towards Nature, ‘men sought permanence within the natural world, it showed the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.’
Impressionist painters, such as Claude Monet, worked outdoors and rapidly, in order to catch the fleeting sun light on the scenes they painted. Art critics at the time, scorned their work, but these painters were ‘in the moment’ when they painted.
Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) wrote, ‘The landscape thinks itself in me and I am in its (the landscape). He also had a great respect for Nature, he would look at a mountain, for example, seeing the changing light as he worked, building up the scene in geometric shapes. In his still life paintings of apples, he used soft colours, with certain areas highlighted by stronger colour in small patches. ‘An artist builds up an internal tension of some kind, then comes a need to start work.’ Cezanne called it his ‘petit sensation’ he saw it as a secret key to art, an intimate and private experience. ‘It is like an internal energy or ’emotion’ that needs to be used, ‘it brings about an emotional relationship with the art when it is completed.’ I have painted canvases which result in the same experience, I look at the painting and can relive the feeling I had when I painted it, always remembering of course, that memories are constantly revised.
Some aesthetic quality, such as balance and harmony is required, otherwise it is ‘an expression of mess’ another quote I picked up on!
Howard Hodgkin, whose works are not among my favourites, but I know someone who finds them meaningful,
writes, ‘art has the capacity to recreate a strong effective charge within certain colours and shapes, a way in which his, the artist’s memories, are recovered. Colour, texture and line are ways the painter makes his/her marks. I like to work with colour most of all. He also said ‘we come to a place when we get back something from the painting’ and then the painting may give back a similar experience to the viewer.
Paul Klee took a line for a walk, a wonderful way to express creativity, not a doodle, because his line drawings are simple yet beautiful.
I would recommend that it’s better to look at a painting for a while, before reading about the painter’s life or the message he or she is hoping to convey, study can follow later.

Adreinne Degerick Chaplin, in her book Art and Embodiment…. Biological and Phenomenological Contributions to Understanding Beauty and Aesthetic writes, ‘Art, both as a practice and as an experience, belongs as it were, to the hardware of human nature.’ In her book she refers to the work of three philosophers, Ellen Dissanayake, Susanne K Lnger and Merleau-Ponty.
E. Dissanayake ‘draws on anthropological research to develop an evolutionary based philosophy, based on the notion of ‘making special’.
S K Langer and Merleau-Ponty draw on empirical science, in order to develop a theory of art and embodiment, that takes the body seriously, they each reach conclusions in their own way.
S Langer draws on ‘geology, physics and biology, she has developed a biologically based cognitive philosophy of art and mind, rooted in the notion of ‘symbolism’.
Merleau-Ponty ‘drew on medical science and empirical psychology in order to develop a theory of art.’
I am grateful to the internet for providing so much information, only a tiny fraction of which I have used. I am in awe of the work that goes into research, to help us understand more.

4 thoughts on “Quotes and thoughts on the embodied mind, with painters in mind!

  1. Hi Norma

    Your post has got me thinking about the origins of art and why we’re artistic. I’ve recently begun listening to the radio series “The history of the world in a 100 objects” by Neil MacGregor. In the episode below, the object in question is a 1.2 million year old hand-axe. What is unusual about this particular exhibit is that it is significantly larger than other hand-axes found around that period. The size of it would make it quite unwieldy to use and therefore it has been argued that it could have been a display item for a ceremony or the property of a person of rank. Therefore rather than being a tool it was actually a piece of art and the suggestion is that art first found its expression in ceremony and ritual.

    A history of the world in a 100 objects : Stone age hand axe

    In the following episode, the object is a beautiful carving from a mammoth tusk of two reindeers swimming found in south west France. The exhibit is approximately 13,000 years old and was arguably created by a member of a hunter-gathering community whose existence was inextricably linked with the reindeer during the last ice age. Apparently, from about 50,00 years ago, there was a sudden profileration of art works in the archeological record. Why the sudden change? Could it be something to do with culture? Were art and religion indivisible at this stage of human development in that both were an attempt to describe the world and our place in it? Or was it simply something to do whilst stuck in your cave in the long cold winters?

    A history of the world in a 100 objects: Swimming reindeer carving

  2. Hi Barry, I listened to the radio discussions, thank you for the links. I would like to find out more before I reply more fully. In the meantime here are a few thoughts on the subject: I have been listening to ‘ A Brief History of Mankind ‘ on a http://www.coursera site. During the time of the Cognitive Revolution, that took place about 70.000 years homo sapiens was on the move. Once homo sapiens began to venture further afield he left East Africa, to explore the world, he had to adapt to many changes, such as the climate and new animals to hunt. These adaptions made changes to the make – up of the brain, new skills were required to survive. Some stayed in Africa, there are four worlds the Afro- Asian group, the mezzo American group, the Australian group and the Oceanic world. The reindeer would have been carved by a man in the Oceanic part of the world I would imagine. New skills were required to keep warm for example, sewing furs together for clothing was essential cold climates.I
    It is thought by some scholars, that the cave drawings may have been made under the influence of hallucinogens, plant based drugs, taken purposely in order to join forces with spirits or deities. Together with the animal drawings are to be found geometric patterns, probably arising from the changes in the functioning in the brain during such times.

  3. Hi Norma, thank you for a very interesting post! Art and meaning, and the embodied mind, what wonderful things to ponder. I’m afraid my knowledge of art is very limited, so I am grateful for the chance to learn more. How art has been and continues to be reflective of what is going on in human development is an inexhaustible topic, I think. In your comment to Barry you say “It is thought by some scholars, that the cave drawings may have been made under the influence of hallucinogens, plant based drugs, taken purposely in order to join forces with spirits or deities. Together with the animal drawings are to be found geometric patterns, probably arising from the changes in the functioning in the brain during such times.”

    Very interesting stuff! And on that same note, I’d like to mention that the other day there was a program on Swedish television about a Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, and her pioneering work around the previous turn of the century. She was a mystic who painted abstract paintings a couple of years before the official start of the abstract movement, and claimed that spirits were guiding her hands (like many of the abstract artists she was a theosophist).

    The TV programme was the broadcast of a symposium where scholars and authors discussed her work and its place in the zeitgeist of the turn of the century. It was a very interesting panel on how modernism and occultism have related to each other and created the culture we now inhabit, and the different modes of thinking and knowing that informs them. Among other things, Iain McGilchrist’s book was briefly mentioned. I thought you might be interested in Hilma af Klint, perhaps you have heard of her already, there is a cool video about meaning in art that focuses on her as an example of Art and the unconscious: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbKcVXLON28

    Her art displays some very interesting colours and geometric patters- circles, triangles, spirals- that are reminiscent of various organic structures, and have a sort of timeless or ancient quality around them which is fascinating considering that it was so cutting edge!

  4. Hi Emilie, Thank you very much for your reply. I followed the link you kindly posted. I hadn’t come across the work of Hilma Af Klint before, so it was especially interesting to discover her paintings and her reasons for creating them. As you say, at that time, there was an interest among artists, writers and philosophers, about metaphysical matters. I am reading The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, slowly, I have to say, it is fascinating, up to date research on the workings of the two hemishpheres of the brain.
    As we know, Spiritualism is a metaphysical belief,where it is thought that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living; many spiritualists today make a very good living, persuading people that they can contact their loved ones and transmit messages. Helma, I thought, seemed to be a very genuine person, she held her beliefs all her life. Arthur Conan Doyle, the American author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which still entertain us, had a metaphysical belief in fairies. It was a sign of the times.
    Many teachers at the Bauhaus held metaphysical beliefs, Paul Klee and the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, among them, the school was closed by the Nazis, a regret to many. Kandinsky created a complex colour theory, where colour was given spiritual qualities, an example ; he saw yellow as a terrestial colour, while blue is a celestial colour, mixed together you reach green, which he saw as immobile and calm. The robes of Madonnas were usually painted blue in Renaissance paintings, there was a great use of symbolism of all kinds in paintings during that time. Often the composition was a triangular shape, Leonardo used this device to symbolise the Holy Trinity. The Pre Raphaelites also used colour symbolically.
    This brings me to a quest for answers regarding the Middle Way in art today, particularly where painting is concerned, ‘in what way are paintings today, generally speaking, seen as expressions of integration, in a world of alienation and polarisation?’ Should Art be dynamic, not a repeat of old ways , in order to properly represent the present, otherwise, would art any longer have anything profound to say. Art has been around since the hunter gatherers were on earth, it is unlikely to die out, but find new forms of expression.
    I would really like to have a discussion on the subject with you all. Does Damien Hurst for example, have anything to say with his diamond studded skull worth millions? I dislike the piece, but have to say that questions of Life and Death have always been of concern to artists.

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