Theory Seminar: The Shape of Behaviour 1

Robert Morris’s essay ‘Notes on Sculpture pt.2’ looks at the relationships between the viewers and the objects on display in minimalist art.

With the monumental, we are impressed and overwhelmed, sucked into the scale of the sculpture. On a small scale, we form a much more intimate relationship with it, we are able to close in, see great detail and yet see the whole at the same time, this is not possible with grand architecturally scaled pieces, which place a kinaesthetic demand on the body when viewing it.

At the human scale, these relationships don’t form, instead the viewer notices their own existence in relation to the object, they become self-conscious. This was further emphasised by the plainness of the surfaces and that the visible idea of process has been done away with.

Unlike before, this new sculpture no longer had a story to it, minimalism was trying to depict nothing, meaning there was no merger between the viewer and the work. All allusion and illusion was removed from the work.

Michael Fried asked where one joined with these works, believing the experiences in minimalism to be contingent and as such there was no culture that could bring us together thinking the works should be absorbing and experiences relatable rather than out of the work and private.

A question I posited at this point was: Why is the singular experience bad? An answer from Fried would be that if the works don’t form an experience, the experience is then self-built. The problem with self-built experience, Wittgenstein said, is that all experience is through an internal ‘Private Language’. If we don’t share the language we can’t talk about our experiences. A difference in relationships between this art and poetry is that poetry requires to exist in counter-intuitive ways and as such misunderstandings only occur because some understanding is shared. We can pull out separate experiences but still share our understanding.

Our behaviour towards these art object is made essential when one looks at the differences between attention (what we give of ourselves to something) and behaviour (how we act towards or about something). It is further imperative to not take attention as that which fills out behaviour, nor behaviour as that which illustrates attention. The two come hand in hand, if someone can read your behaviour they can share your attention, likewise if you both pull to attention, your behaviour will often mirror. An example of this would be pointing at something to a dog, the dog will follow your finger and share your attention, on the flip side if a loud noise startles you calling your attention, both you and the dog will turn around, mirroring each other’s behaviour.

This is imperative to the ways in which the art is seen as they necessity for movement about an object on our scale, to take in the light and how it plays upon it, the space and how it may command or be commanded by it, to give it new perspectives is our behaviour dictating our attention at the same time as our attention dictating our behaviour, the way in which we form a relationship with the piece is caught and moulded by both.

Further to how our behaviour and attention and our requirement for shared experience is knowing how other people have experience of the world. This is opened to the idea of analogical aperception or the perceiving of ones own perception e.g. I understand a smile because it is analogous to me, I know what I do and the reasons for when I smile, therefore I can understand when someone else smiles.

Wittgenstein then asked how do I know that I had that experience of smiling in the first place? Being in pain is not the same as knowing I’m in pain. As such I can know someone else is in pain and not being in pain myself. The only method to know is to share that I’m in pain with others.

Merleau-Ponty points out then that our existence is dependant on the basis of the ‘other’.

To relate it back to art again, If the experience is internal, purely sensational with no relationship between it and anything else that is empirical and transferable to someone else, then I cannot know my sensations because I cannot share them with others.


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