December 22, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Art As Experience

In reading ‘Paul Rand: Conversations with Students’ I found a recommendation to read John Dewey’s ‘Art As Experience’, to which Rand went on to proclaim “Well, you art just not an educated designer unless you read this book” (Cited in Kroeger, 2008). Upon reading the first couple of pages I felt that Dewey’s text would be in keeping with the theories I have been procuring during the last few months, there were many instances where Dewey shed a light on several topics that are dominant within my project. At the outset I established a connection with my earlier post on the V&A exhibition ‘disobedient objects’, on the subject of objects attaining meaning beyond their predetermined purpose as a result of a collective discord. The emotional impetus that reconfigured the objects’ meaning came to be obscured when placed in a museum, Dewey equally suggests that “when an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life-experience” (Dewey, 2005 p. 1).

The act of separating the objects from the social construct from which the altered meaning was conceived lead to the subtexts becoming obscured, hence the curators sought to re-establish the cultural context with a view to coalesce content and form. Dewey recognised that art often became “remitted to a separate realm” and detached from the origin of human experience, for this reason he made an effort to “restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognised to constitute experience” (Dewey, 2005 p. 2). One thing I can now be certain of is that the visual message is ultimately abstract and tied to self-contained yet interconnecting mass-psychologies, each social construct an actor within the actor-network, both human and non-human. Take for instance Dewey’s analysis of the Athenian citizens whose shared experience became embodied in the Parthenon, “the people into whose lives it entered had in common, as creators and as those who were satisfied with it, with people in our own homes and on our own streets” (Dewey, 2005 p.3). As a non-human artefact the Parthenon came into being at the hand of human experience and ensuingly delivered further stimuli, conceivably a movement of autopoiesis with reference to the transference of experience.

As the developing growth of an individual from embryo to maturity is the result of interaction of organism with surroundings, so culture is the product not of efforts of men put forth in a void or just upon themselves, but of prolonged and cumulative interaction with environment.

John Dewey | Art As Experience

How is the transmission of experiences possible with the subjective ontology of meaning? The creative act is exclusively defined by each author whose purpose it is to externalise the internal conscious state of man. I consider that experiences cannot be universally shared, perhaps on the surface yet on the inside remains subtlety and nuance, “when a flash of lightning illuminates a dark landscape, there is a momentary recognition of objects. But the recognition is not itself a mere point in time. It is the focal culmination of long, slow processes of maturation” (Dewey, 2005 p.24). Each individual succumbs to a multitude of self-defining experiences, in the end accounting for the pre-existing suppositions we each employ when either creating or interpreting a visual message. This multiplicity is the allure of art, that by delving deeper we may obtain the very consciousness of the creator, but it is also for this reason that art is susceptible to misconception.


DEWEY, J (2005) Art as Experience. New York: Penguin Group. (Original work published 1934)

KROEGER, M (2008) Paul Rand: Conversations with Students. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

December 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Lost in Translation

The world which matters to us is false, i.e., is not a fact but a fictional elaboration and filling out of a meagre store of observations; it is ‘in flux’, as something becoming, as a constantly shifting falsity that never gets any nearer to truth, for – there is not ‘truth’.

Friedfrich Nietzsche | Writings from the Late Notebooks

I have a proclivity to conjoin meaning to experiences that I perceive and this can often be advantageous in the creative act I practice. Unfortunately I am aware that sometimes the motivations for such connotations become lost in translation when bearing in mind the eye of the beholder. In my recent conversion from artist to designer I sought to hone my ability to communicate through visual methods and negate ambiguity (although I now accept the same issues arise that I faced in the arts). In my latest photographic venture I attempted to emancipate from the mimetic and veracious objectivity (of or relating to actual and external phenomena as opposed to thoughts, feelings, etc) of the world through the photographic medium, I subsequently proceeded to eradicate all obstacles (mimetic elements) between artist and viewer in pursuit of externalising emotions and/or ideas, essentially incorporating the notion of the simulacrum, whereby I re-presented/ re-contextualised my chosen subjects.

I strove to find a transmittable and solitary voice through the photographic medium, extricating myself from the unbounded disparate meanings fragmented by the diversity and context of the spectator’s own life that therefore alters their perception of an image. Self-reflexively engaging with my earlier endeavours to regulate and isolate meaning, certain obstacles began to emerge with regards to the illusive nature of connotative meaning. For instance, a particular image within my ‘Window of Appearances’ series depicts a rose materialising from a red bedspread, by fastidiously determining the composition I had sought to subject the viewer’s gaze and subsequent implied interpretation. I had originally assumed the image would unequivocally denote the stimuli of love and passion, no doubt a self-righteous and partial approach to my work. By engaging in progressive contemplation and researching archetypal images, I began to broaden my own interpretation of the image in question, layers and multiple meanings were exposed, ‘Above all, roses signify love, in all its earthly and heavenly hues: what or who we love in the present; the one we loved and have lost, and the longing for something name-less’ (See Martin 2010). A positive nuance had been negated with reference to ‘loss’ and in its stead surfaced a complexity I had not anticipated.

By chance I found an analogy in Roland Barthes’ Mythologies that uses the rose to explain the transcendent nature of the ‘sign’. Roland Barthes explains that there is not only the signifier and signified but a third term. A bridge between the visual stimulus and what we interpret. This connecting term is the ‘sign’. The sign is essentially the meaning that we imprint upon the signifier. Barthes goes on to explain this further by using a bunch of roses to infer passion and how they become passionified by the sign. But the sign develops within different cultures and mass psychologies. And is susceptible to change.

Take a bunch of roses: I use it to signify my passion. Do we have here, then, only a signifier and a signified, the roses and my passion? Not even that: to put it accurately, there are here only ‘passionified’ roses. But on the plane of analyses, we do have three term; for these roses weighted with passion perfectly and correctly allow themselves to be decomposed into roses and passion: the former existed before uniting and forming this third object, which is the sign. It is as true to say that on the plane of experience I cannot dissociate the roses from the message they carry, as to say that on the plane of analyses I cannot confused the roses as signifier and the roses as sign: the signifier is empty, the sign is full, it is a meaning.

Roland Barthes | Mythologies

Diegesis 2







Window of Appearances (2014)

I remain sceptical of whether objectivity can ever truly be achieved; Friedrich Nietzsche maintained that ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’ and this observation has been shared by a number of contemporary artists. Leading on from my previous post on Duncan Campbell I have uncovered a resonance of ideas in prior and current Turner Prize nominees. Winner of the Turner Prize 2013 Laure Prouvost’s work explores the disparity between reality and fiction and tends to take the form of a video whereby an immersive narrative interweaves with a multitude of stimuli. The format that Prouvost embraces diverges from the conventional milieu of video installation owing to her inclusion of object d’art that relays a tangible presence in juxtaposition with the visual narrative. Comparable to my own questions regarding the elusive ontology of meaning, in an interview preceding Prouvost winning the Turner Prize she stated:

The Whitechapel show is much more playing on the idea of sensation and clichés and emotion; how do you translate that sensation of the smell of dry grass scent on the skill? How do you translate the sensation of the touch? Yes, it’s like creating stories, but I think it’s less about lies, more questioning what is it we’re seeing all the time and what is it we’re understanding.

Laura Prouvost

Prouvost recognises the equivocal nature of the sign and consequently chose to relinquish control to the viewer rather than enforce a solitary meaning. She merely attempts to invoke a sensory response from the spectator and cox a narrative from the visual auditory theatre that is fabricated in the space. By having two synchronistic components to Prouvost’s installations she has made an effort to “blurring this idea of fiction and reality and how, where do we keep those distance[s], what is what, what is reality, what is fiction [?]” (See Channel 4). The paradoxical methodology of reality and fiction is a troublesome proposition for the visual arts, certainly for those who strive to communicate their experiences. There does remain those who find solace in embracing the multifaceted dimensions of meaning such as Laura Prouvost but what can be done for those who rely on the visual stimulus to transmit a message? Those applied artists such as graphic communicators whose profession remains reliant on the viewer’s laconic interpretation. I believe that it is this fundamental question that I intend on alleviating in my book Diegesis.

Recently I have been pondering over what sub title I should attach to diegesis to convey my topic ology, after all I am aware of the possible connotations that could be inferred. So far I am deliberating between either borrowing a title by Susan Hiller ‘the provisional texture of reality’, or possibly adapting a sentence in this post to ‘the elusive ontology of the visual message’.


BARTHES, 1957, new edn 2009 p 136

MARTIN, K and RONNBERG, A. (ed.) (2010) The Book of Symbols. Cologne: Taschen.

NIETZSCHE, F. (2003) Writings from the Late Notebooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 80

Turner Prize (2013). [TV Programme] Channel 4, 2 December 2013

November 4, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Higher Consciousness and the Autobiographical Self

Humanity appears to inhibit two realities (although dualism is disputed) and our consciousness is certainly the logical explanation, it is this ‘inner’ reality or the ‘self’ that holds our distinctive understanding of our daily lives. The modern age that we know today is a result of our mind's profound cognitive ability to interpret our surroundings, and most significantly be able to further convert our knowledge and experiences into something new entirely. We as humans share a unique ability above all other animals, we are able to construct and shape our entire world around us like never before, thriving on creativity and invention. In order to begin piecing together how creativity may have become possible, I think it’s important to briefly highlight the brain's ability to render and conjure images, illustrated in the images below. In the first image we have the visual cortex shown in yellow, green refers to tactile and blue auditory. The image-making regions then send signals to the memory-holding regions shown in purple.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 18.12.42

The significant attribute of higher-consciousness is the ability to transmit information from our memory back to our visual cortex and also be able to fabricate our sense of self from these memories. ‘Simply put, the development of enormously complex re-entry neural circuits in the brain’ (See Lewis-Williams, 2002). A study on visual mental imagery and visual perception conducted by Giorgio Ganis, shows the brain's ability to transfer signals from memory to our visual cortex and established that visual imagery and visual perception draw on most of the same neural machinery. It is this trait in the brain's ability to later recall visual data and send it to the visual cortex that has initiated a number of theories with regard to prehistoric creativity. One particular theory supposes the brain's ability to recall visual images allowed for visions, such as dreams and altered states and suspected spiritual experiences which humans sought to transfer their visions to the ‘physical’.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in a TED talk on ‘the quest to understand consciousness’ assumed that the motivation to communicate visually was induced by an understanding of time, the memory of before and the knowledge that they could transmit meaning beyond the confines of the self in the future. The observation of time is a plausible incentive for Paleolithic hominids to fabricate art that would supersede their own existence and various contemporary artists have expressed a similar motivation. In an earlier post I discussed the presentation conducted by Dr Jonathon Clark in which he spoke of the ‘longevity of art and the shortness of life’ and a comparable citation can be found in the Channel 4 ‘Who are you?’ with Grayson Perry; one of the subjects states ‘I’m fragile with the possibility of immortality, identity is fragile, and then what you leave from your identity is a possible legacy of some kind of immortality’. Visual communication has the capacity to convey one's self beyond the confines of mortality and without an appreciation for time, I highly doubt early hominids would have begun to devise what we know as the creative act.

Grayson Perry: Who are you? (2014). [TV programme] Channel 4, 22 October 2014

LEWIS-WILLIAMS, D. (2002) The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. London: Thames & Hudson.

© Oliver Norcott 2015 – 2023