Alva Noë – Experience and Experiment in Art (2000)

Alva Noe Experience and Experiment in Art

  • The phenomenology of experience we have is insufficient
  • Art can make needed contributions to the study of perceptual consciousness
  1. The problem of the transparency of experience
  2. Alternative conception of experience as engagement with the environment
  3. The work of the sculptors Richard Serra and Tony Smith.

The Transparency of Experience

  • The REALIST hopes to represent the world ‘just as it is’, art as a way of investigating the world.  But this view is limited to what we know about the world.
  • The EXPERIENTIALIST says we should present how the world presents itself to us in experience – not how it ‘actually’ is.  But this is, of course, still depend on an actual world outside of us that is being experienced – “art must direct itself to the world.” To describe experience is to describe the experienced world.
  • “An oscillation ensues between realism and experientialism”
  • Mach (1886/1959) The visual field.
    • Attempt to describe the experience of seeing
    • Unsuccesful as it doesn’t capture the visual field as an experience (we focus only on one point when we see, the ‘fade to white’ in the image does really capture the way the visual field dissolved as in experience)
    • Here is the oscillation – in attempting to capture the experience of seeing, Mach captures a description of the world itself.

Mach the visual field


Experience as a Temporally Extended Pattern of Exploratory Activity

  • Experience is not ‘an inner picture’
  • For Mach’s drawing – the experience of the visual is misrepresented as we don’t have all the details of a visual field in out consciousness at once
  • This idea – that we collect detail about a scene in the visual field and build up an internal model is becoming countered by the “world as it’s own model” view
  • We don’t notice things (miss the fry missing when stolen from our plate by a friend) because we don’t actually build up detailed models of scenes – we rely a great deal on the actual world to support subsequent thought / actions
  • Perceptual “world as it’s own model” views don’t presume that you create artificial of virtual experiences of scenes or objects in your head, but that you project the ability (as you have awareness of your own sensory-motor skills) to learn more about the object as needed.
  • You do not have detail in your head (e.g.: in a visual scene), but you have confidence in your ability to gather this deatil.
  • Temporally extended pattern of exploration activity (the eye is not a camera)

Toward an Art of Experience

  • What is it we do when we see, then
  • “To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings or objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perception.” – Robert Irwin (1972)
  • “Catch ourselves in the act of perceiving and can allow us thus to catch hold of the fact that experience is not a passive interior state, but a mode of active engagement with the world… bring[ing] to rest the troubling oscillation between experimentalism and realism”
  • Serra
    • environmental / site specificity
    • complexity – can’t be taken in at a glance, need to be explored, temporally
    • overwhelming and disorientating, sometimes frightening
    • introduces us to our “strictly non-visual (e.g. vestibular, kinesthetic) components of our ‘visual’ experience.”
    • Art as an opportunity to attend to the quality of experience
  • Tony Smith
    • geometrical and mathematical – hence somehow immaterial – multiply realisable – “solely defined by its internal relationships” (Serra)

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