The Senses and Art

Fig B-1.Unknown-1

Figure B-1. Gerard de Lairesse, Allegory of the Five Senses, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1668_Gérard_de_Lairesse_-_Allegory_of_the_Five_Senses.jp

Figure B-1 is a painting entitled ‘Allegory of the Five Senses’ (1668) by de Lairesse, motivated by a consideration of the five senses. The painting shows three children and two women alluding to the senses. Sight is represented by the young child pointing at a convex mirror, touch by the woman holding a bird, hearing by the young boy with a triangle in one hand and a striker in the other, smell is represented by the girl with flowers, and taste by the women with the fruit. Fruit and flowers are conspicuously placed in the room. A flute is placed against the signature of the artist. Surprisingly, the young girl is not smelling the flower and the woman is not shown tasting the fruit. We in turn are using our sixth sense, our mind, to react to the painting, as did de Lairesse when he painted it.

Of the six senses, sight, touch and the mind are major influences in the visual arts. It has been suggested that the spirit is a seventh sense. The fortunate aspect of describing the senses and their influence on the visual arts, is that everyone has experience with them and therefore can immediately relate to them.

Taste, touch and smell are often missing on images displayed over the Internet and other virtual sources. Sensory forms occur even without sight. Close your eyes and touch and feel something and the mind interprets it as an object based on the memories of previously touched objects or objects you may have seen. If you were to remove your senses, until eventually you have none of the standard five senses remaining, you are still a person. You have your mind. When that last sense is removed you are no longer yourself.

Early male philosophers, thinkers, artists and musicians ( the female counterparts were seldom recorded ) had a need to express and explain these primal instincts, obsessions, emotions and attractions. In their time, the use of gods and goddesses as metaphors seemed a natural and convenient way of representing and explaining them. We find similar stories in all cultures. Today and the immediate past, different explanations of these primal instincts and emotions are forwarded, some still invoking gods and goddesses. These stories and explanations have influenced the visual arts over many centuries.

Many attempts have been made to study the sixth sense, with attempts to determine where in the brain the senses and emotions are located. Figure B-2 are diagrams for two studies, one in 1898 and another in 1902.

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Figure B-2. Diagrams of the Brain from 1898 and 1902.

The first diagram on the left is from “The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man”, by Dr. Alesha Sivartha from 1898. I was happy to see that he used a woman in his diagram. In the book he expounded on the regions of the mind, using a blend of science, sociology, mysticism and religion, a spiritual teaching. His approach apparently attracted the attention of Mark Twain among others. He breaks down the grey matter into twelve different sections. The ideas these images express are difficult to sum up succinctly but broadly touch on the main tenants of theosophy, a range of positions within Christianity which focus on the attainment of direct, unmediated knowledge of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe. (https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/diagrams-from-dr-alesha-sivarthas-book-of-life-1898/ )

The second and third diagrams are from L. A. Vaught’s book “Practical Character Reader, a book on phrenology” published in 1902. To arrive at his diagrams he used at least fifty thousand careful examinations to prove the nature and location of these mental elements. More than a million observations were also made to confirm the examinations. Phrenology involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits. I like the bow tie in his second diagram. ( https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/phrenology-diagrams-from-vaughts-practical-character-reader-1902/ )

Modern experimental data refute the conclusions based on these studies by using more sophisticated instruments and devices to investigate the mind. What will be refuted in 20 more years? What will be the suggested models to explain the mind? Art will change a little. The primal mind will not change over such a short duration. The explanation as to why we do art will change.

 

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautifully written! Very interesting and love the bow tie too. So much food for thought. Nicely done Dad!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. msageelmer says:

    Interesting article. Those of us who have all of our senses, use them in most situations without even realizing it. The sense of intuition/ spiritual connection is much harder to recognize or define, as it is not physical, but felt. There are those who don’t fully tap into it or understand it. In the above painting I also experience that 7th sense. There, for me, is a spiritual movement when looking through my eyes, sight sense. I feel some sort of connection, some ethereal feeling in the movement, gazes, flow of fabric, absence of clothing, something indescribable. I guess science doesn’t need to prove to me that this exists, as experience is all the proof I need.

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  3. Craig Miller says:

    Very interesting!!

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    1. jdsage12 says:

      Thanks. New to reply of comments. Had a hiatus of a few months since my blog on Sirens and Pirens. Now Attempting to blog every Friday.

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    2. jdsage12 says:

      Thanks. New to reply of comments. Had a hiatus of a few months since my blog on Sirens and Pirens. Now Attempting to blog every Friday. Not sure if you are getting this reply or maybe getting it more than once. JDS

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    3. Pit says:

      Recommend the book BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell for an excellent analysis of intuition and subconscious reasoning/reactions.

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      1. jdsage12 says:

        Pit : have copy. Looked at preface
        and my intuition said not to read it and I followed my intuition.

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  4. Pit says:

    Doctor Sage: Interesting and enlightening blog. My appreciation of art has been primarily twofold: How does it affect/strike me (what inner chord does it strike; what emotions does it elicit); and what can I learn about the people/society from the details depicted in the art – the architecture, the clothes the subjects are wearing (or not wearing), trash (or lack thereof) in the streets or scene, the body shapes (fat/thin, the vision of beauty for that time period and society), and other historical/social information gleaned from the art work. I wasn’t even aware that an artist would attempt to incorporate all 5 senses into the piece. I am surprised that my assessment and appreciation is so pragmatic rather than aesthetic. Thank you for opening my eyes (and ears, touch, hearing, and taste). I will now look at each piece of art with a new frame of reference based on all 5 of my senses, and look for deeper meanings/messages. Thanks, Pit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jdsage12 says:

      I started a reply and when almost finished and pushed wrong button and it disappeared!

      Dr Pit, stay with your gut view, it comes partially from your primal emotions.

      Young children’s art works are not aesthetic in the formal sense but often are as meaningful and beautiful as many museum pieces.

      JD

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tonie S Miller says:

    Dr. Sage, this is very interesting. I really like your discussion about this painting as it opened my eyes on how to look at artwork. It would be very interesting to fast forward and see what critics would say about the meaning of this painting in the future. I find that while we can apply theory and knowledge of the artist to their work, ultimately, I interpret based on my perception and experiences and this can influence how we view the work. Is there a way, so to speak, to get outside of ourselves and view the painting as the artist intended?
    Thanks for sharing.
    Tonie

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    1. jdsage12 says:

      Ms Miller we all have a need to express our inner selfs. Some use music, some poetry, some cooking, some just dressing and some visual art. Try it!

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      1. Tonie Miller says:

        Dr. Sage, definitely! Expressing ourselves is very important as a way to relate to others.
        When looking at art, should we try force ourselves to view it as the artist intended or as we perceive it since our perception is our reality?

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      2. jdsage12 says:

        Tonie: View it on your own terms. I do. Often the picture is said to talk to you. Which means you are probably in sync with the artist. You also have a need to express your own primal inner self, if a work does this go for it.

        In some of my recent art, I incorporate mirrors to encourage you to be a part of the work.

        JD

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  6. Tonie says:

    I definitely agree that art talks to us. As a college instructor, so often I focus on reminding my students to be cognizant of others perspectives, and this has led to a bad habit of putting my own perspective aside.
    Where can I view your art with the mirrors?
    Tonie

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    1. jdsage12 says:

      In my books “MetaNudes and MetaNudes etcetera” ebook III
      and
      ebook IV
      From Apple iBooks
      JD

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      1. Tonie says:

        I will try to track them down.
        Thanks,
        Tonie

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      2. jdsage12 says:

        If you scroll down on blog you should find at the very bottom a reference to my ebooks. Click on the image and it should connect you with the apple iBook site. If you still need assistance just comment.
        Good reading!!
        JD

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