Seeing Concepts Seeing

An image is a strange thing.

It is something we see, sure. There it is! Look at that image!

But it is not just an object, not just something that is seen. An image is a seeing, as well, a way of perceiving the world. So when I look at, say, a painting of Van Gogh's sunflower, I'm not just seeing a sunflower; I'm not just seeing Van Gogh's painting: I am seeing this way of seeing a sunflower.

When I look at those insane sunflowers, I am suddenly privy to an entire style of making sense of the world. I am seeing a metabolism at work, the way sunflowers and light and paint and canvas went in a system — let's call that system Van Gogh — and came out the other side.

But it's not just that I'm seeing this metabolism as if it were at a distance: I am experiencing that world view, literally seeing the world that way. Suddenly, I am Laura Mars and my eyes are Van Gogh's.

Now, I want to say that a concept is an image in this sense: it is not just something we see but is itself a seeing. This seeing is part of me, no doubt, but like the eyes in Laura Mars' face, this concept travels between people. As it goes, it literally remakes the world, redistributes it, makes sense of it anew according to its logics.

We make concepts much in the way we make any image such as a painting or photograph. We gather elements together and assemble them just so. This is to say, then, that concepts don't come prefrabricated; they need to be made (most do; some come prefab as cliches, just as images often come as cliches, too).


drwatson said...

I have this book called Art and Physics which pretty much argues that art comes first. And then physics catches up with ideas performed by art. It's a bit more complex, obviously. And so there's the chapter on Cezanne, arguing much like Merleau-Ponty that Cezanne is capturing something about the way we see.

I know you know all this. But when you use Cezanne as an example as seeing, or a way of seeing, do you ever find yourself at a loss to defend it when questioned? Recently when pointing out that this was the one guy that could paint a fruit bowl that blew my mind I was questioned by a good friend, which is much different than a student, and I started stuttering and trying to get a thought out about how you "really" see, then taking that back and just sort of left speechless and confused.

I tried to point out that the apples should roll off the table, but you know, you don't really "feel" like they need to. And then I said they don't really have outlines (which was contested). I just don't feel like I have the vocabulary for art-criticism. Which I'm thankful for - I mean I have to actually think - I have no ready-made formulas. Though I'm also left speechless with more frequency.

Really enjoyed the last several essays.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I've been on this more philosophic, reflective kick as of late.....

So: speaking of art: I love talking about art but I don't talk about Cezanne. When I do talk about Cezanne, I talk about MMP's essay as he sees things there I do not. With Van Gogh, however, or Matthew Ritchie or Sarah Sze or Andreas Gursky: something there has moved me, literally transported my way of seeing. So speaking/writing of it comes to me, through me. Ask me about Cezanne and I'm speechless as I've never really related to it.

The trick, as with anything, is to have a moment or three with something. Then the vocabulary comes of its own accord.

I taught MFA students at an art school for a few years and fucking loved it. It was great coming in as an amateur and just spinning out the licks. The students ate that shit up. As did I.

drwatson said...

Interesting point about Cezanne - I'm reflecting if I came to Cezanne first or MP. I remember being introduced to both by the same philosophy professor I've praised before. He's never been my favorite artist to look at - that's probably been Picasso most of my adult life, particularly Blue Nude and all his paintings involving naked women and musical instruments. However, I'm always sort of stopped in my tracks by Cezanne.

Van Gogh's Starry Night was a weird experience at MOMA - I wrote a little thing about it. I had just seen it so often. But I absolutely love Cafe Terrace at Night - I want to believe my experience of that piece would still remain in tact, but I can't be sure. But perhaps I'm crediting something to the duplication of art that's really just about my experience with a particular piece of art. Hard to know, certainly.

The reproduction I bought at MOMA for my wall was DeKooning's Woman, I, which I like for very simple reasons, I think. I really love the colors in/on it. I like the shapes. It feels really simple to say that, but it also feels honest. My enjoyment is based on sensation. Perhaps the truth is this: I really don't know why I like what I like. Maybe I make up reasons after because I desire something like an understanding. As usual, confused, but thinking.

drwatson said...

About a month ago I wrote on poetic thinking - I followed that post up yesterday. If you haven't read it - I'd love to know what you think.




Pierre said...

I don't know if images are the most efficient way for concepts to call senses. Rythm and music seem also very efficient. Not only that music and rythm (in the sentence itself) can not be touched and that that  '√©vanescence' is at a point a good praise and call to concepts. May be that rythm is much more gripped to metabolism.

I don't know if, especially on an esoteric and cosmological point of vue, sound is more spectacular that images. 

Obvious in an other sense that image is more spectacular. It's like if images get more directly to the conceptual parts of the  brain. Spectacular and brainy, like statistical map of population or of revenue ( u know when u learn that poverty is linked to crimnality, and that u become instantly either a lost and superbe progressist or a stupid conservative ( I tried to be balanced but the progressist deserves more compliments).

But an idea is not explained by a sound, and that the paradoxical movement we try to explain. That a concept can not be explained. That evanescence is a natural part of concept. 

For exemple. I am a fan of Rousseau. But when I speak of it, the traditional pro rousseauist never agree with me about  nature aspects, while I always agree about nature with People who are not part of the rousseauist invention of progressism doctrine. (And Rousseau is democracy and declaration bill of rights, man. In the same mouvements, human being is defended as nature.) Why the sensual affinities of Rousseauis doctrine never matches with the idea in people brain ? 

It means may be that, like says jung theory, may be some thing concrete in our body makes us think an act always in the same way ( that rousseauism was really a necessary genius in the way he moved some thing very deep).

But this mouve remains a mistery. Feelings moved by senses after concept are misterious, and that mistery is in music, sound and rythm.

Forest has a sound like deserts. And we make forest and desert understandable, while they make us undestand the world. And their sound are neutral. And rythm helps me understand The right now world more  than images that are always some sort of weird projections.

And music is more concret, but saying music is concrete helps more understand why concepts are real, than saying that image is concrete.