Saturday, 31 October 2009

Art and the conscious mind

Much of our experience of an artwork is unconscious or semi-conscious. We are aware of aspects of its form or meaning that are not necessarily the subject of our immediate attention; they may be vaguely felt or sensed 'in the background'. Yet they often contribute in some way to the overall impression we have of a work, feeding into the more present aspects of what we call the 'conscious' mind. This conscious mind is that within which our experience feels contained or centered, and holds all the components of thought to which we have immediate access.

A major component of this is the artwork itself, its visible presence (if a visual piece), its localised context, the knowledge we bring to it, and so on. All these in some way combine to create the global effect of viewing the artwork, and can be subject to varying degrees of attention depending on the unfolding of our thoughts.

During this process it is possible that impressions hitherto confined to the unconscious aspect of mind can come to the fore, and the significance of some hidden quality can be grasped. Then the sum total of thoughts available to the conscious mind is expanded, enriching the experience of the artwork and expanding the content of the mind in question.

This process of enrichment rarely occurs immediately, depending often on prolonged contemplation to reach its fullest state. During this process the interaction between the mind and the object can become generative; new connections between parts of the work are created, a process that can be extended longer the richer the work of art is.

Here the conscious mind becomes increasingly attuned to the form of the work, growing in capacity, sensitivity and complexity — engaging in what is normally termed the 'aesthetic experience.'