Saturday, 12 June 2010

Art, Perception and the Mysteries of Experience

The idea that there is a world full of real objects existing whether or not we are there to see them is taken for granted by most of us. It seems obvious that the everyday fabric of reality is made of things that have qualities like tangibility, colourfulness, weightiness, smelliness, and tastiness. Yet scientists have known for nearly 200 years that objects in the world have none of these qualities in themselves. All the sensory qualities we associate with the world are not due to the way things are in themselves but are generated by our perceptual systems. It is ultimately our minds that create things as they appear to us, including all the sounds, textures, aromas, and patterns of the world.

In this talk I will give a brief account of the way our perceptual systems work to generate sensory experience, and indicate some of the puzzling consequences that arise, not least the fact that without the presence of the mind there is no reality at all. I will then look at the parallels between the way we construct a perceptual experience of the world and the way artists construct realities through images. In many ways the artistic process mirrors that of perception in that images have to be constructed and interpreted in the same way we have to construct and interpret reality. Using examples of works by Turner, Picasso, and Tanning I will draw attention to some of the mysterious aspects of our perceptual experience that artists have probed through their work.

Paper at International Symposium on Illustration, Cardiff, November 2010