Senses and art

Guillaume Bottazzi –  March 20th 2020

The analytical approach in the art world is established in the naming systems; it has become a form of classification that has gained weight and which serves as a reference in the context of the artistic judgement of initiates. This current of thinking was initiated by Wittgenstein, and others have since taken it up.

To introduce the subject and summarise the situation, the analytical approach seeks to destroy the sensory dimension of a work of art, maintaining that our senses offer only a reading at a first level. It considers that art has no essence. This leads those who implement this approach to consider that the meaning of a work of art can only be understood by intermediaries, that is to say, themselves. Thus, these players set themselves up as the only link between the public and the work: this explains how these intermediaries perpetuate their jobs.

The problem with this social elaboration in the art world is that it operates at the expense of public interest, but also of art since it freezes it. The analytical approach in art reduces the scope of artworks, even though the work of art is a malleable, flexible medium: we reinvent the artwork we look at over time.

What Marc-Alain Ouaknin says in Lire aux éclats, éloge de la caresse should be applied to art too, which opposes taking possession or controlling, and allows us to evolve. That is why, from Antiquity to the present day, art has been the subject of never-ending reflections. As Vassily Kandinsky1 put it, “art enables you to rise”.

For Nobel Prize laureate Eric Kandel,2 in Reductionism in Art and Brain Science – Bridging the Two Cultures, art modulates our neurones and it is the cognitive activity of the observer that enables this to happen.

Cognitive activity is the measure of the production of grey matter and of our spiritual elevation. The study by Oliver Sacks, the British doctor, neurologist and writer, “The effects of music on the brain”, presents an MRI which measures the effects of music on the public.3 It shows that if the listener is not sensitive to the music he is listening to, music creates hardly any cognitive activity. However, if the listener likes the music he is listening to, there are many areas that activate. If the viewer is not receptive to the observed work of art, it will have no effect on him. The scientific data seem to agree, because they imply that an approach that denies the sensitive in art also negates the activity of the brain, insofar as it will then develop only in a very reduced way. On the other hand, artworks that appeal to our senses have the power to immerse us and create an aesthetic and cognitive activity.

In his ten-year research on the brain and art,4 Helmut Leder explains that the viewer may find criticism of a work pertinent, but that this will not affect his aesthetic judgment.

On the other hand, in his article entitled “L’esprit est modelé par le corps”,5 the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrates to what extent the body is inseparable from the brain, and how the latter is able to determine our aesthetic judgment, sometimes without filters.

In other words, to deny the sensory dimension of a work – and even its essence – is like amputating one’s limbs before playing a game of basketball.

1 Vassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911.

2 Eric Kandel was the 2000 Nobel prizewinner of physiology or medicine.

3 Oliver Sacks, The Effects of Music on the Brain –

4 Helmut Leder and Marcos Nadal, Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments : The aesthetic episode Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics, 2014.

5 Antonio Damasio, La Recherche, n° 368.

Supermodern abstraction

Guillaume Bottazzi –  January 10th 2020

The art historian Hans Belting1 suggests calling today’s arts “supermodern” art. Identifying with his classification, Supermodern abstraction is the term I have chosen to categorise my own creations.

In order to broaden the impact of art, a poetic commitment is a constant in all my works.

The subject is the work of art itself, it is polysemic and surrenders itself to the observer’s elaboration. The work is not limited to a cause that is external to it, that would reduce and fix it, but optimises the effects generated in the observer.

According to the philosopher Martin Heidegger2, a work of art is a power that opens and “installs a world”. It is not a simple depiction, but the manifestation of the deep truth of a thing. Art is itself origin and creation of the world. Art reinvents the world, exalts it, and participates in its transformation. And in fact, art takes part in our development in all things. Numerous writings have illustrated how art is a subject of reflection that has never stopped changing and causing controversy through the centuries, because art is malleable, because it is an intangible and soft matter. The painter Vassily Kandinsky considered that art allows one to raise oneself3. For him, spiritual life is a movement that corresponds to the movement of awareness. In his “essay on the imagination”, Joseph Addison, a seventeenth-century English writer demonstrated that the works we see become part of us and express themselves in the world of the observer4. The convictions of this author are today scientifically proven, notably by the research by the Nobel Prizewinner in physiology, Eric Kandel, who shows how our brain develops in recreating the work of art we observe and why abstract art modulates more neurons than figurative art5. For the painter Paul Klee, “art does not reproduce the visible, it renders visible6”. To paint is to hide, to induce the non-visible in order to optimise the observer’s own elaboration. This leads me to share my liking for the painter Henri Matisse with you because he understood that “the painter’s duty is to give that which photography does not give7”.

The philosopher François Dagognet wanted to “go outside to plumb the depths rather than inside8” while the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrates that “the mind is shaped by the body”, that it is not only the brain that is mobilised when we look a work of art but also the body9.

Moreover, in his ten-year research on the brain and art10, neuroscientist Helmut Leder of the University of Vienna in Austria has shown that the notion of art is closely linked to each person’s personal experience. This partly expresses my interest in large formats, in environmental creations and installations, since they immerse the spectator, inviting him to move around and add what he sees to the register of his personal experiences.

Through the study you will find in this work, two neuroscientists, Helmut Leder and Narcos Nadal, prove that my creations contribute to the well-being of the viewer11. They promote dopaminergic activity and reduce anxiety. The fact of loving a work, of feeling good before it is the factor that will enable it to play its role, as research by Antonio Damasio has shown.

When I visited the Ryōan-ji temple in north-west Kyoto, I sought a global approach, one that incorporates different parameters and gives the impression of infinity. I have abandoned the form and expression of the artist who focuses on himself. I have painted in such a way as to find my own breath, a balance that centres on the energies deployed.

Art must leave the well-trodden path, renew itself, bring the unexpected, surprise us. It must lurk where we do not necessarily expect it, accompany us on a daily basis, transform and reincarnate itself.

1 Hans Belting – The End of the History of Art?
2 Martin Heidegger – The Origin of the Work of Art

3 Vassily Kandinsky – Concerning the spiritual in art

4 Joseph Addison – The pleasures of the Imagination, le Spectator

5 Eric Kandel – Reductionism in Art and Brain Science

6 Paul Klee – On Modern Art

7 Henri Matisse – Interview with Georges Charbonnier in 1951 in a programme called “Couleurs du temps”

8 François Dagognet – Changement de perspective : le dedans et le dehors (A change of perspective: the inside and the outside)

9 Antonio Damasio – La Recherche, n° 368

10 Helmut Leder and Marcos Nadal – Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgements: The aesthetic episode – Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics

11 Helmut Leder and Marcos Nadal – Curved art in the real world: A psychological look at the art of Guillaume Bottazzi

Brain and art

Guillaume Bottazzi –  January 11th 2016

​Sensory perception is created by arousal or stimulation which itself produces a reaction.
We are able to see an object only if the information passes through the cortex.
That explains why our vision is not simply a mechanical phenomenon but is also connected to mental elaboration.

The perception of a form induces the perception of meaning (a symbolic process); according to Gestalt theory, in an abstract image the whole perceptive system prevails over the sum of its parts.

Excerpt from the “Abrégé de psychologie” (“A compendium of psychology”), by J. Delay and P. Pichot, 4th edition, Editions Masson – Chapter IV / La perception.

Aspects psychologiques et psychopathologiques (Perception. Psychological and Psychopathological Aspects) / page 55 (translated here).

c) The Tau and Gelb Effect. – It combines the two preceding series.

When three equally spaced bright spots A, B and C are presented one after another and the temporal interval between A and B is inferior to that between B and C, points A and B are seen as closer together than B and C.

A few optical-geometrical illusions. On the upper left side, the Müller Lyer illusion.

The dot divides the arrow’s shaft into two equal halves.

The portion on the right appears longer than the portion on the left.

On the upper right side, the oblique line is comprised of two segments which are a continuation of each other. The upper segment appears shifted to the right.

On the lower left side, the bases of the three trapeziums are equal.

On the lower right side, the six lines are parallel.

Brain and art

The diagrams above show that we do not see the individual parts but the whole; our overall view creates an optical illusion, our perception may be distorted but, above all, all our perception reinvents the world.

Perception is not an objective reproduction of the world

– If a picture represents an apple (we can define it as round, red, judge its size, etc.), cognition begins and the subject is identified. The apple refers to a notion of apple which exists for the observer. It can be connected to an affective process, for example by recalling a memory such as the smell of the pies the observer’s grandmother used to bake. The observer is active in front of the image.

The constancy of colour :

If we ask an observer what is the colour of coal in direct sunlight, the observer will see it as black. Similarly, a pile of snow at dusk will appear white. And yet a photoelectric cell shows that coal in sunlight is lighter than snow at dusk.

There is a constancy of colour in our brain and meaning belongs to the person looking at it : snow is invariably perceived as white.

The abstract image constructs us

In front of an abstract image, the observer’s symbolic process must construct the image differently. Indeed, the observer cannot rely on his or her experience in this case. Abstract artwork commands mental effort and this cerebral activity is part of our development.

Understanding becomes disconcerting because there are no references; it requires us to think harder.

Thus, the observer must make an effort to identify the image, to understand it.

Moreover, we see what we want to see or what we need to see.

Our motivation determines the field of hypothesis and as such modifies the field of our perception.

Perception is action, the perceptive act with which we structure the world. It is tied to what is acquired, which implies that it evolves and that there is no absolute nature.

cf.: The empiricist theories – Piaget / the child’s developmental stages – perception is learned.

Kilpatrick Experiments:

– A room is crooked, the walls are not straight.

Inside, a man touches the space, a degree of transfer occurs, he understands the space with his hands and as such finds his bearings; this implies that perception evolves.

– We put glasses which invert left and right on an individual. The brain then reinvents the correct direction. Innate, acquired, compulsive and affective perception can change with experience.

Art must be brought to everyone

We can distinguish acquired from innate in perception.

Abstract artwork does not impose a subject; it frees us from our references.

What is acquired becomes a determinant; in other words, looking at artwork will help mental elaboration. Hence the importance of making art accessible to a large audience: the presence of artwork improves our knowledge and the development of our capabilities. The more artwork we see, the more we are prepared to receive it and accept that there is no single, unique vision of the world.

Guillaume Bottazzi

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