Earlier this fall, I had the delightful experience to share my thoughts about The Art Trainer’s Perceptual Intelligence training initiatives with Pablo Tinio, a professor of the psychology of art and aesthetics at Montclair State University. We compared notes over a near two-hour lunch.
What I call Perceptual Intelligence is ultimately about learning how to build problem solving and creative thinking abilities through the perception of a work of art. Professor Tinio has explored a similar idea in his studies, which he calls the “Mirror Effect” of the work of art. He argues that the art-making and art-viewing processes are actually inseparable.
Perception begins through basic information-processing stages, at first through very simple cognitive functions and then through more complex stages amounting to meaning making, aesthetic judgments, and aesthetic emotions. According to the mirror model, each of these stages corresponds not only to particular characteristics of the artwork, but also to specific processes that generated the artwork.
There are three stages of the creative art-making process.
1. The initialization stage involves the exploration of an idea, often through sketches, where the artist generates a set of potential ideas.
2. The artist refines the idea in the expansion and adaptation stage, including modification and deletion, where the evolution of the artwork demands changes that the artist may have foreseen in the initial stage.
3. In the final stage, the work comes to completion as the artist enhances the significant structural changes made in the previous stage, such as with refinements in color, texture, and other subtle manipulations.
When we view the aesthetic experience of art in terms of the correspondence between art-making and art-viewing, the connections between the two add to the richness and complexities associated with the experience of art.
The three corresponding stages of creative art-viewing in reverse are as following:
1. At the first correspondence level, the perceiver processes the low-level visual elements of the artwork, including color, texture, brightness, surface features, and other visual elements that are characteristic of the final stage of art-making.
2. At the second correspondence level, the viewer processes the overall composition refined by the artist in the expansion and adaptation stage where the composition becomes emergent, such as posture or facial expression, or other details.
3. At the last level, the viewer experiences deep engagement at the initialization stage of the art-making process, associated with the artist’s initial motivation to express and transform a creative idea into a physical product, involving meaning-making, aesthetic emotions, and aesthetic judgments.
To take as an example, Cézanne’s Card Players canvases reveal that, at the first stage, the artist began with a free underdrawing, which he then manipulated at the second stage, refining the details of the sitters’ positions and their facial expressions, and then finally returned at the final stage to modify the idea and compositional decisions in the second stage. For the viewer, we begin by noticing these things that attract our attention foremost, which we then analyze in greater detail and depth, and finally come to acknowledge the deeper motivation and inspiration behind the art work.
Studies show that art experts and artists typically engage with art works on a deeper level than amateurs. However learning Perceptual Intelligence as a tool for creativity teaches people how to strengthen their cognitive abilities by sharpening their skills in basic visual literacy. Similar skills may be built through the aesthetic experience of writing, photography, or music.
While many students disengage in an art history lecture because the professor expects them to map the meaning and significance of an object onto an artwork that they are not taught how to see, the techniques of learning Perceptual Intelligence accounts for the aesthetic dimension of the work of art first of all and that its reception should be linked to the creative process.
As Tinio writes in his article “From Artistic Creation to Aesthetic Reception: The Mirror Model of Art”: “The Mirror model suggests that during an encounter with an artwork, perceivers recapture some of the specific thoughts, concepts, and emotions of the artist, and that the perceivers reinterpret these within the context of their current motivational states, emotions, thought processes, and viewing environments.” Every person will have a different reaction to an artwork depending on their expectations, memory, and past experiences but also learn from the mirror experience, where the artwork becomes a portal for Perceptual Intelligence through a two-way conversation.