Why art is nothing special: Inner imaginary experience, concrete imagination, intuitive skills and aesthetic pleasure in everyday life [Talk date: 16 October 2015]

As part of the Crag inaugural gathering (16 October 2014), we were happy to receive Martin Fortier who spoke about artistic cognition in everyday life. Martin’s invitation from Paris was made possible with the support of the French Institute in the UK in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh (DELC, LLC).Read the detailed abstract of the talk bellow.

To listen to the entire talk and QA, please click here: http://archive.org/details/crag_martin_fortier

Martin Fortier
Institut Jean Nicod (EHESS, ENS, CNRS)
A CRAG Presentation
University of Edinburgh

The contention of this talk shall be that art is nothing special. More specifically, I would like, first, to pinpoint four key components of artistic creation – namely, inner imaginary experience, concrete imagination, intuitive skills and aesthetic pleasure –, and subsequently demonstrate that these components, far from being the proper of artistic creation, are effectively cultivated by numerous lay people in their everyday lives.
This claim might recall that of the situationists to the effect that art should be immanently intermingled with everyday life rather than being a transcendental and contemplative activity. Even though I have some sympathy for the situationist programme, the proposal I shall put forth differs from theirs in at least two respects. I am not claiming that everyday life should become artistic and that art should stop existing outside of everyday life: quite differently, my suggestion is that everyday life is already suffused with all the four aforementioned dimensions of artistic creation – therefore, the real question is only that of being able to see it. To be sure, in order to see it, one has to look at reality with the proper glasses; now, the adequate approach, it seems to me, is not provided by art theory or philosophy of art, but, eloquently, by anthropology, philosophy of mind, cognitive science and naturalised phenomenology. Drawing upon such an interdisciplinary and empirically-oriented approach, my endeavour is to go beyond appearances in order to excavate the covert richness of our everyday life.
Inner imaginary experience (IEE) here refers to subjective phenomena such as imagination, mental imagery, mental travel, hallucinations, etc. The role IEE plays in artistic creation is very well documented indeed, but my point shall be that, as a matter of fact, IEE can be found in many other domains of our everyday life. Because in western cultures one often interprets and understands other people in terms of propositional attitudes (typically beliefs), the richness of our everyday lived experience and the key role IEE plays in our lives has often proved to be obliterated. For example, Tanya Luhrmann has convincingly established that American evangelism is not so much a matter of believing as a matter of experiencing IEE. In the same vein, I shall examine ordinary practices such as single-handed sailing, snowboarding and gardening, and show how all of them are centrally based on IEE.

As regards concrete imagination (CI), it refers to something somewhat similar to what Claude Lévi-Strauss calls “the logic of the concrete”. The author of The savage mind has it that nature – notably plants and animals – provides food for thought. Humans – and this is especially true of Amerindian indigenous communities – are fond of classifying their environment and finding similarities and dissimilarities between the items they encounter in their daily existence. Drawing upon Dimitri Karadimas’ re-reading of Lévi-Strauss we shall see that this ability to draw analogies between pieces of the concrete world is underpinned by a kind of imagination which allows one to see something as something else. The importance of seeing as in artistic creation has been widely acknowledged; besides, several cognitive psychologists have investigated the centrality of analogy in our western ordinary thinking (George Lakoff, Dedre Gentner, Keith Holyoak, etc.); and yet, in spite of all these efforts, numerous theoreticians have continued to underestimate the role seeing as plays both in indigenous thinking and in western ordinary thinking.
The notion of intuitive skills (IS) grasps the pervasive idea that artistic creation requires a kind of knowing-how which cannot be reduced to any propositional format (in other words, artistic skills cannot simply be learned or taught through verbal transmission of propositions). Drawing upon studies from anthropology, philosophy and cognitive science of knowledge and expertise, I shall show that far from being specific to the artistic realm, IS are in fact widespread: arguably, most of our everyday knowledge pertains to some kind of intuitive knowing-how (as opposed to propositional knowing-that).
Finally, aesthetic pleasure (AP) designates the phenomenological component of art which has been famously theorised by such authors as Winckelmann, Baumgarten or Kant. In the past, some scholars have endeavoured to give a scientific account of aesthetics (e.g., Gustav Fechner, George Birkhoff, Daniel Berlyne), but unfortunately, these accounts turned out to be fairly unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, contemporary scientists working in the fields of metacognition and cognitive aesthetics (see especially, Rolf Reber) have recently developed a new theory of AP which is based on the investigation of noetic feelings – and more specifically on the investigation of the feelings of fluency and familiarity (“fluency” here refers to the readiness and easiness with which information is processed by one’s mind). This emerging framework sheds a very interesting light on AP, and, remarkably enough, it shows that AP is not the proper of artistic creation but is at play in many of our everyday practices.
Taken together, these considerations suggest that it is somewhat misleading to wonder about the relationship between art and everyday life – notably, to wonder about how to bring art into life or how to bring life into art. If, as I shall argue, art is nothing special, then it does not make much sense to wonder about art; contrariwise, what does make sense is whether the four aforementioned components – inner imaginary experience, concrete imagination, intuitive skills and aesthetic pleasure – are indeed cultivated in our everyday lives and how we should proceed in order to have them effectively cultivated.

Posted in Crag seminar.

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