Chapter 4 of ‘Aesthetics and Painting’ by Jason Gaiger is quite a challenge to get to grips with. Again it tackles the idea of representation and exactly what that means in relation to painting, and the whole thing becomes even more complicated than I first thought. For example, he begins by quoting Picasso‘s number one fan Daniel Kahnweiler as stating that “all painting is a creation of signs,” and then develops the chapter by comparing and contrasting the perceptualist approach (Gombrich) with the semiotic (Goodman). I must say that I don’t know if I’ve understood it all properly, but with what I do understand I seem to be falling in line with the perceptualists, who believe that the way in which we see, and make art from what we see,
“depends upon and varies with experience, practice, interests and attitudes. . . . . It follows that if what we see is dependent upon what we look for, that is to say, on which aspects of the visual field are identified as relevant or important, a picture must also be highly selective. As Gombrich observes, ‘so complex is the information that reaches us from the visible world . . . no picture will ever embody it all. That is not due to the subjectivity of vision, but to its richness.’ …. once we acknowledge that representation is never duplication and that even the most realistic painting can only produce its effects through the resources of the medium, we are obliged to concede that there is a conceptual as well as a perceptual basis to pictorial representation.”
It’s almost enough to make me think more accommodatingly of representational art! However, it’s an intriguing avenue to pursue because it raises issues related to how we decide that something is important. Unlike the camera, we do not allocate to all in our visual field the same priority, otherwise the brain would never be able to process what we are looking at. The fascination and frustration of the thing arises from the inevitability that every individual looking at the same object or scene will be seeing it slightly differently. Now there’s a challenge if you’re an artist interested in communicating with the viewer.
The most exciting thought in the chapter, though, comes from Gaiger’s quoting of Goodman’s book ‘Ways of Worldmaking’:
“the arts must be taken no less seriously than the sciences as modes of discovery, creation and enlargement of knowledge in the broad sense of advancement of understanding.”
I would like more information about this because although my instinct is to agree, I find it hard to substantiate in what ways art adds to the sum of our understanding of ourselves and our world. Perhaps this is something I should be working on as time goes by, pinning down the function of art and the making of art as it relates to our cultural heritage. The whole idea is exhilarating, and definitely appeals to me as it implies going into unknown territories, crossing boundaries, seeing and therefore painting or drawing what has never been seen before. Gaiger suggests helpfully:
“Only once we give up the idea that there is a single, right way of depicting the world can we explain why art has genuine cognitive potential.”
Perhaps he’s right. And perhaps Picasso got there first.