Emerging Modes of Aesthetic Behaviors: the Unity of Art

Christopher Walsh

Spring 2012

The continuum of performing modalities—the various states of action or identity an individual within a society embodies, emerges from the reality of experience; distinct forms of action, or behaviors, are the extremities of attitudes and perceptions, or modes of experience. Inversely, perhaps simultaneously, actions or behaviors shape experience: our idea of the world is inherited from birth, and certain behaviors are reinforced through positive or negative experiences: attitudes or perspectives emerge as experiences accumulate, and an internal capacity for reflection develops into thought patterns.

Experience is essentially observational, distinct from the behavioral modes of thoughts and actions: through observation, the individual retains the force of decision, and so decides what forms of behavior to perpetuate; the force of decision is thus central to our nature: consciously or unconsciously perpetuating reality, in the forms of experiences one’s self seeks and accepts.This observational essence of being opens the mind to circuits of information, from the micro and macro, visible and invisible realms of vibration, allowing an infantile absorption of cosmic influences, which ultimately free experience from its definitions. We have named this distance:aesthetic experience, neither so far removed, nor too intimately attached: where the creation of experience occurs in the action of observation. And so too, we’ve named the extremities of aesthetic experience: Art, of which extraordinary behaviors are ritualized to defy illusions of normalcy.

Though inevitably, a sense of normalcy has invaded our definitions of Art, not for our experience of it, but our expectations of what it should be: expectation strangles experience. And so we struggle to redefine: to grasp the absolute reality of Art, step by step, moving towards the place we already stand: that is, seeking the description of an activity we know so well, as it is vital to our existence (as experiential beings).

Of course, our Art history sanctifies those names of individuals whose behaviors in some way exemplify that which we seek: the defiant negative capability, that merges discipline, recombines language, pierces debate as an arrow through time: all through the powers of observation and decision: perhaps simply in the decision to observe, and the observation of their decisions. For in the process of self-observation, behaviors are subjected to decisions, by which transformations
occur: what remains of a self-conscious being is constant transformation, or consciousness. So rather than defining Art by its formal extremities—those modalities of aesthetic experience we expect and call Art: namely, Dance, Theatre, Music, Painting, Literature, or any such category, Art is simply aesthetic experience: for which no formal categories of behavior encompasses, since the self-conscious, aesthetic mode of experience creates emergent, transforming behaviors.

Such is the illusive, absolute reality of Art, and gives reason to prominent figures as Marcel Duchamp, who championed the art of decision: where choice itself is extraordinary; or John Cage, whose modality of aesthetic experience resulted in the organization of sounds by duration, oscillating between the noises inherent to silence, and the sounds one traditionally considers musical.

It is certain that John Cage was a composer, though first and foremost, he was a lover of nature and sound: thus emerges an aesthetic modality we struggle to define by it’s external appearance: is it music—or the structured performance of sounds? For his radical conception deliberately avoided the trappings of traditional assumptions of music, and instead listened to nature: in fact, framed nature as music, within the compositional use of silence: for no true silence exists, much
as the negative space in sculpture reveals the environment it occupies.

Furthermore, much as nature is musical, so too is perception and experience, in the rise and fall of attention, the sudden heightening of adrenaline, the soothing of tiredness, and the epiphanies or cacophonies of thoughts. The forms we perceive are distant echoes of our selves, in the physiological mode of human experience; inversely, our physiological mode is a reflection of the environment within which we exist: so in the presence of silence, all assumptions of music aside, the natural rhythmic structure of experience reveals itself.

Thus, as the complexity of nature appears synchronized, or simply enough, as two separate events occupy the same space of perception, one is actively creating experience through the observational, aesthetic mode of seeing: by deciding to listen. Such is the compositional motive of John Cage’s music: to emphasize the performance of listening, thereby reciprocating and collapsing the trichotomy of subject, audience, and performer; the performer listens, the audience performs, and subject of nature itself becomes part audience, part performer, in the unfolding of
events.

We see this engagement at the extreme conclusion of Cage’s aesthetic experience: the scoring and performance of 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds). Silence is a compositional element, alongside the performer’s creation of sounds: the fundamental principle of both silence and sound is duration; rhythm, pitch, timbre, and harmony are all effects of periodic durations; thus, the compositional premise of 4’33” is the duration of silence: the musical performer is instructed to not play their instrument, in three movements of silence: “You could hear the wind
stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out,” Cage remarked about the premier of 4’33”.

The methods of each contributing member in such performances, in their perceptions and actions, constitute a series of experiential processes within the overall structure of the event: the event’s structure itself composed through a process of the composer’s aesthetic experience; thus, in comprehending the nature of the event, we acknowledge performance as an experiential process: a series of processes within processes.

The mind functions in both unifying and separating the components of an event: oscillating between a singular sense of experience and its distinct modes. The singular sense, also termed gestalt psychology, denotes a holistic and synthesizing mind, that is greater than the sum of its parts: able to comprehend bits of information into forms, and thus experiences; a similar term, proposed by Aristotle, is the communus sensus, or common sense; in neurophysiologic terms, this correlates to sensory cross-modality, and synesthetic perception; for Art, this means aesthetic experience, or the emotional resonance with forms. In all cases, language emerges from this unified nature of the mind, to thus discuss and comprehend itself: categorizing and shaping events as such.

So when considering the myriad of modalities or behaviors one experiences, they are essentially unified; art, science, philosophy, politics, mathematics, religion, emerge from the gestalt reality of human experience: such that one activity emphasizes an aspect of the others, which altogether constitute the fabric of inquiry; for instance, logic is a mathematical structure in philosophy: an
elegant theory is aesthetics in science.

Further, each of these modes of experience constitutes a range of disciplines: Art professes music, dance, painting, theatre, and so forth. The key point remaining: each discipline is a language that reflects our physiological and psychological reality: these traditional terms embody a certain period in the history of our experience, and supply a basis or point of departure for categorizing new forms of aesthetic experience. For instance, the vocabulary of painting evolving into photography, and then film developing in both regards: in the sense of form in
time; conversely, the vocabulary of musical time shaping the aesthetics of film editing. The myriad of artistic modalities emphasizes aspects of a singular aesthetic experience; with broader vision, the myriad of human modalities also informs this aesthetic reality: predicated upon scientific, technological, and social conditions—the human experience, the shifting topology of our physiology and psychology emerges with new formulations of ideas, and thus Art forms.

A most recent and significant of these behavioral transformations is the emergence of Performance Art: body art, fluxus happenings and situationism, intermedia environments, telematic interactions. It asserts our ephemeral experience as the aesthetic object of creation: dissolving the audience/performer relationship through intersubjective experiences of real-life events framed as Art. In other words, Art is the experience of Life through an aesthetic lens: the interactions and behaviors that ensue are the raw materials of Performance Art.

The conceptual development of Performance Art grew from theatre, moving from acting as the representation of textual, or semiotic compositions, to a bodily, and oratorical performance in itself. Further progressions disturbed the audience/performer boundary, as in the case of the Futurists, who physically interrupted their audience with glue on seats, allergenic irritation, and arranging confrontational neighbors: thus dissolving the fourth wall, or audience separation. The illusion theatre, with its attempt to suspend disbelief and represent real-life, was replaced with real-life, and framed to challenge the societal aesthetic reality of Art. Such that performance, as an Art form in itself, was established through radical conditions—at extreme conclusions, to stretch and assert itself into consciousness: Cage’s 4’33” certainly stands at an aesthetic extreme: next to calling Life Art in itself, though in a tangible, and socially relevant form. Asserting Performance Art as a new genre points to the transformation of our behaviors and vocabulary; though, its essential implication thrives at the heart of any modality, or genre. So we must redefine the structure of Art: inverting our understanding of aesthetic forms: shifting from specific disciplines and their products, to the transformative character of experiences; thus, practically unifying the pursuit of inquiry, or the human experience. Therein remains the potential for innovation, as evidenced by the behaviors of great individuals, and groups whose activity defies categorical boundaries: actualizing the gestalt reality of an idea, thus revolutionizing all facets of society.

The gestalt idea of our generation oscillates between the modes of Art and Science, or the aesthetic realization of technology, and scientific principles. Therein exists a rift between the understanding of either mode: the artist is called forth to become an aesthetic scientist, probing the fundamental compositions of the universe and mind, as do particle physicists or neuroscientists, thereby freeing aesthetic applications of technology from commercially viable pursuits, to the rigor of experimental aesthetic research. What follows is a transparent artist: a social engineer, a professor, a biologist, a computer programmer, or astronaut, free of
disciplinary constraints, to realize the aesthetic potential of society.

In practice, this means a more transparent education, and networked institutions open to experimental collaborations between disciplines. This also means a financial ubiquity, for projects that contend commercially and those of a pure aesthetic and scientific basis of inquiry. Perhaps Art is moving from the galleries, to laboratories: sensoriums, which probe the aesthetic nature of energy and perception. With Art as computing devices, transforming perceived information into corresponding augmented reality. Instead of imitating nature, Art merges with
nature, as the age of scientific discovery shifts to the age of scientific mastery, thus propelling aesthetic potentials to the limit of understanding and imagination.
The activity of experience is fluid and transformational: Art and Science together still speak in limited terms; the gestalt reality is fully present and applicable by means of observation; in other words, to create, simply see: experience is the medium, and the observer is creator. Let the action be aesthetic, scientific, social, religious, primitive, collective, or however the extremities of our language express: let it be ineffable, or unprecedented in terms.The action streams into consciousness from the pulse of an observation: carried forth by decision, thus to create reality.

Bibliography

Cage, John. Silence, Lectures And Writings. Wesleyan Univ Pr, 1973.

Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. 11 New Fetter Lane, London:
Routledge, 1996.

Dewey, J. Art as Experience. New York, NY: The Penguin Group, 1934. Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940. 2nd

Fisher-Lichte, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance, A New Aesthetics. Milton Park, ed. Prentice Hall, 2003.

Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2008. Gann, Kyle. No Such Thing As Silence, John Cage’s 4’33. Yale Univ Pr, 2011.

Higgins, Hannah. Fluxus Experience. 1st Press, ed. Los Angeles, California: University of California Ltd., 2002.

Langer, Susanne. Problems of Art: Ten Philosophical Lectures. University of Virginia, 1957. 71-88.

Marks, Lawrence E. The Unity of the Senses: Interrelations Among the Modalities. New York, NY: Academic Press, Inc., 1978.

van Campen, Cretien. The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010.

Whitney, John. Digital Harmony: On the Complimentarity of Music and Visual Art. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data, 1980.