Question for The Psychology of The Artful Mind by Carmelo Cali (REVIEW)

Article Review: Question for The Psychology of The Artful Mind 

The article discusses the role of psychology in arts by rationalizing “Arnheim’s Puzzle” to solve the problem of perception between artists, beholders and critics. It states that the existing psychological theories of art do not explain well the observable variability of art. This author defined “Arnheim’s puzzle” as a situation where “the firm scientific basis and the interest in artworks of various styles, genre, and age are not sufficient for it to give a comprehensive account of art and cognition.” How research in the psychology of art is being conducted also affects the prospect of teaching it.

Article Review: Question for The Psychology of The Artful Mind

Three research strategies to deal with the problems of psychology are mentioned. After explaining The New Experimental Aesthetic, Gestalt Psychology and Cognitive Psychology, it could be concluded that the author intended to direct the discussion in the third research strategy since it observes the communication between artists, beholders and critics through art.

The article discusses art as a source of variability since Arnheim encourages psychologists  to observe the production and perception of artworks instead of talking about art conventionally. It explains artistic experiences from Saturn Devouring His Son (1819-1823) by Francisco Goya, Saint Onuphirus by Jusepe de Ribera and other works such as Le Déjeneur en fourrure (1936). At this point, we are led to realize that works of art do not only refer to "beauty" and to understand the variability which occurs in the process of presenting works we need to look back to the history of art to identify the dimensions of variability the scientific domain need to have. 

It’s divided into 2 aspects, the first one is the history of arts which includes (a1) Artists (as the bearers of iconographic and stylistic change), (b1) Works (under the respect of established or new stylistic types within well-defined genres) and (c1) Judgement (from both experienced and naïve beholders with the latter embed canonical or groundbreaking representational conventions). The second one is the corresponding dimension of psychological domains which (a2) is related to the ability of artists to transform their ideas into visual works with certain symbolizations which truly representative, (b2) regarding the ability of artists to master techniques in creating works and (c2) about how the ability possessed by observers in interpreting works of art in its “mode of appearance”.

The author describes several issues in the cognitive paleoanthropology of art. The author explains that cognitive capacity gives birth to something called "cognitive markers" which are related to the ability to think abstractly, innovate, and so on. Some examples of cognitive markers of art include the Transitional Period (45,000-35,000 years ago) regarding Aurignacian Technology where it is known that humans began to make objects such as hand tools with certain decorative elements as the identity of the group (the emergence of figurative art, signs and images). Other findings were long wooden spears at the Schöningen site 400,000 years ago, flutes derived from animal bones found in various places from France, Slovenia, and Germany 53,000-40,000 years ago and depictions of hand stencil motifs in Spanish caves 64,000 years ago. Those examples show that there is a relation between how perception combined with cultural modernity will produce an artefact which is adapted to solve the problems that existed at that time.

In settling Arnheim’s puzzle, we need to understand the explanation regarding the archaeological records as an important perspective on how humans used to apply artistic elements to their tools based on the natural and social references that happened in ordinary life. It helps us to understand how the perceptual modules of the cognitive capacities “imply subserve the aim of making a representation perceivable in surfaces and volumes, by altering the perception one would have of them in ordinary experience so that whoever perceives the representation recognizes its mode of appearance as meaningful as its subject matter”. The subject matter is the artwork itself. 

We perceive it as the composition: the arrangement of boundaries, shapes, colours, textures, and motion clues, through which beholders recognize something else from the medium, namely a represented figurative scene or an abstract pattern. Example of art based on composition is Trompe l’oeil paintings and frescos or Canova’s polished sculptures. Mode of appearance is perceived as the effect of one or more transformations operated on its surfaces and volumes. 

An example of art based on the mode of appearances happened at the Bauhaus with the treatment of surfaces of various materials utilizing different tools. It could be simplified that the solution to the problem with the perception of artwork discussed in this article is by letting some characteristics of the medium used in it be left unaltered so the material could have the power of representation in the artwork instead of wholly altered without any intrinsic meanings left.

This discussion responds to the claims Arnheim made about the state and the prospects of the psychology of art. Those claims could be seen as a warning against the tendency to cling to conventional concepts of art or to derive the constructs and the variables of the psychology of art from general principles instead of addressing the questions that arise from the variability of the phenomena of art’s production and experience. The author encourages researchers to get into the subject matter of art to explore more specific phenomena and findings which could develop theories competing with the conventional and general.

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