Most typical views of scholars of the arts hold that the domain of skill transfer in the visual arts is limited to visualization and memory. In fact, art expertise offers windows into other realms of experience that are transferable into cognitive experiences seemingly unrelated to visual experiences.
In their great book, Sparks of Genius, Robert and Michèle Root-Bernstein discuss several modes of original thought patterns that lead to not only deep insight but also remarkable innovative capabilities. These are not only the kinds of cognitive skills required of creative people but also anyone faced with problem solving and creating strategic plans. Much of what they have to say relates to visual expertise – both as an experience of art as well as a perceptual orientation to reality.
Once more, the Root-Bertsteins do not distinguish between an entirely cognitive and affective experience of thought. Typically, most scholars define visual expertise as a cognitive function without taking regard to the facets of imagination and empathy that go into both making and perceiving a work of art. To utilize the best of our intellectual capacities to think, analyze, imagine, recognize and solve, we must use both of these sides of ourselves.
In particular, one aspect of the book I liked a lot was about how transformational thinking is a process of synthesis: we integrate sensory impressions, feelings, knowledge and memories as they all come together in a multimodal, unified way.
An artist, poet or musician is not the only type of person who synthesizes. For example, scientists and engineers also share this capacity of thinking of several things at once. In fact, anyone in any profession could do the same. From these multimodal experiences that exist in our minds, we create patterns, models, analogies, and other complex mental constructs.
Take, for example, Rene Magrittte’s The Six Elements. Well, we know he has created more than the four elements we typically think of. Back in antiquity, this was not the case. So Magritte is something of a philosopher here allowing us to draw upon our logical thoughts and sensory associations to fathom another realm of experience. Here we can see our cognitive awareness intersects with the nuances of a sensory experiences, our imaginations and our emotions.
In another section of the book, the Root-Bernsteins discuss dimensional thinking. So here we see with this painting, we can imagine a conceptual dimension beyond space and time as we know them. Our perceptions of reality enter into a state of alterity and exceptional difference. By learning how to observe, we can benefit from new encounters of the world. We can shift our perspectives and imagine things anew, resolve old problems and discover new ones, all by realigning what we do with our perceptions.