Do You See What I See?

Continuing the discussion of why my son doesn’t like art, or more seriously, why we like some art and not others…

Why does everyone have such different tastes in art? The experience of an art piece seems like a combination of the inherent qualities of the piece itself as well as all the experiences and inner dynamics of the viewer at the moment the two come together.

Forgive me for dipping into some arcane philosophy, but this brings to my mind the Phenomenological school of thought founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century (yet another interesting cultural influence raising it’s head around that time). He proposed that the essence of a thing is not found in some external object (the thing as distinct from us) but in the relation of the object and the perceiver. He said that we “constituted” objects by perceiving them. This also reminds me of one of the major concepts of quantum theory, which is that “objects” only come into existence when we become conscious of them.

One of the challenges of this school of thought is that of “intersubjectivity” – how do we know we are all referring to the same object if the object’s essence depends on our unique perception of it? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure of our shared experiences – have you ever stood next to someone at a gallery and listened to them describe a piece of art and thought to yourself, “Man, are we looking at the same piece?”

At some level, I guess we’re never really seeing the same thing as anyone else.

4 responses to “Do You See What I See?

  1. For me, following the phenomenological argument to its conclusion.. there actually is no object that is separate from the perceiver…

    But on the level of duality, I think it’s all about our background. We like/don’t like, relate to or not, the kinds of images we have learned to like along the way, particularly at a young age. I was exposed to a lot of art as a child, and it stuck. Not to mention what I came into this life with…

    But then, why wouldn’t your son who grew up with art, love it too? What comes to mind is growing up in an academic community–we all noticed the phenomenon whereby children developed an aversion to the particular field their parent (well, in those days, father) was in. Chalk it up to a normal dose of rebellion, I guess.

  2. This is a wonderful photo, Bob, and also a great subject of discussion and reflexion. I hope I will able to find some time later on today and come back here to give you my point of view.

    But for now I just want to telll you what I see here:


    and I see it very strongly! It is really so wonderful…

  3. What I see is a tulip like beauty whom is peeling off…

    A metaphotr maybe of the fragility of beauty, of its sakura like quality (it’s beautiful a few hours, a few days, maybe, and then it’s all gone…)

    I wonder how you did the texture effect? I suppose you superposed two layers, maybe even more?

    Anyway, judeberman is right : the rebellion phase…

    It’s interesting you mentionned Husserl (who was the mentor of one of my preffered Romanian writers, Camil Petrescu) : no doubt, for me, that we “create” different objects, fonction of our perception…

    No doubt either that “my” Van Gogh is probably different than yours and again different of the “real” (objective) Van gogh, if there was any… Still, there is something… something we have in common, something we share that tell us both that Vincent was a great artist… To define that “something” would be to define beauty, which I don’t think is definable… The “je ne sais quoi” which make the difference. I can tell that it is there but I cannot put my finger on it…

  4. Such wonderful, thoughtful comments! Thank you all! I am so enjoying participating in these “conversations” with you.

    Jude, your comment about what we are exposed to and know rings so true. E.H. Gombrich wrote the “definitive” history of art (his “Story of Art”) which was the most influential and widely read history of (at least Western) art in the 20th century – but it is just one of many “stories of art” someone could write. We each have our own map of art which is largely determined by our exposure to and knowledge of it – and this directly leads to what we like/dislike.

    Miki – I hope you do have a chance to comment, but in the meantime, thank you for giving me the perfect name for this piece (I hate naming my artwork but must do it for shows)!

    Danu – yes, the texture effect is done by combining different images on different layers. In this case, just one (I think it was peeling paint) but sometimes I use several.

    I hope to explore more your comment that there is “something we have in common” that defines beauty. It’s a really interesting question and I’m doing some thinking and reading about it.

    Interesting coincidence about Husserl – didn’t think I’d get any bites on that one!

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