THE OCCULT and ELUSIVE LOGIC OF AESTHETIC INTELLECT

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. © 1975, 2005
tm. © 2007

Since the definition of art is as broad as to include the products of the carder, the dyer, the scribbler as the works of Michelangelo, Rubens and Rembrandt by what other wordsymbol might we identify the productive results of a carder from those of Rembrandt? My present guess would be that at the point when the appropriate mechanics of the job have been most satisfactorily completed and indications of other qualities stir our senses we are, then, involved with the arcane phenomenon of the aesthetic. Those who have struggled to comprehend a foreign tongue and to assemble a rudimentary structure out of mysterious sounds may recall that joy of sudden comprehension when the totality of the language breaks through to consciousness. Such can be the experience when the dawn of realization lights up the once obscure relationships extant within a work of art. These aesthetic relationships may have nothing to do with the facts which ordinarily concern the historian, although, I believe, they aught if the historian would like to be concerned with more than with the transmission of subject matter and the like from one period in historic time to another. It is my contention that had scholars systematized sensual data, evidences of which are in every work of art that a person such as Van Meegeren would never have been able to “con” so many experts. On the other hand Van Meegeren may have exemplified Aristotle’s definition of art as a “capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning”, however I doubt that UNLESS one accept that a “copy” is the

same as the original. Aside from the fact that such a feet is impossible. If one of two is original and one is original and the other a copy , the copy cannot be the original, BUT the copy might fool someone into thinking it is the original. In such a case, however, the rules followed in the making of the original were not the rules followed in the making of the copy. The copier followed the rules laid down by the one who made the original. The maker of the original followed, perhaps not rules at all, but intuitions, and therein lies all the difference. If what Van Meegeren accomplished might then be called art what then might be the difference between a Van Meegeren Vermeer and a Vermeer Vermeer? Obviously, the distinctions to be made relate to

Jan Vermeer: The Red Hat

Van Meegeren: Christ among Disciples I find it impossible to believe that anyone with the slightest knowledge of Vermeer’s work could possibly have mistaken work such as this as a genuine Vermeer.

moral as well as aesthetic matters. The art market encourages the development of talented and frustrated artists willing to hood-wink an insensitive and greedy public including the frauds who direct some prestigious galleries. If I had less respect for the legitimate functions of art I would applaud every instance where one clever enough to accomplish a really convincing fake and thereby makes an arse out of the legitimate maker whose pride in accomplishment is mocked and made vain. The reality that makes the difference is that in the one the focus is on technical appearance and in the other in the inspired spirit it is up to the observer to tell them apart. But I am too committed to that exciting world, that world of genuine image making we moved into some two or three hundred years ago, no, that would be incorrect to say, we have actually been there all along. It is only that at times there seems to be more genuine artists functioning than at other times, but in between times and concurrently, we must deal with the Pharisees.

The most vital issue in a matter such as this is the one that revolves around distinguishing the real from the appearance of the real. The most substantial reason for doing this rather than accepting the ruthless degradation of the genuine by imposters, artists, dealers and authenticators is the rescue of the gentle, subtle and fragile values inherent in the original work. Although substantial that value is elusive and difficult to identify. It has something to do with the unique place an artist occupies in history and in locale. These factors together with the unduplicatable individuality of the person involved indicates the real job of the critic and the historian. Evidences of these qualities is what should concern us and the fact that men like Van Meegeren and Emile de Hory are able to fool a great many people tells us that they are not merely clever at deception and mindless as to the rights of others to their heritage but indicates also that those who believe them do not know as much of their cultural history as they should.

When a man with genius generates substance from the unknown and offers this product to the public some few in that public may wish to translate that material into something “on the order of” the original, a simpler version, if you will, that less sophisticated people may better understand it . Unfortunately this system doesn’t work that way. A complex subject does not become easier to understand if its elements are made more simple but the complex might become easier to understand if the various elements are considered separately and then in combination.. The observer, the critic, must move toward the object in steps that are gradual enough for him to eventually understand the totality of the mechanism. That is one reason why one individual may spend his lifetime studying another individual. Person “A” becomes an expert on person

“B” and the rest of us must decide how to apply the information learned to a greater body of knowledge. Copyists such as Van Meegeran and Emile de Hory do not help the world to understand the artists they plagiarize. They steal from us and deprive us from gaining an understanding that would make our lives more complete and more meaningful.* The real value of the work of art is inherent in that work. The real value is not the price tag placed on it. But it is the focus on that price tag which makes the business of the copyist so lucrative. If it is important for us to understand how the creative mind works having to deal with the mass of fakes before we can get to the real stuff only wastes our time and our energies. In the case of Van Meegeren it is, from my point of view, almost unbelievable how so many people could possibly have been misled into accepting as genuine Vermeer what that man offered. I can only suggest that those who were so misled had no right being in the positions they were in, making the judgments they did and, thereby, misleading whole generations of people. However, since a portion of the time Van Meegeren was making fake Vermeers and others and sold them to high ranking Germans during the Nazi era some forgive him. How then does the scholarly expert distinguish the genuine from the bogus? In addition to the physical properties of the work itself, such as the paper, the canvas, the chemicals and pigments, there are also internal evidences with which the scholarly detective must be concerned. Such an expert really needs to know how a work of art is created. In spite of the fact that many of these experts spend day after day and year after year in the presence of the genuine they may still be unable to tell a fake from the real thing. These evidences may include such characteristics as the artist’s personal graphic behavior, something of the same sort of evidence a graphologist uses in identifying

handwriting, or an analytical psychologist who searches out the meaning of repeated symbols, or behaviors in their contexts. With a visual artist there are certain behaviors that become more obvious with study but remain subliminally available to the unsophisticated or casual observer. These graphic behaviors may record the unconscious preoccupations of the artist, and as such, are more like the intonations in speech than they are like words, words which are, generally speaking, culturally agreed upon sounds bearing predetermined meanings…sounds that denote as opposed to sounds that suggest. We are actually dealing with a complex analysis here. There are several levels of communication in a work of art. The subject matter of the work if there is a subject matter may be the most obvious. It certainly is the main characteristic discussed in most courses in art appreciation and history. If we take, for example, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, we are aware that we have before us a portrait of a woman, a particular woman. Through some contemporary written reports we know something about this woman. We also know something about the artist through similar sources and other graphic evidences. There are many observable details inherent in the work that indicate to us that Leonardo achieved a very high order of direct observation of a physical reality…physiognomy. As admirable as that is, we have additional evidence that certain psychological characteristics of the artist, for example, his concern for a certain level of personal secrecy, may have influenced the subtle and gentle shadings he achieved in the face of the model. The secrecy I have in mind may be seen in the fact that he had kept a diary that could only have been read if held opposite a mirror. This indirect approach to recording may also be seen in the report that he had hired musicians to play while he created the

portrait under discussion. The job of the musicians was to keep the model from becoming bored, tense, restless or nervous as a result of having to sit for long period of time until the portrait was finished. The delicate modeling we see in the face may also be a result of the artist’s approach to rendering the subtle changes in construction. This may also be seen in his approach to designing the mechanics of a military tank or in studying the action of water.

Leonardo de Vinci: Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci: Armored Car

I am sure that e all know of portraits that seem to confront the observer directly and had he wanted to I am equally certain that leonardo could have achieved that sort of briskness. By and large, however, his subjects avoid a direct confrontation with the observer. This obliqueness of glance is matched by the “sfumato” technique mentioned above…a manner of grading values from light to dark, which lends a subtle and gentle appearance to the subject. It is, indeed, quite possible to imagine that this particular leonardesque aesthetic affected his personal relationships and accounted also for the admirable reputation of being a “gentle” man. The brief discussion above seems to relate the characteristics of the work to the characteristics of the artist and that, I believe, is an essential understanding necessary if an adequate criticism is to be constructed. The results, however, of that procedure will often produce an art criticism unacceptable in most of the approved art venues, but welcomed in those which stress psychiatry. Yet, my involvement in that approach has convinced me that without

it we will not discover what the real nature of the creative act is, or why the effort exists. It may appear, at first, that Leonardo’s interest in mechanical fine-tuning and in designing instruments of war contradicts this claim of gentleness. However, if one views the problems of technical articulations in a variety of structures, regardless of the uses to which those structures are put, the comparison between the finely articulated components of the “Mona Lisa” and Leonardo’s design for a land tank or parachute may not be difficult to accept.

Leonardo da Vinci: sketch for a parachute

“The fine arts and the speculative sciences”, Aristotle informs us “complete human life. They are not necessary, except, perhaps for the ‘good’ life. They are the dedication of human leisure and its best fruit. The leisure without which neither could come into being nor prosper is found for man and fostered by the work of the useful arts”.

This analysis might be extended to suggest that the products of leisure might be returned to the tool shed of the useful arts. Society has done that fairly well, I suppose, with some of the products of scientific enquiry, however, it does seem to have been so successful in returning to the grass roots the discoveries, awareness and sensibilities of humanities studies or the creative arts. The result of this failure is that the world of the artist, the commercial gallery, the state art museum, the private collector, the all-influential art critic are now riddled with irrelevancies, intellectual dishonesty and graft. The graft often takes the form not unusually, of the artist making himself available for erotic dalliance in exchange for a good comment…and the gender or the sexual orientation of the critic makes no difference. Pity the collector who has works in his collection works that attribute their fame to an explosion of someone else’s semen. How does the collector reconcile the various pertinent facts regarding a particular work in his collection when there is something he doesn’t know about its origins. The various published comments regarding an artist’s life style, political views, opinions by experts, and his alcoholism, all of this baggage of notoriety is, surprisingly, pertinent to the value of his work. …in very telling ways. In theory, an observant critic should be able to objectively describe the work of an artist and arrive at a profile that should match one arrived at by an observant sociologist with all the living facts at his disposal. Visual images, some of them esoteric have served to augment a sense of cohesiveness. Family shields, coats of arms, flags, crosses, stars, and moon have been used to remind the observer of some things he shares with others as a member of a group. Although such emblems may be valuable especially to the leaders of such groups, they can

also be attractive and fun, the level of communication is elementary. It is my suspicion that an entire civilization may be brought to a highly sophisticated level of visual awareness by the techniques available to us now. What value would such a structure of visual culture have? Although negatively expressed, one positive influence might be the decrease in the incidents of works of art being viewed primarily as objects of monetary investment with their attendant tax shelters. The incidence of increments of the economic value of art objects being created by the rarity of the object, or the creative insights the artist may have built into it, would increase, and those created by the manipulation of uninformed opinion buttressed by social demands (not need or insight) and a fear, on the part of the consumer, of being thought ignorant would decrease. These would be most treasureable effects. Additional positive values of a more sophisticated visual perception would be the development of a language of words approximately equivalent to the structure of a visual logic. The associated development of these disciplines might provide us with a community of acceptable symbols from among which more speculative visual researches might be undertaken. One of the dangers of systems which have been generally accepted, various university disciplines, for example, is that divergent endeavors are not encouraged. One of the dangers of the over-riding presence of a governing philosophy is that what is produced may lack the helpful contacts with other disciplines. Considering the nature of human nature the answer to the vexing problem of determining value symbolized in currency as opposed to the inherent value of the work perceived by

the viewer and which encourages the development of aesthetic insights is difficult to solve. Certainly another aspect of the problem of a generally elevated aesthetic awareness is the coalition of he narrative, symbolic and romantic preferences for visual stimulation with those political and commercial interests more than willing to provide the unchallenging but provocative fare. Although this kind of need can be manipulated by techniques of socialization, advertising, group psychology and the like, these pressures and assaults on belief systems perform an injustice on the individual. Such procedures do not teach the individual how to see, they merely condition him to behave. I see the function of the teacher, the educator is a better term, and the operations of the critic as crucial in mitigating the crystallization effect of socio-psychological pressures towards a conformity of vision and perception. In addition, dialogue is essential to the development of perceptual flexibility. This dialogue may take place between artists, artist and non-artist, critic and artist, teacher and critic, consumer and artist or any other combination of individuals. Aquinas indicated that “even in speculative matters there is something by way of work; e.g., the making of a syllogism, or a fitting speech, or the work of counting or measuring. Hence whatever habits are ordained to suchlike works of the speculative reason, are, by kind of comparison, called arts indeed, but liberal arts in order to distinguish them from those arts which are ordained to those arts done by the body, which are, in a fashion, servile, inasmuch as the body is in servile subjection to the soul, and man, as regards his soul, is free. On the other hand those sciences which are not ordained to any such work, are called sciences simply, and not arts.”

“Works done by the body” is an expression which, itself, is worth, perhaps, some speculation. What does the body do? How does it perform? Why does it perform? One speaks of “the art of love”. Is it possible that the mention of the art of love making is untended to convey something beyond and more refined and respectful than rape? Certainly one might hope so. The body also moves, that is, it locomotes from one point in space to another either in whole or in part. Motion, then, which is something more or less than practical such as dance, mime, or gesture supportive of innuendo in speech may be an art. In order to understand the extensions of meaning suggested by Aquinas, what is it that one might consider about the art of painting, or sculpture, or music? Is it sufficient or even possible for Aquinas or Aristotle to recognize that in the act of making itself there may be touchstones of spirit that inform the characteristics of the practical result? Even in such work as pottery, cabinetry and iron mongering there are, or can be, moments where there is a combination of both science (knowledge) and art (informed intuition). How would the definitions of these two philosophers function with such products as a ceramic piece by Miro or a copy of a Vermeer by van Meegeren?

Juan Miro, “Nuit”

Obviously both products would be dismissed if these definitions operated inflexibly, although it might be difficult

to justify the action. Would a closer look at the products indicate that the example of the “minor art” of ceramics stood higher in some scale of values than the work of the imposter van Meegeren? It would seem so to me, and, in practice, it often seems so whether or not the “fine art” example is a fake in the sense that the van Meegeren works are fakes. If we do not care to split philosophical hairs we might assume that Aristotle and Aquinas recognized the interaction among the arts of knowledge and intuition despite the fact that physical labor was involved. However, they might not be willing to admit that painting and music and sculpture might also be “liberating” as are those aspects of literature to which Aquinas had reference when he mentioned the making of a syllogism, or fitting speech. I shall try to make my point by making a syllogism; 1) a work of art is a product or a function pf a product which engages the observer’s senses; 2) an aesthetic experience engages at least one, but often several of the observer’s senses.3) a work of art is, therefore, an aesthetic experience. This intellectual structure, however, doesn’t touch the question of quality and, consequently, it fails utterly to engage the crucial matter of the works appeal to the observer, this matter has a vast range from abhorrence to fanatic attachment. In fact, there have been times when the same object has elicited both extremes of reaction in the same observer. Such a situation should certainly tell us that what passes for an aesthetic experience is not one that resides in the object but one whose origin and whose quality (quantity or strength) is to be found in the observer. Wherein and from where, then, does the artistry arise if it is not inherent in the object? What is the source of the aesthetic experience if there can be none without the particular object and the particular observer being present. Does the tree falling in the forest make a sound if there is no one there to hear it?

It would seem that one workable answer to this question might be that the qualities of a work of art, regardless of their estimated value, are identified only when there is an act of perception on the part of a viewer. A related consideration should be that while the qualities of the work remain in the work they cannot be released, e.g., recognized until the mind set of the observer allows for it. It is not unlike having the right key to open the right door. There are some people, if you can believe it, who consider Santa Fe, New Mexico one of the most beautiful communities in the United States. There are others, mainly Texans, who have told me they consider it a “slum”, “lacking culture” and “depressing”.** This illustration is useful in so far as it provides us with some platform from which to try to explain how the psychological mechanisms which govern our choices remain somewhat shy when it comes to their being discovered through psychological testing, but I rather suspect that they are related, on that level, to what supports our self-esteem. Santa Fe, New Mexico is not Dallas, Texas and it may take a Bostonian from Massachusetts to know why they are not the same. If what Plato suggested about artists and their role in society were true, one’s aesthetic choices, whether in production as an artist, or in appreciation, as an observer, are subjective, unreasonable and unreliable, I would then agree that artists would be poor political risks. I believe, however, that I may be aware of something Plato was not, although I suspect that Socrates was. That is, that because the symbolic systems employed by artists are not the result of a consensus, nor tied to a specific denotation (except , as might be seen, in part, in works from the early medieval period when artists used the same work books to arrive at their graphic solutions). The works of many contemporary creative artists offer a challenge to the interpretative abilities of a contemporary observer. There are many more venues of interpretation and varieties of sources of information

available to the contemporary critic than in past epochs. The contemporary critic, whether professional or not, is well advised to draw on as many of these as he can in his effort to evaluate the object before him. It cannot be the fault of the painters, sculptors and musicians if Plato was more comfortable with the written or the spoken word than with the creative uses of the written and the spoken word. In so far as we know today the avenues of creative expression for the painter and the sculptor in ancient Greece were severely limited by their conventions which, to a great extent, define what we, today, call the Greek style. A style, which, if presented today as contemporary would be rejected as inadequate. It is my understanding that it was one of Plato’s complaints about music that it encouraged, what he thought to be, uncontrolled behavior. In the interim the plastic arts have gained not only a respect for their innovative practices, but an expectation from their audience that what they be innovative. The result is that, therefore, there is a requirement for more interaction between the creator and the audience. Today, there are many who expect that new aesthetic insights must be present in works of art for the works to be considered of value. Consequently, it would seem, that an audience capable of discerning these insights must also exist, therefore the artist and his observers are placed in a sort of adversarial position where the artist must present material the observer can comprehend and the observer must have the mental equipment to discern it. The continuum of understanding from the originator to the receiver is at hazard. This, presumably, is where the function of the art critic intervenes and where, if contemporary art critical reveals anything, the critics have failed and their surplanters have substituted an art form of their invention which obscures more than it clarifies and have made of their responsibilities a mystery religion which

fails to serve understanding but rather commercial and political interests. There is some indication that either as a result of superior and native aesthetic intellect, or possibly more effective educational experiences there was discovered in an experimental psychological program conducted at The University of Northern Iowa between 1968-1971 a segment of the student population representing 4% of the total population which was in significant agreement in their aesthetic judgments of primitive and naïve works with experienced faculty members. That alone would not be too surprising a result if it were not also found that those same 4% consistently in their high school and undergraduate records achieved a grade point average of one grade below that of the average college student and in addition was found to differ significantly from the average student in the matter of scores on independent lying measures indicating that the achieved academic superiority of the majority of the students was the result of their ability to “con” their evaluators, their teachers. The results also suggested that those who did not have high lie scores were also better able make acceptable aesthetic judgments thus indicating that these judgments may be independent of the prevailing group tolerance. My interpretation of this phenomenon was simply that in their structure of values the 4% were more confident in their own perceptions of reality; were of more importance to them than were the perceptions accepted by their peers or taught them by their school or social system. In other words, they would not deny the evidence of their senses in favor of the social structure presented them by family, school and society. An artist behaves in the same way, if indeed he is an artist and not merely a practitioner of techniques. The artist must respond to the materials he employs in a direct and honest way or he is not functioning fully as an artist.

The reason why philosophers of aesthetics may not be in significantly high agreement with the practitioners of the arts may be related to the nature of the intellectual symbols they use in an attempt to describe what may be heard, seen or felt. Santayana seemed to understand this when he suggested that poetry explained more about reality than did science which tended to impoverish it. So be it. I realize that in addressing this audience on these matters I may be treading on some egos. It is not my intention to raise the respectability of the plastic arts in the minds of those who believe the language arts to be superior. Nor is it my intention to be a sophist, that is, intentionally obscure in order to challenge the listener to overcome intentionally placed intellectual hurdles. It is my intention to suggest the probability that given the types of behaviors characteristic of creative people in any field their products possess inherently communicable meaning and, are therefore, liberating. If the logic of the plastic arts is not readily apparent I believe it may have failed to be because they have traditionally been judged on their narrative characteristics and on their good technical manners rather than on the broader and grander characteristics of their sensual sensibilities. Unfortunately, in the minds of many people these have remained largely esoteric or, in the case, of certain geographic areas, due to religious influences, have been denied as a legitimate source of knowledge. Although even in those areas their rejection of the sensual as a legitimate vehicle of expression did produce some aesthetically handsome pieces.

Shaker table

Regrettable as the division between the avenues of communication may be which makes the visually minded individual a member of a minority group and the verbally oriented individual , unless he is extraordinarily welldeveloped in language disciplines, a member of a vast majority. This remarkably unbalanced relationship between the verbally-minded and the visually-minded had both frustrated both groups and been an occasion for amusement most especially if the verbally minded is highly accomplished and the visually minded is accomplished in mime and gesture. As one means of addressing the imbalance in our educational system regarding the education of our senses I have devised a collection of forty puzzles bearing nonobjective compositions and an untraditional format which are currently available through THE CREATIVITY PACKET an internet source at: www.tcp.com.mt

Two examples of the puzzles mentioned above.

The meeting on the same lecture series program of Alan Shields, Philosopher and Larry Rivers, painter must have been arranged by a mischievous impresario who was a closet comedian. Rivers used sounds, gestures and, occasionally, words, but rarely sentences and never one thread of logic, at least not the traditional kind. Shields expounded, pronounced, explained and illustrated. But it was Rivers who communicated a sense of community by means of this clowning and was, therefore, able to upstage Shields by “playing to the gallery”. To Shields, I am certain, River’s language was inept, but apt. To Rivers, I am certain, Shields’ presentation was cumbersome and therefore irrelevant.

Larry Rivers, French Money

We need to rethink the qualities inherent in our senses. Paul Henrickson, PhD.
The original talk was, as I recall, written to be presented to an audience at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico, but has been recast for this presentation.

* The director of one of Santa Fe, New Mexico’s rather upscale art galleries specializing in the already acceptable art products volunteered to use his equipment to photograph a 19th century painting, attributed to Bierstadt, I owned, to send the photo to a gallery in New York to see whether it might be authenticated. I wanted the photograph of the work so I agreed and waited something like two months before I returned to ask what news he had received from the New York Gallery. He had, apparently forgotten about the entire matter and so told me he had lost the letter from the gallery and had forgotten what it had said. Within a few months more when this same gallery sponsored an exhibition of the work of the artist who some had thought had been the artist of the work I owned I noticed one of the more than a dozen works on exhibit was exactly a copy of the work I owned only half the size. Dot for dot it was the same subject matter. It was clearly identified as the work of the artist some had suspected had done the work and had a price tag of $18,000. The exhibition brochure also pictured the work and identified it by the artist’s name. I was told that the painting really belonged to a Gold Gallery in Los Angeles and when I contacted the Gold Gallery I was told that the cards identifying this work had been withdrawn from their

file. I consider this an example of image theft and yet, it appears, I am helpless to defend myself from the results of this act. What is worse the people who may have bought the work have been defrauded as well and our civilization impoverished by the deception, yet, the perpetrators continue to prosper. More information on this is available in the CD: “IN BROAD DAYLIGHT” .

**A most outstanding example of this was the well-corseted, dominating , middle-class mother of two grown children, one male, one female, both of whom had tried to commit suicide within a two-month period whose volunteered defense of her son’s attempting it in my house was that the drugs he had used had been provided him by the then President of the Neuro-Psychological Association of America whose legal secretary she, the mother, happened to be, or so she claimed. I had no response to the logic of this explanation.