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May 14, 2014

Concepts in artistic research

The philosophy of concepts is intimately tied to cognitive sciences and is a large field of study. In this short post I am only scratching the surface of it and, furthermore, I allow myself to make quite bold statements for the sake of argument.

Conceptualization and deconceptualization are likely to be useful in artistic practice. Playing the notes C-D-E-G I can understand conceptually as belonging to a C-major chord. Deconceptualizing the same process may allow me to understand it as part of melodic pattern. This is a naive and simplistic example but it holds some promising potential both for the individual process of developing ones work and for ones ability to understand this work. Working with conceptualization and deconceptualization is putting the focus on the cognitive aspect of artistic practice rather than on the constructive process. It is a way of understanding how I understand what I do creatively.

A concept such as 'knowledge' is made meaningful through the agency of intuition, through the intuitive sense of what something is or belongs to. In the above example the conceptualization does not necessarily rest on music theory but can equally well be the result of an intuition and the strong relation between intuition and concept is one reason why concepts are useful in artistic practice. Conceptual analysis is the first stage of an ontological reduction, e.g. the reduction taking place when notes are considered part of a chord. Conceptual analysis has been criticized for its dependence on intuition and lack of generality, which, again makes it very interesting from the point of view of artistic research.


The current research project at KI led by Fredrik Ullén is an example of a project in which neuro science leans against a concept formation with its roots in artistic practice. Artistic creativity is a concept formed through artistic practice given an expanded explanation through empirical and medical research. Without the concept the research at KI would have been of little value.

Concepts are, according to some, preverbal representations upon which language rests. Hence, we can say that concepts are the building blocks for representations of knowledge other than verbal, such as artistic knowledge or knowledge as artistic expression. In the representational theory of the mind concepts are identified with the basic building blocks of the representations of the mind. In my own research I have come to regard these basic concepts as the common denominator between language and more abstract communication such as art and dreams. They constitute the common symbols, not necessarily organized according to the structures of language, and likely also dependent on the emobidied knowledge. They are pre-verbal concepts. One argument for this is, as Steven Pinker has argued, that it is common that concepts are created that are only later named. In other words, the name comes second to the formation of the concept.

It may be argued that much of the difficulties we have in communicating the knowledge in art has to do with a lack of concepts. This is often referred to as a lack of terminology, or style of writing, but I am much more inclined to see it as a difficulty in finding concepts that are valid in the context of the art work. Part of the problem is the lack of general concepts, in fact, this is also the critique against concepts: based on intuition rather than empiricism we can never know if a concept is actually shared between two people. This, however, I argue is rather an issue to do with epistemology and ontology than with the communication of concepts.

Posted by henrikfr at May 14, 2014 10:28 PM

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