AHRB project details

This research into the nature of the interplay between mind, body, and electronic technology, in fine art is highly innovative in its transdisciplinary nature. It fuses elements from philosophy, psychology and consciousness research, with the practice of digital art printmaking, in a coherent theoretical and methodological way, which is new to the area. The research aims to bring into visibility the nature of the creative process in digital fine art, allowing critical insights and products to emerge, which can be put into the public realm to enhance understanding and appreciation.

The project is underpinned by the theories of the philosopher and psychologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who represented cognition as embodied action, and art as enriched being produced not primarily by intentional acts, but by the reciprocal influence of consciousness, the body, techniques and materials. This fusing of thought and action highlights the importance of combining research and practice in innovatory ways. Merleau-Ponty drew on the writings of modern artists and concluded that the painter’s vision is not a view on the outside, but a concentration or coming to itself of the visible. He claimed ‘that modes of thought correspond to technical methods, and that, to use Goethe’s phrase, ‘what is inside is also outside’, (Merleau-Ponty, ‘Sense and Nonsense’ 1964 p. 59). In ‘The Primacy of Perception’ (1964) he claimed that going straight to the essence of things is inconsistent. What is given is a route, an experience, which gradually clarifies itself and proceeds by dialogue with itself and others. In the posthumous publication ‘The Visible and the Invisible’ (1968) Merleau-Ponty viewed his theories as incomplete. He indicated that one of the areas destined for review was a study of the imaginary, ‘which is not simply the production of mental images, but the baroque proliferation of generating axes for visibility in the duplicity of the real’ p. lii.

These views underpin the innovative interlocking of the range of research methods used for the project, which include creative practice and reflection, literature and gallery research, interviews with artists, seminar-workshops, and an interactive website. Each of these methods is important in its own right, but together they will help to provide cross checks to enhance the validity of the research.

Creative practice and reflection is a first person method of research (Varela and Shear eds ‘The View from Within’ 1999). In this case it consists of ‘listening to the voices’ emanating from the practice of digital fine art. The digital print medium, with its fine surface quality and potential to incorporate and transmute imagery, I find particularly attractive as a conduit for the idea of the vibrant transience of reality. The prints show an important influence of geographical place, culture and events. The work has been exhibited internationally. Examples can be seen in the Gallery in this web site.

I have explored Merleau-Ponty’s theory of art in interviews with artists (or ‘research conversations’ similar to those now being advocated in the American Psychologist 2001, V 56, No 5, 445-452). The artists include the printmaker Michael Rothenstein, who can be considered a paradigmatic case for Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Art. They also include the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, whose statements emphasising the importance of ‘the idea’ would at first sight appear to contradict this theory. An investigation of the working process of Sol LeWitt, however, shows support for Merleau-Ponty’s Theory, while also pointing to the importance of capitalising on randomness. These and other ‘research conversations’ I have held into the creative process in fine art support the view of cognition as embodied action, and emphasise the importance of both pre-reflexive and reflexive thought in guiding action. They show a search for viable alternatives, rather than a search for the ideal, and an intimate reciprocal influence between the person and the artwork in the various ways of probing the environment.

Engaging in creative practice and reflection is important, as is undertaking the collection and analysis of the views of others through literature research, gallery visits and research interviews. Seminar-workshops are also a crucial element in the dialogue. Several academic disciplines now stress the importance of ‘communities of practice’ in shaping knowledge and understanding. The website for Creativity and Embodied Mind will also help to facilitate ongoing group interaction in this area. The website will continue to be developed.

Background reading:

Haworth, J.T. Explorations in Creativity, Technology and Embodied Mind. See Developments.

Haworth, J.T. (1997) Beyond reason: pre-reflexive thought and creativity in art. Leonardo 30, 2, 137,146.

Haworth, J.T. (2002) Embodied mind and creativity in digital fine art: putting the body back into human-computer interaction. www.creativity-embodiedmind.com See Speakers' Notes under Seminars/Workshops.

Haworth,J.T., Gollifer, S., Faure-Walker, J., Coldwell, P., Kemp, T., and Pengelly, J.
(2005) Freedom and Constraint in the Creative Process in Digital Fine Art: an AHRB Invited Workshop. Proceedings of Creativity and Cognition 2005 Conference, Goldsmiths University, London, UK, pp 310-317. ISBN: 59593-025-6 See Workshop 2