Simple Rather Than Truthful

The human mind receives, shapes, and interprets its image of the outer world with all its conscious and unconscious powers, and the realm of the unconscious could never enter our experience without the reflection of perceivable things. (461)


Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye written by Rudolf Arnheim in 1954 is a fascinating study- not because of its freshness (many of the concepts discussed have long become part of the canon of psychology 101) but rather while revisiting these well known ideas, larger connections can be made. Art is such a seductive practice, both in a tactile as well as an emotional or intellectual sense. The fact is, we, as humans ,enjoy it.

It is an exciting experience to bring about something visible that was not there before […] It is simple sensory pleasure which remains undiminished even in the adult artist (171)

It is for that reason that considering the distortions and anti-distortions that are required for our minds to process what our eyes deliver is so very interesting and in my view,  poetically profound.

“He was a very skillful artist,” says Goethe of a painter friend of his, “and he was among the few who know how to transform artifice entirely into nature and nature entirely into art. They are exactly the ones whose misunderstood merits keep giving rise to the doctrine of false naturalness.” (97)

A “parsimony of perspective” rules our lives- not just visually, but materially. What is the simplest way to make sense of something? Visually our minds run to the familiar shapes, with all sorts of preferences for completion, concavity, balance, foreground, and pattern. It makes me wonder if these preferences carry over to other aspects: music-yes, literature- yes, our emotional lives?  Status quo is a powerful force because of this multi-faceted psychological disposition for the familiar to cling to- what’s easiest, go along and get along despite the truth of what may be before us.

When vision has to choose between a deformed cubic room populated by normal-sized people and a regular rectangular room with people of weirdly unnatural size, it chooses the latter. (275)

 And yet, these points of perspective that can be mastered by keen artistry, may be the very source of an inability to react honestly to truth. Our minds are geared to “make it work.” But sometimes when we let ourselves see the parts that don’t fit, what’s different and against the grain- that is where the possibility of profoundly altering our perspective exists. That is the domain of the mysterious truth, and it is where we  deeply experience the wonder of the world. A sudden burst of insight makes the disordered facts all add up in an entirely new and expansive way.

*  Title from – chapter sub-heading (271)
**Désarçonner (to unseat)- J. Ryan 1986, pencil and mixed media

5 responses to “Simple Rather Than Truthful

  1. Thank you for this, Jessica.

  2. i found this text so stimulative as well, and Semir Zeki’s books on this as well…
    thanks for textualizing it

  3. Pingback: Difficult to Locate, Easy to Distinguish | so very very

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