Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Philosopher Susanne Langer stood alone in her emphasis on the correspondence between art and human psychology. She felt there could be no better way to understand the human psyche than what is revealed through art. The variation, nuance and emotional range available in art enables a person to identify qualities of feeling far beyond verbal description. Literature needs to conjure mental images to capture depth of feeling as is reflected in Booker Prize winning Richard Flanagan line, “Words were and are inadequate to all that we felt, all that we knew, all that I have lost. Words were part of it, but they were also cages in search of a bird.” When Carl Jung wrote “Image is psyche” he was recognizing that only images can touch the mind with feeling. That words are a tool for gaining distance and a sense of mastery over something and useful in that way, paring down the fullness to what suits our current purposes. But to understand the life of feeling in all its contradictions, images can contain and clarify emotions as a whole. Langer’s book, “Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling” describes how much of our thinking is led by feelings as representations of overall judgments. Feelings indicate what matters most and shade attitudes and overviews. Art is able to examine and express feeling more accurately and specifically, a representation of the whole. In all of her books she describes how the structure and movement in each of the arts resonate with inner structures of feeling. Her essential idea, that the mind starts with feelings was later confirmed by neurologists. Antonio Damasio stated bluntly that feeling leads thinking, makes the determination of what is important to think about. Feelings are guided by personal significance. The art your eyes are led to helps you see the feelings you may not have noticed that uncover values and anxieties we may be unaware of that point to the worldview that organizes opinions. Everything we see reflects something about us. Unlike a mirror or camera that passively reflects what’s in front of it, our eyes are directed by our purposes, are actively scanning for personal and hardwired priorities. For humans, the mental life has goals and challenges with their attendant stresses and time constraints. It takes the inner awareness of our entire situation to guide progress through linear time. Looking for art that rings true gets to the center, opens a deeper personal reality. Langer was pointing the way. Brain science confirms the connection. The modern world needs comprehensive big picture thinking. Looking at art is a pleasurable way to build sensitivity to the whole and learn more about our minds.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
“Without the development of an overall perspective, we remain lost in individual investigations.” Robert E. Ornstein- The larger consciousness that’s the subject of this essay isn’t beyond the body but of the body. Though it may not be defined by words, symbols and descriptions, our physical awareness of our whole situation takes care of the thinking self. It is felt in our physical adjustments to the surrounding world. People are so much bigger than they think. With all the devices and apps available today, attention is endlessly distracted by the surface of things. Held in thrall by the life in the postings, the neglected center grasps at attention with unexpected moods and out-of-proportion reactions. We can find names for certain feelings and recognize triumphs and disappointment, but the ebb and flow of day-to-day emotions has no chance to show us deeper yearnings and satisfactions or to pull together a bigger perspective. People are left with a shallow sense of who they are, unaware of the enormity below, which includes a whole category of personal intelligence that goes unnoticed and uncredited. The verbalizing conscious mind is just the part of the iceberg above water, but what’s below is a crucial part of understanding. The core mind looks after our well-being and navigates the world led by our desires and fears, some current, some deeply rooted in personal history. It’s an unrecognized part of intelligence that can be developed by looking at art, the best expressions of visual form. . Many have said that perception is the basis of wisdom. We see what’s out-of-balance, where proportions are off, make near instant appraisals of overall situations. Winston Churchill said he liked to paint landscapes because it trained “the highest qualities of mind.” We think of our sense of proportion as intrinsic to justice. But it isn’t necessary to go outside and paint when so much art is available with a few clicks. Right proportions are part of the beauty of form. Looking at art increases awareness of right proportions which carries over it all aspects of life. Art presents the feelings of being thus refining our susceptibility to the personal feeling that attends the larger perspective, the overview that organizes response. Images that draw attention show what matters personally, illuminating aspects of your world view. This is the larger part of consciousness because it contains the whole, is influenced by the total perspective and what aspects of it are most alive in the mind at a given time. Perception is guiding each person’s actions throughout the day. The action of balancing is ongoing in every level of mind.
Thursday, July 22, 2021
In his books psychologist Nathanial Brandon writes that visibility is the most central of human social needs. The need to feel seen and part of the world is key to our sense of belonging. Having a person’s attention directly on us is reassurance of our existence at the least, and feels like love at its best. The more and better we feel seen the more we feel loved. An abusive relationship is often sustained by the feeling the person sees you better than others, and though this may be an illusion, the level of attention makes it persuasive. Bad attention is better than no attention. To feel invisible is to disappear to ourselves. We use others’ attitude toward us to locate ourselves in the scene, feel the rippling outward of our presence in the surroundings. How others react to us affects us on a primal level the emotional center of which was seeded in being noticed or not noticed when we cried as babies. Understanding ourselves is our central mystery. Relationships with others aren’t the only way to see ourselves. Within the murky land of unnamed feelings is what matters to us. Responding to art and the particular images that attract reveals what is significant and meaningful to us. When an image strikes a chord it’s because it feels like someone has articulated. a personal truth . Bringing this to conscious awareness is knowledge of the deep structures that organize response to the world. The life of feeling is the living center of art. As philosopher Susanne Langer wrote, “Art looks like feelings feel.” Looking through an art book is not so much about pictures as experiencing moments of shared feeling. Being moved by an artist’s work is connection between human beings about something that mattered to both of them. Response to art mirrors the heart. To identify with the feeling may excavate a shared pain or fear. Art is not just about culture, it’s about psychology. When Edward Munch’s “The Scream” was stolen people were upset. It wasn’t just because of its value to culture but about their personal connection to the emotion in that image (There are four versions two of which have been stolen.) It is consoling and illuminating when intense emotions have been shared and recognized. It affirms our most personal experience and engagement with that feeling.