language and perception
|adynaton oil/canvas 12"x12"|
i have a little time for a posting this morning ahead of my departure for sweden and thought i would briefly describe the main thrust of my time at the valand school of fine arts. in addition to my painting process demonstrations i will be lecturing on the relationship between language and perception and in particular how our notion of depth is shaped and informed by spoken and/or written language.
following is an interview i gave with the art-critic major f. kohn:
Q. your recent work has explored the relationship of language and perception. from this point of view can you talk a little about your latest series of paintings.
A. in my view, language and perception are too closely linked together, they are like co-dependent people in a relationship. they are not necessarily good for one another, but they think they need each other. both processes compete for prominence rather than being complementary.
Q. in what way are they competitive?
A. they compete because each experience interferes with the other. when we look at, say, a tree, we immediately “think” the word tree and this influences and interferes with our perception. the instant we begin thinking “tree” we are not seeing what is in our immediate presence…i.e. the nuances of color and texture in the bark and the shape of the leaves and so on. thinking distances us from the here and now by recalling and associating our experience or memory of what we are looking at and we end up superimposing the past onto the present.
Q. what’s wrong with that?
A. there is nothing inherently wrong with it. i am just pointing out that, as a visual artist, i am trying to create some kind of reconciliation between language and perception so that they can co-exist. i am like a mediator…trying to find a way for two separate yet linked experiences to be compatible so that the enterprise of perception is an expansive occurrence rather than a constrictive one.
Q. expansive rather than constrictive?
A. yes. when 2 elements are in opposition with one another they set up a duality that is inhibiting or constrictive whereas when 2 elements can be experienced simultaneously as both sum and part then the energy of the enterprise becomes dynamic or expansive and full of potential.
Q. your recent work makes subtle spatial references. can you elaborate on your ideas of depth in painting?
A. the idea of depth in painting seems like an oxymoron…i mean how does depth exist on a flat surface…it can only ever exist simply as an illusion, a trick of the brain. but i also think that the idea of depth in reality is an oxymoron…and possibly also just as much of an illusion. i think it is simply the way we see.
Q. how so? when i throw a ball i can watch it float through space…how is spatial depth an illusion in reality?
A. well, what i am talking about is the optical component of perception rather that the thinking component. advances in cognitive neuroscience have shown that what our eyes see and what our brain interprets are two different things. when we look at the world around us, we actually see it as flat; however, it is our experience of what we are looking at that enables us to ascertain specific qualities such as distance and size.
Q. how has this research influenced your painting?
A. i want the components of my painting that suggest depth to also exist as simply line, shape and color. for example, when two colored shapes overlap i want them, on the one hand, to evoke a quality of depth but to also be simply two shapes relating to one another in a particular way. once again working with the idea of simultaneity rather than duality.
Q. can you expand on this idea of simultaneity and duality?
A. simultaneity suggests a harmonious quality between otherwise disparate elements whereas duality emphasizes the separation or a sense of opposition. think of it like this: when we look at a ladder we see the rungs and the sides perfectly unified in a single purpose…existing as single object to help us climb. but if we see the same ladder with several of the rungs broken then it is no longer harmonious, no longer unified. the broken rungs become full of potential danger, in fact we think of ourselves falling rather than climbing…the elements that make up the ladder are in conflict with each other and we see them as being separate rather than unified.. as a painter, i am interested in making a ladder that is both rungs, sides and an object for climbing.