The art experience allows for an exploration of thought, an exercise that encourages agility and out of the box innovative patterns of thinking. According to Aristotle in On Memory, thought is an “affection” of sensory perception. He conceived of this as a kind of inner movement of the soul, stimulated by the objects of our perceptions. The words convey inspiration and even perception, as a form of thought or memory, is manifestly an action as well.
Sense perceptions occur in our minds as disembodied images, seemingly separated from their materiality, sort of like how Aristotle thought of them as emblems, like a signet ring. This also gives us the impression that they are fleeing and ephemeral, as if with some urgency we need to capture them by bringing them to expression, such as in words, music, or images. This is why paintings only make worlds once we talk about them and, at best, also share our thoughts with other people to benefit from the exchange of our ideas, allowing for increased insight and also modification of our views.
What are those movements of the soul? What are the ideas, mental concepts and representations that we form from the sense data of our perceptions? This interest in the intellectual capacity of art was of great interest in the Renaissance. As I discuss in Experiences of Art: Reflections on Masterpieces, that drive to convey a message in art was driven by the notion of an idea, plan, or design (disegno) in Tuscan and Roman art and the poetic features of Venetian painting (colorito).
If we go back to Aristotle now, we can see that the intellectual capacity of our sense perceptions are enabled by a variety skills, such as drawing upon our associations and memories, making connections, exercising empathy and synthesizing together what we draw upon from all 5 senses. This is exactly what the Venetian art theorist Lomazzo had in mind when he described the reception of the features of the natural picture (ritratto naturale) – how the formal elements of the picture combine to release an expressive idea. Lomazzo also spoke of the intellectual picture (ritratto intelletuale), and while this does have to do with ideas and thought, the knowledge he speaks of gleaned from a work of art having to do with its meaning and significance relate less to the faculty of sense perception than to how the “perceptions” (thoughts and concepts) of a person can be formed or even changed by a work of art.
So now, to go one step further, we can see that the art experience lends itself to more agile and innovative thinking by fastening a hold of our impressions that we acquire through accessing both our conscious and unconscious state of sensory awareness and then additionally utilizing our problem solving skills. When we pick apart a work of art, those art skills of understanding how an expression is articulated in a work of art end up being transferable to other pursuits of knowledge, no matter how different, such as engineering or technology.