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May 24, 2014

Shopenhauer

In the essay On Authorship and Style Shopenhauer writes:

A book can never be anything more than the impression of its author's thoughts.

The destilling of ideas, of thinking through writing, creates an imprint of the process represented in the pages of letters in the book. The choice of words, however, is a bit odd: can never be anything more. A work of art is many times everything but the impression of its creator. I think the quote becomes much more interesting when we think of it the opposite way: A book can never be comparable to the thoughts of its author.

Further down in the text Shopenhauer writes something that points in that direction, that thoughts can never be fully written down:

A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of
words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as
everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its
existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the
instant it becomes crystallised.

This makes the text highly relevant for thinking about documentation of artistic research work. Isn't this precisely the issue at stake for us? That the artistic expression really only lives until it has reached the boundary line of words? Often we talk about it as if it is a matter of time before we solve this complex equation after which we shall manage to document every little aspect of our artistic practice in an efficient and meaningful way.

Clearly, this is not true. Rather, I believe, we must embrace the impossibility to document. Only then can we begin to write meaningful texts about that which is relevant and communicable. Only then can we record the relevant passages without having to risk that our description of it is a bleak rendering of the original. Perhaps we need to find a way to encapsulate that bit of information that escapes our documenting efforts in order for us to describe what it appears to be, thus evading the risk at destroying it in the process. Shopenhauer continues:

As soon as a thought has found words it no longer exists in us or is
serious in its deepest sense.

Now, to make this more complicated, we also have to remember that the "original though" must never be used as an excuse to not think through our matters. Unwillingness to document has to stem from being convinced that the thinking is fully thought through and not from laziness. The enigmatic nature of artistic practice is not an excuse to leave the research work half done.

Both Shopenhauer and Nietsche spoke elitistically about originality and genius. In doing so they also saw the academic world as a bad, as a factory replicating mediocre thinking and they claimed that the true genius has to turn away from the structures of academia. This is important to remember. A reminder that already 150 years ago was there an understanding that the rigid structures of institutions may harm the evolution of artistic and philosophical thinking. We have to claim our right to be artists and resist the demand to show ourselves useful. For us the academia is a space that is useful for us not a space for which we shall show ourselves useful. If we do our work proper we will be regardless.

Posted by henrikfr at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

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 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

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