Project – The Visual Experience

Aesthetic pleasure: “a pleasurable subjective experience that is directed toward an object and not mediated by intermediate reasoning

– Rolf Reber et al. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2004

Life is a very visual experience for me. At some level, I’m always aware of shapes, colours, arrangements, balance, patterns, symmetry. Visual disarray creates anxiety. Visual harmony is psychologically soothing. In everyday life, I notice arrangements, juxtapositions and intersections in the world around me, whether static or fleeting, that produce a sense of satisfaction and comfort, that soothe my mind. Every moment has the potential for experiencing this kind of aesthetic pleasure.

Perhaps it’s the same for everyone. Perhaps you have no idea what I mean and think I’m crazy. I have no idea what anyone else experiences. But this is how it is for me.

Unsurprisingly, art for me is also primarily about this kind of visual experience. The delight I take from viewing art is its ability to create that aesthetic pleasure, the satisfaction and comfort I get from the balance and harmony in an image, and the way it soothes my mind. The pleasure I get from creating art is the satisfaction of generating that visual harmony from nothing, to take the harmony that I can see or imagine and capture it in an image, in the hope of holding onto that feeling and creating it for others.

Conflict of the mind

This way of looking at things goes against many of the clichés about art (or at least the clichés I’ve paid attention to). It goes against the idea that Art with a capital A must mean something, must be profound or philosophical or offer some deep insight into humanity. After I stopped studying art and explored the idea of being an ‘artist’ for the sake of art rather than exams, I became more and more fixated on this idea that art needed to express something profound. Ultimately, the anxiety that this idea caused paralysed me creatively.

I’ve now realised that this artistically fatal anxiety was caused by a conflict of the mind between this idea that I should be using art for expression and my natural artistic instinct that pulls me towards purely visual art. I’m not saying that there’s no place in art for expression of profound ideas and insight into human nature – the most powerful art combines the visual and conceptual. I’ve just realised that’s not what art is predominantly about for me. This project has its basis in this realisation.

Art and neuroscience

With this project, I’m embracing the visual over the conceptual and exploring the visual experience of art. There are two main arms to it, which bring together two areas that are close to my heart and have formed the foundations of my entire life – art and neuroscience.

The first arm is an exploration of the visual language that generates aesthetic pleasure, which will involve looking at the work of others and creating my own. The second arm is more of a research project to understand the basis of aesthetic pleasure in the brain and how that ties in with the visual language. Hopefully I’ll find cross-connections between the two arms, and I hope that the neuroscientific aspects will feed into the creative aspects and inspire new ideas. I’ve no idea where these explorations will ultimately take me, if they take me anywhere. I’m looking forward to finding out – please do follow me if you’re interested in finding out too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s