Perception and the Retrieval Process of Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge acquired through sense perceptions lodges itself in the brain as an encoded variable.  While research has until recently proved encoding and the retrieval of information is highly predictive of the specificity of probability, it is also highly likely that knowledge transfer happens on the level of broader and more abstract representations. 


In the process of knowledge transfer, stimuli features arouse a redintegrative capacity of thought.  The capacity of one stimulus will revoke or cue another.  Certain features of the exchange of our perceptions from one medium to another stand out more saliently than others.  Such stimuli are a collection of attributes and qualities that integrate with not only verbal and motor responses, but I argue also the peculiarities of perception. Sometimes we also give partial information, which by association based on prior experience and knowledge will be transferred onto this other object that harbors expectations and fulfillment of the unconscious.  Those features that have high redintegrative value and have survived the process of stimulus selection will thereby also result in the greatest effects of transfer.  (Stephen M. Cormier, 1987)


In the reception of art, the observer unconsciously exercises the redintegrative functions of analysis and interpretation.  Caravaggio is known for his numerous paintings of David and Goliath, and each one is a permutation after the other.  They are all in some ways very similar and in others very different.  In order to understand the currents of both knowledge and emotions transferred from one painting to the other, one must first acknowledge the standard knowledge recounted in the Hebrew Bible to distinguish between what new information you can find and which features have survived the process of stimulus selection.


A curiosity of the 1599 rendition of David and Goliath at the Prado in Spain is that the painting is fraught with ambiguities, as if the conception were not clear.  Somehow we are confronted with a situation of cognitive truth but also optical fiction. What is noticeable in this painting, as well as the 1610 rendition in the Borghese Gallery in Rome is the emphasis on David’s body and facial expression or lack thereof, as well as Goliath’s head.  The rest of the painting is suffused in a dark background so thick it is a near material substance. 


In the Bible, there is actually no description of David other than his body, for which we know his boyish body and also his character, triumphant and naively confident.  It seems that as Caravaggio worked on the theme again in his life, that picture became more clear and defined: a young man taking pleasure and satisfaction in his unlikely conquest.  In neither painting does he really make Goliath’s face of that much interest.  But that obscure and mysterious background looms behind the figure as if about to engulf him were it not for the brightness of the light that casts him into relief. 


By such comparison, we can see that each time you take a topic of representation and work on it in intervals of time or changing contexts, you can begin to decode its underlying message.  This message is lodged in the unconscious and can be discovered through the effects of permutation and variability.  Both pictures and words, even music, offer a medium to explore this domain or thought patterns of high redintegrative value. 


Scholarship on motivation, cognition and emotions has shown that if the process continues to seek fulfillment and reward, the cycle will be regenerative.  With that expertise and growing ease in a learned skill, the path of discovery continues to renew itself.

Caravaggio, David and Goliath, 1599

Caravaggio, David and Goliath, 1599

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1610

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1610

Seeing Beyond the Left Side of the Brain

The invalidity of art as a source for credible knowledge goes back to Plato’s attack on the poets in Book X of the Republic.  For what good are those imaginary people who see things thrice removed from reality?  Plato feared the workings of the imagination as something that deceived rather than unveiled hidden truths. 

 In several branches of scientific learning, in the twentieth-century, the legacy of logical positivism begun in Vienna seemed to write off all fact that did not stem from empirical knowledge.  Consequently, the perspectives of academics in any field relating to art – psychology, cognitive science, education, and even the psychology of art and aesthetics, and in most cases art history – abide by the tenets of this doctrine.

 The great irony is that the empirical is actually a window into the landscape of the imagination.  Arthur Efland gave the example of Magritte’s La Lunette d’Approache [The Telescope] of 1963.  He refuses to explain it, and also argues that it awakens intellectual inquiry.  Strange thing to say about a Surrealist artist!  I do not deny this, but would go further that a painting like this allows us to venture into a more subjective territory of discovery, driven by affect as well as cognitive awareness. 

Take for example, Gustav Klimt’s Jurisprudence, painted for the University of Vienna, yet only displayed at the Succession and not insignificantly destroyed by the Nazis.  We can see a way of making the world and also how we explain it that draws upon more in addition to the visible facts of reality. 

In Klimt’s painting, Truth, Justice, and Law are a mere visage of reality, like a sexual fantasy, and surround the condemned and tortured man, who is the everyman of Vienna.  They bring to mind a reality that was only described by Freud and represented by artists and musicians. 

We can respond to this painting with the rich facts of our knowledge stemming from history, art, sociology, law, and academics, etc., but then also dare to delve into the mirrored space described by Pablo Tinio where we think of our memories and draw upon our associations to piece together an image of a given time in history, and also what it means to us.

By pairing together the two, what is objective and logical, with what is felt through our intuitions, we can make a two-fold discovery in art. In the end, it’s about getting beneath the visible surface that allows us to discover the deepest meaning.  In order to do that, we need to be Plato’s poet. 

Renee Magritte, The Telescope, 1963.jpg
Klimt, Jurisprudence, University of Vienna, 1903.jpg

From Personal Myth to Beyond: Louise Nevelson

Ways of Worldmaking: Louise Nevelson


Seeing, rather than looking, cultivates the intelligence of our perceptions, and ultimately our minds.  Vision is invested with a latent intelligence.  When we utilize language to articulate our thoughts and feelings about what we see, words become the vehicle to represent new insights, experiences and new worlds. 


Louise Nevelon’s Mrs. N’s Place, 1964-77, takes us to a world, which for Nevelson was always secretive.  But she invites her spectators into her vastly expansive realms, most often painted in black, white, or sometimes gold.


How are we to engage?  How are we to see the reality behind the visage of obscurity?  Nevelson seems to say that by offering you a glimpse into her own secretive enigmatic cosmos, you can also discover your own.


I thought about what I learned in graduate school at Columbia about the denotative and connotative functions of representation in semiotics (Roland Barthes) and thought to myself that the way to the enigma in these sculptures is through that murky and subjective place, the connotative sphere.  That is the “how” something is represented and not the literal what. 


When I write about art, I like to explore language and often use a dictionary and thesaurus merely to make verbal associations and connections between words to start a chain of thoughts and new insights.  That process is exactly what I would do with this sculpture given the fact its bleak but at the same time rife with the busyness of a very creative mind. 


Metaphors are in particular an excellent medium to explore a domain of experience external to yourself and that which is within.  Metaphors are expressions of our internal schemata, those mental constructs that make up our personal psychology and the way we look at the world.


The worlds we construct are myths.  Language, and especially metaphor, is an expression of that myth.  So, when looking at art, our emotional and intellectual reaction to it is a dynamic process of evaluation and reassessment between ourselves and the world, of myth. 


Now to break down our own myths, the schemata of those myths that we impose upon our perceptions, Roland Barthes recommends deciphering the signifying functions of a myth.  Mythical representations have a surfeit of signifying functions that assume a message that need not be supplemented, is already there, and have a history and past.  A myth postulates some kind of knowledge. 


It’s actually best to observe Nevelson’s sculptures without knowing anything about the artist or the artwork at all first.  Explore for yourself first what you see, then play with metaphors, and learn about the artist.  Find those Ways of Worldmaking that Nelson Goodman describes, where the words and pictures create the worlds. 


“But although language and art both become emancipated, in this fashion, from their native soul of mythical thinking, the ideal, spiritual unity of the two is reasserted upon a higher level…But there is one intellectual realm in which the word not only preserves its original creative power, but is ever renewing it; in which it undergoes a sort of constant palingenesis, at once a sensuous and a spiritual reincarnation.  This regeneration is achieved as language becomes an avenue of artistic expression.”  Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth. 


Louise Nevelson, Mrs N's Place, 1964-77.jpg