Sunday, August 31, 2008

Visual Philosophy

“A consciousness that proceeds by sight…is a greater power for knowledge than the consciousness of the thinker.” Sri Aurobindo, A Greater Psychology

When I first used the term “visual philosophy” a student in the class said, “Wait a minute, are you talking about aesthetics?” It was natural to think I was referring to philosophy about art and beauty because we don’t generally think of art and images in their capacity to express ideas, to evoke a philosophical stance through a visual depiction. Beyond simply communicating information, an image shows how to see the information. We equate seeing with understanding.
We are drowning in information and need the wisdom to know how to filter it. Insight sees the significance within the whole. Wisdom depends on perception. The metaphors of seeing attest to our underlying trust in what we ”see with our own eyes.” We “believe what we see”. As we enlarge our picture of reality, our understanding grows.
Observation lies beneath the methods of art and science. As science separates the world into smaller and smaller parts, art should be equally important in pulling the whole back together, to see the forest as well as the trees. Ideas expressed visually can include the multiple variables that we live with in actual experience, the influences from every direction that controlled experiments leave out. Artists enlarge the range of what we are able to see. By sensitizing people to significant pattern, capacity for insight is developed. Understanding how feeling represents the meaning of what we see tunes our intuition and our trust in its guidance. Educating the synthesizing power of imaginal (thinking in images) thinking may allow us to evolve a new level of intelligence. Arguing for the superiority of visual communication, Barbara Stafford writes “Perceptually combined information… avoids the intellectual limitations of linearity.” She believes that in the graphic world of the internet, artists will be more important in explaining reality, understanding the display of knowledge, allowing an immediate apprehension of connections.
Art reveals consciousness. It offers multiple windows on the deepest and broadest aspects of being human. This is a physical improvement in the most evolved parts of our brain. Like any other activity, the parts of the brain that are used are strengthened. More benefit comes from the self-understanding arising from what you choose to see. Perception is not passive. It’s always scanning for what will be useful to us. Joseph Campbell said, ”The eyes are the scouts of the heart.” We are drawn to what resonates with our own inner state, often mirroring it, sometimes compensating for it. Given that neuroscience has shown that feelings precede and direct thought, letting the eye make choices from the world of art could likely take us deeper into understanding our feelings than talking about them.
The mission of visual philosophy is to see more, to become aware of the complex web of relationships that visual intelligence deals with best, and to express meaning visually.
Knowledge of all kinds can be communicated with images. Even in regard to invisible realms and deep level patterns, artists can help us understand consciousness more fully by what they reveal of it.


csn said...

Thank you for this great post!

Chris Hoover said...

I would like to extend my immense thanks to you for writing this post. Perusing the internet for connections between art/visuals and philosophy, I came across this post. My purpose was to see if others are using art/visuals to convey philosophical themes/theories. I am considering doing something like that, although I must admit that I have no art in my background. Your post is a great inspiration for me and I've mentioned it to others quite often.

My favorite quote is: Observation lies beneath the methods of art and science. As science separates the world into smaller and smaller parts, art should be equally important in pulling the whole back together. I think I've recited that quote (probably not verbatum) to about 6 or 7 people. I was very much a one-sided thinker, and that side was logic, in all its forms. But lately, I've begun to appreciate things that are not so directly logical. I don't like the dichotomy between art and logic/thinking; I believe there is logic/form/thought behind art and there is creativity and beauty in logical things. I think recognizing the reliance of one upon the other is something we could all continue to contemplate and enact.

So thanks again for this post,

Patrick Louis said...

How interesting.

I am currently attempting to create software which would capitalize on a similar idea. Currently I am still working out the ideal form (e.g. a branched-video format, perhaps).

If you have more thoughts or information on the subject I would be very pleased to see more.

Anahi said...

Thanks for the article. The slogan for my company is "say it with art" and I always tell my clients that in a busy world, a good image will always convey the message more efficiently.