2.3-2.5 Response: Mind/Body Equivalence and the Aesthetic Form of Cognitive States (Daniel Hill)

For me as an artist, embodiment is a fundamental concept. Despite what a dictionary may or may not inform us about a word or term, we can occasionally (perhaps often?) construct idiosyncratic interpretations. This is even more the case with abstract concepts. When attempting to fit the roundness of tacit knowledge into the square holes of language, an insufficient lexicon is often revealed. Perhaps this is why humans developed the visual language of art in the first place, as a proto language to both discover and express knowledge.


Decades of painting, drawing, and working with sound has led me to think of embodiment or embodied form as follows. Form is a consequence of process; process is the flow of a cognitive state in time. Aesthetic form is a visual artifact of a specific cognitive state. As we all recognize some cognitive states are better than others, hence a hierarchy becomes necessary. The creative mindset appears the gold standard, as solutions to all the problems we have ever solved and all the problems we are yet to solve, are within reach from creativity’s elevated and fruitful vantage. Cognitive states are essentially perspectives from which we have experiences as well as the ability to reflect upon them. Some individuals acquire perspectives that are paradigm shifting. History is replete with these innovators that managed to see the world from a slight, yet crucial shift of perspective. But fertile, creative cognitive states for our personal well-being are equally essential.


I have noticed, when entering a creative cognitive state, frequently it has been catalyzed by a sequence of bodily actions. My paintings require significant body movement as I hover over the surface with a squeeze bottle, carefully dropping a network of thick viscous paint lines one by one to the surface. The emergent form is a resultant of both body architecture moving in time and the cognitive state necessary to perform those actions for hours. The more body actions are encoded and sequenced within a system, the more they become a kind of language. We can think of certain kinds of dance, rituals, yoga, tai chi, or even meditation as kinds of body languages. Systems are valuable for they are not only key to making sense of our myriad and complex experiences, but they also enable complex relationships to be adaptable with a degree of precision.


Neuroscience has shown what we do with our bodies has a consequence in the brain/mind. The body promotes a state of mind, the mind follows and in turn influences the actions of the body. A beneficial feedback loop is formed through an equivalence of mind and body. In this way, we can actually rewire our neural pathways. The resulting aesthetic form then is both embodied as well as an artifact of a creative cognitive state- creating the contextual environment for promoting and nurturing that state's sustained presence. This could be interpreted as a type of metacommunication or a kind of reading between the lines or visual inference promoting the context for specific cognitive states. 


Taney Roniger said...

Daniel, so much to appreciate here -- many thanks. First, I like your take on aesthetic form as "a visual artifact of a specific cognitive state." I might add to that that, since cognitive states are always changing, form is a kind of record of the various states through which cognition passed during the creative process.

The second thing I want to address is your very apt description of the way bodily actions affect states of mind and vice versa. Taking this one step further, though, might we be ready to drop the body/mind distinction altogether and finally concede that it's all one system? After all, we now know that there are neurons in our guts, and even if there weren't, it's clear that "mind" isn't locatable in any one place but rather is a function of the interaction between things. (Gregory Bateson used a very compelling example to demonstrate this point. You have a man with an axe who's cutting a piece of wood. Is mind immanent in the man's body, immanent in his brain, or transcendent to both -- somewhere "out there"? The answer is none of the above: "mind" is immanent in the circuit man-axe-wood-man-axe-wood..., where man means body and brain as one integrated whole). Charlene uses the word "bodymind" as a way of bypassing the false dichotomy. Perhaps we artists should adopt that term? My feeling is that the more we continue to talk about how our bodies affect our minds (and I do it all the time!), the more we perpetuate the error we're trying to move beyond!

Daniel Hill said...

I love the term "bodymind" and am sorry I have not yet read Charlene's books (consequence of homeschooling during a pandemic!). I suspect that word will creep into my writing. As far as getting rid of the mind/body distinction altogether- I think we would lose something of great value, as making distinctions can aid in certain circumstances. This is the value of systems.

For instance, if one has taken to sitting all day in front of the computer, as many of us have during these days, there can result a general malaise or depression. As the mind might tend to be dulled or "off" in this state, a system can tell us what component to address. Whenever this has happened to me, I know it is time to get my body moving, as this is the most fundamental action- and therefore easiest- to take. In my art that body movement is a more refined one than going for a walk or run and it has finer syntax with a very desirable cognitive equivalent. The trick is perhaps not so much to move beyond these distinction as it is to recognize they are but parts of a much larger system. This recognition in practice can therefore lessen their dominance. So the distinction is made when the context calls for it. Avoiding obsessing over the distinction, like all habits, die hard.

Love the Bateson example! And this is coincidental as the term metacommunication is his also. When referring to types of communication, he distinguishes between action in context and action which defines context, the latter being known as metacommunication. In art the process/action is preserved as a simulacrum in aesthetic form, and action and form become interchangeable. (That's my take.) The point though is a visual inference of context for specific, desired states of mind.