Aesthetics on the Cutting-Edge
On the Necessity of Intuition in Relation to the Phenomenon of Quality
Into the Open
In order to throw light on the issue of quality as an intuitive causal agent in creative production, let us probe the reciprocity between aesthetics, art, and value judgment on a scale of experiential continuity. This continuum progresses from unreflective, pre-intellectual intuition to reflective, cognitive thought. For the sake of illuminating the deeper understanding that accrues from active engagement within inventive creation, our primary focus will concern the creator rather than the observer of art. Here, and by way of authorial position, we are mindful of the fact that in action we respond to informed sensation and must always exercise choices by value assessment, with a desire to do all things well. Likewise, one could suppose that an iterative feedback loop revolves around an occupation engaged with interest and care, embedded in the phenomenology of artistic creation. With these initial parameters in mind, this research asks several germane questions. Is the perception and awareness of any specific event dependent on the interest level of participation? As a response, can making art become a visceral process experienced in the immediate intuitive present, dominating attention at the leading edge of activity? And ultimately can value assessment in the form of quality establish an intrinsic and central constituent of artistic experience for the producer of art?
In view of such questions, in what follows, I will argue for the importance of quality as an intuitive process. Furthermore, I will formulate this terrain of artistic significance by examining its revelation in the work of Agnes Martin. In positioning the inventive act of art creation as undertaken by way of quality decisions, Martin’s considerable catalog can function as a conduit to reappraise aesthetics’ inspirational immediacy. Concurrently, I contest the idea that aesthetic quality in artistic creation has primarily an intellectual basis, and rather examine how intuition is more essential than reason. In support of my contention that the creative aesthetic act operates on the basis of dynamics that occur prior to any possible rationalization, we will compare intertextually the philosophies of Friedrich Schelling, John Dewey, and Robert Pirsig. By so doing, we locate in their collective thought an invitation to recognize that intuition trumps intellect in the order of aesthetic events. Although the inclusion of Schelling, Dewey, and Pirsig invoke very different discursive tenets, their insights will elucidate the problems of intuition, immediacy, process, and quality. Together with our attention to Martin’s work, these philosophical points of reference will thereby serve the ambition of this paper: to retrieve quality in relation to intuition, an experience that resides in the essence of value judgment, on the side of aesthetic process and creation. In this regard, more specifically, we shall consider Schelling’s conception of intuition, Dewey’s attention to experience, and Martin’s privileging of inspiration, all as different profiles that designate and draw forth Prisig’s concept of quality.
To formulate the questions of quality in an informed manner, we need first to consider art making conceived as gratification perceived in stimulus response, perhaps best articulated by Kant’s appeal to intuition. As a bridge between theories of truth and ethics, Kant was pivotal in the effort to integrate aesthetics into a cohesive philosophical structure. In this effort, he positioned aesthetic quality as judgments about pleasing pattern, an affinity for order and harmony, “a question merely of the form” (Kant 13). Accordingly, the greater the pleasure derived from the art, the superior the quality of that art. Thus by its very definition, value points to what is important. Nevertheless, because his technical language invokes ambiguity, a need for elaboration is justified. As Schelling points out, “Kantian formalism introduced a new and higher conception, but at the same time it gave rise to a great many hollow theories” (OUS 150). The most enigmatic Kantian interpretation defines the aesthetic experience as disinterested, occurring while in a non-directed mental state, without purposive desire. It is here we begin to address the question of interest as a function of creative participation. Kant established his aesthetic attitude in the Critique of Judgment as one of disinterestedness, “overcoming a purely calculative and instrumental attitude to the world in general” (xxi). Although aesthetic judgment may be wholly disinterested, it nonetheless may very well be interesting, not depending on interest, but rather producing one (Kant 37). One could argue that this understanding of disinterestedness is meant to ‘liberate’ aesthetic practice/reality, to leave it open-ended and not just about ‘indifference.’ Kant elucidates this concept by claiming, “the delight which we connect with the representation of the existence of an object is called interest” (36). His specific point here is that ‘interest’ can be added on after the purity of the judgment of taste is accomplished. What the Kantian precedent suggests is that art is created in response to an interest that is released from all alternative motives. Subsequent thinkers such as Shelling, Dewey, and Pirsig, further implicated art as primarily a process function of interest and commitment, building on the Kantian backdrop as a gambit, paving the way for later developments. Nevertheless, how does an artist such as Martin inspirationally respond to existence as a function of interest?
What Martin seeks is excellence, in experience and invention, attainable by adapting an inherited culture to current circumstances and desires. Primarily working on the basis of intuition, as Dieter Schwarz explains in his preface to “Writings,” Martin created a body of pure artwork exclusively addressing “visual perception from which all literary allusions or representational references are banished” (W 5). This to some degree seems a departure from Kant, if Kant’s formalism is taken to imply representation. Generally classified a minimalist painter, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. Although working abstractly, she recognized certain shapes as correlating with immediate experience, pouring forth with an intensity of revelation (see fig. 1). With some of Martin’s work, pure abstract shapes conjure the Ideal in a universal mind, appealing to “Platonic Form.” In this way, her paintings speak to absoluteness and timelessness. Yet on closer inspection, all her images are complicated with nuanced imperfections implying a humanistic imperfect perfection (see fig. 2). As nodal points of emergence, her work demands an awareness punctuated by interest. In fact, Martin identities artists as “very interested, dedicated in fact” (W 68). Consequently, Martin’s creative magic is especially relevant as an intertextual axis of rotation between Schelling, Dewey and Pirsig connections. Coupling this position to early romantic idealism, Schelling explains how “that which arises without consciousness, and hence what is properly objective in this intuition must likewise be incapable of being brought forth with consciousness” (STI 220). This peculiar necessity relates directly to Dewey’s project of considering project of considering experience aesthetically, “to restore continuity between the refined and intensified events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience” (AAE 3). As the paradigmatic artist, Martin is therefore palpable in this inquiry of immediate aesthetic experience associated with the puzzle of quality. In the following pages, I hope to explicate three modes of retrieving intuition as a quality evaluation: through mental processing, by ways of knowing, and in pre-cognitive judgment. In order to do so, we first need to examine more specifically the philosophical orientations of our thinkers, opening up an expansive dialog around the creative concept of quality.
The Qualification of Quality in Martin and Persig
To entertain the question of artistic creativity by asserting intuitive quality, we must further associate the artwork and writings of Agnes Martin and the philosophy of Robert Pirsig. Both convey methods of recovering quality understood as an immediate process central to aesthetic experience as maker, but with a value situated beyond the purview of strictly rational knowledge. In support of ‘interest’ driving creation, there are specific points of emphasis that concern us. Pirsig sees aesthetic activity directly involving development of an overriding excellence. In this view, the recognition of external reality is an important component part of the creative experience. Yet individual observation is uniquely particular, subject to a range of structural and conditional reactions. Martin explains, “we cannot understand the process of life—that is everything that happens to everyone. But we can know the truth by seeing ourselves, by seeing the response to the work in ourselves” (W 89). Sensations experienced when contemplating an empirical realm can generate subjective feelings and abstract emotions intuitively sensed. Her work with rectangles and repetitive grain patterns evoking cross-sectional wood veneers fit into this descriptive motif (see fig. 3). Many contingencies contribute to the composite mesh of understanding, but Martin feels that a space for perception is realized by leaving the preconceived, fixed form, behind (W 7). “An artist’s life is an unconventional life,” Martin explains, “it leads away from the example of the past” (W 85). Within this experiential process, precognitive functioning in the stream of unconsciousness balances between the past and the future, between classification and uncertainty. As Pirsig remarks, “in the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty” (ZMM 56). Aggressively acting from this elevation, the leading perimeter of existence is always changing, with the trajectory of that change never predetermined but conditioned by choice.
A second focal point associated with quality is a perceived rightness to certain preferences, a kind of spontaneous balance achievable but immeasurable in the creative act. With our eyes and our minds “we perceive—we see,” Martin explains, as we seek “the truth about life and all of beauty. But both are a great mystery to us” (W 89). Another triangular image of high contrast exemplifies her dexterous exploitation of a physical material property (see fig. 4). With repeating forms standing out against a finely modulated ground, the work begins to evoke an abstract landscape, as the renewal of memories of precision. Floating above the sea of thought, quality sets you free on the front-line of existence, as “art re-stimulates inspiration and awakens sensibilities” (Martin W 39). Meanwhile, as another point of importance, Martin elaborates that perception is a function, in fact the primary experience “that goes on all the time whether we are asleep or awake . . . perceiving is the same as receiving and it is the same as responding. Perception means all of them” (W 89). Martin here agrees with Pirsig that quality decisions derive from romantic surface appearance (subject), informed by classical underlying structure (object). The issue of intuition relative to quality can be best approached, first, by considering how it troubles the subject-object divide which so often clouds our thinking about these issues of aesthetic creation and perception. For Pirsig, the dynamic romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, and intuitive, while the static classic mode proceeds by hierarchy, reason, and by underlying forms of thought and behavior. Pirsig recognizes the harmony of their interaction, in that “neither static nor dynamic quality can survive without the other” (Lila 121). In this union, Pirsig finds value in the alliance of subject and object. Moving on with directness and clarity, Martin’s work flows-out devoid of hesitation with a consistent quality. She works with simple shapes punctuated by subtitle color fields that coalesce into a tactile haze (see fig. 5). In this light, “subjects and objects are not the starting points of reality. Subjects and objects are secondary. They are concepts derived from something more fundamental” (Pirsig Lila 365). This is a key point, to which both Martin and Pirisig identify, pushing us deeper into pre-cognitive value. When considering subject verses object, the culture in which we are immersed presents an assumed framework for interpreting experience. In the present, the art production experience can unite the thinking subject with the external object that stimulates sensation through the modality of quality, immediately fueling creative inspiration. Meanwhile, the rational, reasonable part of the intellect is uncomfortable with indeterminate entities. In response to stimulus, we act in a manor deemed best, as all action is based on value decisions. “What is best?” is the basic question Pirsig claims “cuts deeply rather than broadly,” with no fixed values (ZMM 3). Furthermore, quality tends to disappear intellectually while in the act of identifying something processing quality.
The challenge of creative life is to filter and select in an ever-becoming quest of value selection, identifying that which is worthy upon which to base action. Paradoxically, quality is intrinsically recognizable but utterly undefinable, operating in a mental state that functions below awareness. Alluding to this lack of identification, Martin says, “we have no understanding of the process of life, in whole, or in part, and we never will” (W 90). The main ‘issue’ here is the relationship between perception and quality, and that’s important because it serves the larger issue of intuition in the creative process. Martin elaborates that quality “is an absolutely satisfying experience but extremely elusive . . . we are in the midst of reality responding with joy” (W93). By concentrating on extreme simplicity and economy, emphasizing color variations within two contrasting rectangular blocks, white becomes a ground for metaphysical immanence. Here she begins to interrogate the tenuous balance between matter and the immaterial (see fig. 6). In this fashion, Pirsig holds that “quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye” (ZMM 155). In fact, perception itself relies on a quality judgment, in that interest defines the perceptual field. In this regard, we are the sources of value, understandable from the inside out. “It is from our awareness of transcendent reality,” Martin explains, “and our response to concrete reality that our minds command us on our way . . . to full response” (W 95). Second, and related, Martins work situates the issue of quality within a revisited notion of perception awareness. Black spots in a luminous framework, speaking again to ideal forms humanly realized, symmetrically balance a monochromatic but variegated blue field, with two darker bands vertically delineating a horizon. The obvious situated within the barely discernible challenges perception (see fig. 7). From the precognitive immediate presence, “we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world” (Pirsig ZMM 38). Finally, and according to this conception of perception, then, we are only aware of those things that we deem either necessary or interesting, ignoring the considerable remainder.
Based upon the above profiles on the perception-quality relation, it follows that no single perception of the world is definitive, dictated by an individual nervous system coupled to a capricious specific contingent environment. Object recognition can be generalized into an intuition of matter in space, with quality the continuing stimulus that causes us to create the world in which we live. Independently some elements have no permanent significance except in the context of their aggregate appearance. In a process of spontaneous symbolic conversion, establishing importance depends on seeing one thing in terms of another. In the case of creative art production, the inherent quality of experience exists to be immediately perceived. Nevertheless, Martin believes that it takes creative visualization to connect the dots, because many things constituting experience are not present in consciousness. Perhaps, then, the artistic accomplishment resides in an experience between the hidden and the revealed, the unconscious and the conscious, approachable only obliquely. Balancing cognition and intuition, “the intellect is a struggle with facts…you’re certainly never going to find out the truth about life guessing about facts…I gave up facts in order to have an empty mind. I gave up the intellectual entirely” (Martin, With My Back to the World). In many Martin paintings, to be sure, planes of attention are defined by self-imposed constraints while yielding a surprising range of intuitive expression, with fluctuating degrees of density resulting a kind of static movement (see fig. 8). Martin feels that to develop an explicit explanation as an intellectual reflection is simultaneously to eliminate most potential. This exchange is such because to establish a specific higher cognitive definition is to simultaneously eliminate all other possible explanations. Up to this point, an extraordinary artist and a pragmatic philosopher have begun to identify quality as the critical creative agenda. Are there other divergent thinkers that are instructive in reclaiming creative intuition? Recognizing nodal points of concurrence, let us now consider more comprehensively what Dewy and Schelling contribute to this discourse, providing more clarity on creative quality.
Dewey and Schelling on Direct Aesthetic Apprehension
The purpose of this section is to reveal two other disparate thinkers, separated by temperament, culture, and era, that also support the importance of quality in the creative act. In understanding intuition, Dewey links interest and desire with experience as path to quality. By his account, order and equilibrium are not products of disinterested processes, but rather result from rhythmic tension resolution within the “live creature” (AAE 3). In this approach, Dewey is considered a proponent of pragmatism, balancing between dissonance and order in the service of production. Pragmatism dismisses the belief that thought functions to mirror, describe, or otherwise represent reality. Instead, pragmatists consider thought as a product of the interaction between organism and environment in successful adaptation. Similar to the way Persig suggests quality and Martin emphasizes inspiration, Dewey supports an empirical method that focuses on probability, embedded in the phenomenology of aesthetic and artistic experience. More than just a focus on perception in relation to quality and creative experience, within this framework, aesthetic creation involves an event in which action, feeling, and meaning are unified (Dewey AAE 15). Such harmonic experience is only possible in an existence in which a human being loses and reestablishes equilibrium with its environment. Life transforms and thereby vanquishes forces of opposition to achieve significance, because “after all, even though “spiritual” and “material” are separated and set in opposition to one another, there must be conditions through which the ideal is capable of embodiment and realization” (Dewey AAE 27). Dewey likewise feels that without aesthetic quality, experience has no identity. Here he stipulates that aesthetic unity is a function of intuition insofar as the “penetrating quality that runs through all the parts of a work of art and binds them into an individualized whole can only be emotionally intuited” (AAE 192). In sum, intuition is much more than just raw sensation.
Thus, with a broad brush, Dewey equates aesthetic quality with immediate experience. This focus fits with an intuitive creative accomplishment residing between the hidden and the revealed, but raises the stakes in a vital way. Recognizing that intelligence determines the relation between sensation and action based on concepts of continuity and continuation, Dewey’s theory does not completely separate artistic practice from the intellect. Consequently is it right to take this as saying the intellect is not completely dismissed. But of course, his acceptance of the intellect is qualified–so it remains as part of the background of creative inspiration. Not only is there a community of form in the arts, but also a community of spirit. This element he also refers to as a “penetrating quality,” immediately experienced in all aspects of the artwork—the organic whole (AAE 192). The community of spirit is the background that qualifies everything in the foreground, the work’s own “reality,” formulating an integrated totality. In this vein, “the aesthetic is reliant on an unmarked background against which artworks are articulated and which it brings onto the forestage to appear as a phenomenon in its own right” (Sloterdijk 80). Here we are dealing with a larger spectrum than just perception, but still relevant to creative quality concerns. As the unity of an experience is neither exclusively emotional nor intellectual, moving from an empirical pragmatist to a romantic idealist can link notions of quality as a major mode of artistic production.
Coalescing into an immediate qualitative unity, memory informing present circumstances conceivably confirms Romanticism. Schelling is an early 19th century romantic philosopher who might not normally be associated with pragmatic thought. On close reading, Schelling articulates a theory of immanent art as the third component of his method of transcendental idealism. In this structure, significance is ascribed to art by a recognition of subject and object clearly identified and aligned through aesthetic intuition. He correlates the object with nature and the subject with freedom, in that their aesthetic accord forms an “absolute” self-awareness, as the “true and the Good are united only in the beautiful” (OUS xii). He postulates that what “exists in separation in the appearance of freedom and in the intuition of the natural product; namely identity of the conscious and the unconscious in the self, and consciousness of this identity” are brought together in art (STT 219). On this view, subjective qualities determined by an observer only emerge from a foundational existence. In science and in art, “the particular has value only insofar as it implies the universal and the absolute” (Schelling OUS 6). Although this emphasis may appear to assume problems already overcome by Persig and Dewey, Schelling’s ability to concentrate on the “the idea of an intrinsically unconditioned knowledge” as the pivotal philosophical issue upon which everything else depends is an intensive antecedent (OUS 9). Artistic expression is a spiritual medium giving enduring form to speculative ideas (Schelling OUS 19). The capacity to engage unconstrained awareness is predicated upon the “ability to relate our particular insights to the original whole” (Schelling OUS 11). Schelling’s view here anticipates Martin, in that “the conviction grows on her that the ides that result from personal experience, the particular individual experience of the artist, inevitably become detached from the personal and turn into universal truths” (W 6). This original whole is together “absolutely ideal and absolutely real” in one unified synthesis (OUS 13). Therefore, in “knowledge, subjectivity manifests itself as objectivity; in action, the particular is conceived of as absorbed in the universal” (Schelling OUS 13). A work of art is “greater the more it succeeds in revealing the single universal form” (Schelling OUS 34). This insight falls somewhere between Kant’s view of form and Martin’s view against representation, a goal only approachable, though never fully realized. He warns that the “most dangerous thing that can happen . . . is to be under the sway of muddy thinking,” (OUS 31) because the “pure universal must appear to the understanding as essence without form” (OUS 43). We try to extend our “field of vision beyond its outermost boundaries to set new boundaries” (Schelling OUS 147). Admittedly Schelling’s concern with reconciling the conscious from the unconscious, and freedom from nature, are not the the explicit concerns of Dewey, Pirsig or Martin. However, this intuitive enterprise does illuminate nodes of overlap from within different frameworks, relating Persig’s quality to Martin’s inspiration grounded in Dewey’s experience. But how does Schelling’s understanding of Idealism, as a systematic metaphysics of the Subject, come into play? Specifically how might his romantic notion of intuition fit into value as experienced?
Schelling is not attempting to replace empiricism, but rather to augment it by retrieving our capacity for aesthetic intuition: “what he has in mind is another kind of knowledge, more poetic and less detached from creative imagination” (OUS xiv). In this action, appearance properties arise as organization modalities because of interactions at an elemental level. Schelling offers two primary focal points here. First a subject’s recognition of existing as an agent in an external world constitutes self-consciousness. And second self-consciousness is dependent on continuity that formulates self-identity. On this stage of consciousness, Schelling elucidates that in “self-intuition the self also becomes an object to itself qua sensing, that is, even what has hitherto been subjective in the self is carried over to the objective . . . subject and object at once” (STT 234). The quality of being an individual is facilitated through this self-awareness, consciously overcoming presupposing restrictions, disguised in ordinary perception and volition. Awareness of the finitude of our existence condition is a response to temporal certainty. According to Schelling, the perfect perception of its real self in the artwork is accompanied by a feeling of infinite satisfaction. In thus reveling the “absolute,” art seems to attain a status surpassing both nature and philosophy. Schelling recognizes that sensation is always unique, because we never receive the same input of perceptual data at any two moments. Yet we are able to establish patterns of phenomenon allowing for cognition. In this way, repeatable knowledge depends on identities provided by the continuity of self-consciousness. This continuity is only established through intuitive imagination, as past and future sensations are unavailable in the present. Schelling tells us that in intuition “a conscious activity is already implicit, or the unconscious objective is determined by a conscious activity, save only that the latter is not distinguished as such” (234). So, he identifies creative nature with unconscious mental activity (Schelling OUS xv), yet allows that intuition's true existence is something transcending both. In this way, aesthetic intuition models intellectual intuition, but has the advantage of realizing this in an art object. Art thus mirrors intellect, but does so by enjoying a more unique power. Dewey agrees by embedding self-identity in the flow of existence. He articulates that in the continuity of experience, although “every successive part flows freely, [there] is no sacrifice of the self-identity of the parts … as one part leads into another and as one part carries on what went before, each gains distinctness in itself.” (AAE 72). Martin poetically reiterates this theme: “The all of all, reality, mind, the process of destiny [is] like the ocean full to the brim” (W 43). Intuition is an unconscious mental process that can erupt into consciousness and manifest as imaginative knowledge.
Thus far, we have examined the general philosophical positions of our thinkers in terms of quality. So doing, we have learned that intuition in the form of quality is an immediate characteristic of experience. And this mental modality is what drives the creative behavior of Martin. It is now time more deeply to consider intuitive mental modalities relative to the creative act. What mental condition most drives inspiration?
Mental Modalities in the Immediacy of the Creative Act
Are some moments so aesthetically charged with an essential awareness, that they transcend ordinary experience conceptualized as knowledge? Perhaps unique amount animals, humans live in the present in anticipation of the future. During many activities, this expectation of potential reduces the appreciation of the present, compromising the creative act. We have begun to appreciate this phenomenon in several ways, as art production invoked through quality can help to reclaim the present, by fully experiencing the positive stimulus opportunity obtainable moment by moment. At its best, Martin’s creativity works from the immediacy of the present. Thinking in the immediate past of an anticipated potential future, the present is the elusive intuition of experience. As Dewey states, “to be fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo” (AAE 18). Martin responds, “the adventurous state of mind must be grasped and maintained . . . the essential feature of adventure is that it is a going forward into unknown territory” (W19). She recognizes that in the dynamic field of awareness, individual standards of appraisal are subject to refinement, constructing an increasing level of sophisticated sensibility. Occasionally Martin worked with figure/ground relationships playing with positive space. Here obliquity is introduced by diagonal patterns either floating, or receding, into the plane (see fig. 9). It is an immediate, essential, and undefinable aspect of our experience, for “the action and its consequence must be joined in perception” (Dewey 44). To go to this deeper level of the issue, we need here return to Dewey’s interpretation that the “senses are the organs through which the live creature participates directly in the ongoings of the world about him” (AAE 220). But in what way does such participation enhance the kind of perception operative in aesthetic intuition? Perception proceeds with either a dull or a sharp blade. Aesthetic quality sharpens the scalpel, efficiently shearing-off preconceived boundaries, allowing the artist to see pre-conceptually. “To live and work by inspiration you have to stop thinking,” Martin explains, “you have to hold your mind still in order to hear inspiration clearly” (W137). In this spirit, says Dewey, “what the live creature retains from the past and what it expects from the future operate as directions in the present” (Dewey AAE 19). Normalcy is a matter of repetition, and “all interactions that effect stability and order in the whirling flux of change are rhythms” (Dewey AAE 16). Infrequent exposure makes strangeness more apparent, before pattern recognition manifests, intensifying the effect of locational distinctiveness. The path to redemption depends on escape from the mental conditions of normality, “as the live animal is fully present, all there, in all of its actions’ (Dewey AAE 19). The importance of this point is all the more evident when compared with the workings of our more intellectual predisposition. Martin tells us that all human conditioning has been directed toward intellectual living, “a very serious distraction” (W153). Sensation on the leading edge of intuitive experience is the life-blood of aesthetic creative response.
As we have seen, all knowledge is conditioned, as the past informs the immediate present without negating the importance of creative intuition. Nevertheless, comfortably falling back on familiar memory patterns, continuity can inhibit novelty. “Since the work of art is the subject-matter of experiences heightened and intensified,” Dewey feels “the purpose that determines what is aesthetically essential is precisely the formation of an experience as an experience” (AAE 294). Strategies that keep experience out on the edges of sensation, prior to intellectual categorization, can contribute to an aesthetically enriched life. In this modality, intuition functions as unconscious imagination, on the leading edge of experience. This function is what Schilling called “intuition of the first order,” and “hence the impossibility of defining them [intuitions], for all definition is synthetic” (72). Although less interested in the matter of an unconditioned principle accessible via intuition, Dewey establishes intuition as “that meeting of the old and the new in which the readjustment involved in every form of consciousness is effected suddenly by means of a quick and unexpected harmony” (AAE 266). Thinking takes one out of the stream of experience as “experience is limited by all the causes which interfere with perception of the relations between undergoing [receiving] and doing” (Dewey 44). The principles of reality are beyond the private opinion of one person. That first slice of undivided experience resides in the present moment, preceding any kind of intellectual understanding. Dewey describes quality in experience as a harmonious unity that “can only be felt, that is, immediately experienced” (AAE 192). Through creatively considering the world, we can abandon ultimate dependence on reason to allow sudden intuitive illumination.
Moment by moment, the present past is organized into a structural form that permits understanding. “And then sometimes there are moments of perfection,” Martin asserts, “and in these moments we wonder why we ever thought life was difficult” (W 31). Knowledge transfers across a boundary, as the unconscious diffuses to the conscious, for “if we know the product of the intuition, we are also acquainted with the intuition itself, and hence we need only derive the product, in order to derive the intuition” (Schelling 219). There are times when what is given to sensation is obviously as wondrous as any perceptual understanding of a specific external phenomenon. In Bergsonian parlance, every interpretation contains an irrational element, or a creative “vague intuition that surrounds our distinct—that is, intellectual—representation” (56). The essential foundation of quality consists in enabling this potential, for “startling moments of awareness are never forgotten” (Martin W 31). Returning to an artistic example, in this square composition, subtle color becomes the dominate element in an elegant illuminating presence. After some time and exposure, it becomes apparent how important repetition and variation of a consistent theme are to Martin, to make similar but different results (see fig. 10). In Bergson’s view, the processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism for understanding reality. With these accents in mind, to our original question concerning the importance of quality we have uncovered three avenues of vital consideration: immediacy, continuity, and experientially. To recapitulate our findings, there is always more available in every event contingency, as existence is never fully exhausted, and “first you get the feeling, then you figure out why” (Pirsig ZMM 20). As a response, art making becomes a visceral process experienced in the immediate intuitive present, dominating attention at the leading edge of activity. Creative production is not just a human attitude, but is primordial form of relation and interaction, as articulated by both Schelling and Dewey in their own unique ways. Echoing these sentiments, Pirsig points to a new way of seeing, as “pure experience cannot be called either physical or psychical: it logically precedes this distinction” (Lila 365). In this regard, some stimuli-responses will function prior to concept formation yet still provide information operating instantaneously in a dynamic movement toward quality, value, or worthiness. Are there vital profiles on intuitive knowledge that we are now in a position to navigate and appreciate with respect to the Intuition-Quality issue evoked by Martin’s work?
The Primacy of Intuitive Knowledge in Quality
Martin elaborates on this epistemology, specifying how “in our minds there is an awareness of perfection and when we look with our eyes we see it, and how it functions is mysterious to us and unavailable” (W 31). Thus perfection is an elusive state, as often Martin will draw lines on a canvas as part of the whole, but never are they rendered in an exact manner. Rather they have an organic feeling reminiscent of empirical encounters with pure existence (see fig. 11). Additionally, it is this perfection that is our greatest interest (Martin W 117). In any hierarchy of behavior, the first distinction is most important, in that a thing without value does not exist for the responder. Dewey points out that “the difference between the aesthetic and the intellectual is thus one of the place[s] where emphasis falls in the constant rhythm that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surroundings” (AAE 15). Experiences and ideas accumulate persistently, building an ever-becoming reservoir of understanding. Thus, knowledge becomes a certain familiarity, awareness or understanding which can be theoretical or practical, as “direct experience comes from nature [object] and man [subject] interacting with each other” (Dewey AAE 16). Providing more points on creative perception, direct experiences are not reducible, as Martin explicates, in that her “interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed . . . in art work which is also wordless and silent” (W 89). Because in nature there is no sameness anywhere, with her creative work, Martin sets up conditions that allow a multiplicity of perceptual response (see fig. 12). Although there is no universal agreement on artistic essence, a human-made artifact achieves artistic status to the extent it reveals value, as an event or object recognized for its quality, supporting inherent creative interest.
Phenomenology affirms that “existence precedes essence,” thus signifying that humans do not have an intrinsic nature that determines their modes of being and acting. Rather these modes are simply possibilities from which quality choices can be made. Mind and matter, subject and object, form and substance, are all invented or constructed dualistic divisions. But phenomenology, strictly speaking, also affirms that human consciousness is structured via Intentionality and thereby is prone to engage in the constitution of meaning; and consciousness does this largely by intuition. Each experienced moment interrogates conceptual processes by which general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific particulars. The issue here is about knowledge of essence in relation to artistic intuition. The “essence” of which we seek is that homogeneous attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is. Pirsig discovered that the number of rational hypotheses for any given phenomenon appeared to be unlimited. This quandary began to problematize the intellectual concept of a single essence for a given entity. Moreover, this lead to a consideration of essence as something immediately experienced intuitively. Because it can be recognized before it can be conceptualized, “reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place” (Pirsig ZMM 112). Somewhere farther along than Schelling, but not as far as Dewey, Agnes Martin embodied this approach in her work, when she proclaimed that the intellect is the enemy of art making (Glimcher PWR 12). In this view, art production is grounded outside the realm of reason, in an immediate interaction with the environment as determined by the essential conditions of experience. Foundations of thought are spontaneously beyond cognition, in a super heightened state of awareness. As Dewey notes: “The career and destiny of a living being are bound up with its interchanges with its environment, not externally but in the most intimate way” (AAE 13). This position is in support of his major aesthetic claim, that “the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience” (Dewey AAE 3). To be artistically engaged is to be interested in doing well and finding satisfaction in effort, caring for the materials and tools with genuine affection.
Pirsig also connects care to quality, by “pointing out that care and quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. In this way, Persig animates quality in a unique way that Dewey and Schelling could only imply. A person who sees quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares” (ZMM 126). As time progresses, the organism is faced with essential decisions as moments of resistance and tension are encountered. Life grows when a temporary alienation is a “transition to a more extensive balance of the energies of the organism with those of the conditions under which it lives” (Dewey AAE 14). Choices made reflect value judgments that “reach to the roots of the aesthetic in experience” (Dewey AAE 14). The artist cautionary readiness cultivates moments of uncertainty, “not for their own sake, but because of their potentialities, bring to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total” (Dewey AAE 15). Martin agrees, in that “an artist can not and does not prepare for a certain response. He does not consider the response but simply follows his inspiration” (W 180). According to Pirsig, this requires a sense of what is good, that which “carries you forward. This sense isn’t just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you can develop. It’s not just "intuition," not just unexplainable "skill" or "talent." It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality, quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal” (ZMM 129). Thus intuition transcending experience simultaneously invokes experience. It is not difficult to see in these remarks a relationship to Schilling’s System of Transcendental Idealism, in that “the product of this intuition will therefore verge on the one side upon the product of nature [object], and on the other upon the product of freedom [subject], and must unite in itself the characteristics of both” (219). He recognizes the intuitive importance of the pre-intellectual, for “the objective is simply that which arises without consciousness” (220). “Hence an action differs from those experiences that are acknowledged to be aesthetic, but only in its materials. The material of the fine arts consists of qualities; that of experience having intellectual conclusion as signs or symbols having no intrinsic quality of their own, but standing for things that may in another experience be qualitatively experienced” (AAE 38). Martin described revelations “born of an anti-intellectualism . . . fully realized compositions manifested through the disciplined emptying of her mind by interrupting conscious thought” (DIA 120). Some of her paintings radiate an evanescent formless form, like an immediate field of vision across an empty landscape of an imaginary but real experience (see fig. 13).
Circling back to a primary issue, but now armed with the deeper insights of Schelling and Dewey, perception now appears more complete. To fully experience the present moment, all prior conditioning must be bypassed, allowing the highest value sensations to divulge. Understanding the conditions that make awareness possible is critical to such responsiveness. As Schelling explains, “in the knowing as such—in the fact of my knowing—objective and subjective are so united that one cannot say which of the two has priority” (STI 5). Aesthetics, including creative production, allows the intelligence to reach Martin’s desire for a perfect perception by transcending and thus unifying subject and object. As an ambiguity that is resolved yet comfortably unexplained, art creation is accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction revealed as “our ideas, deductions made from observed facts of life, are of no use in the unfolding of potential” (Martin W 115). Art resides in a higher register than philosophy, while being fully synergistic with all human enterprise. Is it in this way that creative production might precede understanding as a pre-conceptual common ground situated in particular environmental conditions, establishing quality as an intrinsic and central constituent of artistic experience?
This inquiry has equated quality to an intuitive value judgment in artistic production, with unimportant things generally ignored, or withdrawn from perception in the creative act. An alternate though applicable distinction expressed by Heidegger identifies value in what is ignored, in that “the event of withdrawal could be what is most present throughout the present, and so infinitely exceed the actuality of everything actual” (BW 374). For Heidegger, in art and truth as events, there is a necessary play of showing and concealing. The artwork and the artist provide a springboard from which “that which is” can be revealed (BW 325). As a mode of revelation, Heidegger’s theory of enframing that can prohibit unconcealment moves us circuitously back to art expressing the artistic experience: “We seek [art] essence in the actual work. The actuality of the work has been defined by that which is at work in the work, by the happening of truth” (BW 182). Could it be that intellectualizing causes concealment? All of our thinkers, each in their different orientation, consider that categories of thought and recollection tend to limit potential, with many boundaries self-imposed. They point out that preconceived ideas can condition the mind to approach problems inflexibly, thereby eliminating fertile possibility. Inspiration and invention is the process of embracing the imaginable. Consistently trusting in the unreliability of immediate experience is liberating, as miscalculation provides a productive alternative mental pathway. The number of speculative hypotheses that can explicate any phenomenon is infinite (Pirsig ZMM 51). Along these lines of thought, Dewey identifies how an artist is not only especially “gifted in powers of execution, but in unusual sensitivity to the qualities of things. This sensitivity also directs his doings and makings” (Dewey AAE 49, italics mine). Each aesthetic interpretation may disclose a characteristic of existence, but at the same time, it hides other actuality aspects. When aesthetically responding to reality, it is more important that events be interesting, rather than their subsequent cognitive analysis be truthful. Dewey remarks that “because the actual world, that in which we live, is a combination of movement and culmination, of breaks and re-unions, the experience of a living creature is capable of aesthetic quality” (AAE 17, italics mine). Furthermore, in this emphasis on how to reconsider quality, the artist experiences the “very qualitative media he works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that he is producing that they merge directly into it” (Dewey AAE 16). Pirsig defines value as experience, “not a judgment about an experience . . . not a description of experience . . . the value itself is an experience (Lila 66). It is precisely the immediate sensation of quality that determines response in creative art production. Several conceptual points still need to be made by way of addressing Martin’s creative commitments and then we will conclude the discussion.
Not only is art able go beyond current cultural awareness, but also can transcend the artist making the work. In her mission to create work that was “devoid of intellectual content,” Martin’s grid paintings in particular “address the finer layers of perception and extend awareness” (Glimcher PWR 12). Intricate and richly nuanced, certain Martin images are full of detail, blending into a hum of stillness, suggestive of a musical score unfolding a Zen poem (see fig. 14). Martin tells us that although the process of life is hidden from us, art could/should be a vehicle for certain concrete but ineffable emotions, because “in our minds there is awareness of perfection [quality]” (W 153). Her criteria for what makes aesthetic objects “right” is subjective, intuitive, holistic, and evanescent, and “with time nuance becomes the subject” (Glimcher PWR 11). Her approach to life and artistic production is aesthetic in that “the function of art work is the stimulation of sensibilities, the renewal of memories of moments of perfection” (Martin W 69, italics mine). Thus in the work of Martin, the expression of quality experienced in the moment without limitations of mental categorization is the ultimate goal. In all cases, the central quality question remains: what makes art good art when in the act of creation? In other words, how can inspiration be executed in an excellent manner with high-quality? In this regard, “it is a degree of completeness of living in the experience of making and perceiving,” that Dewey claims “makes the difference between what is fine or aesthetic in art and what is not” (AAE 26). In expressing, the artist has something significant to convey, driven by powerful notions and emotions based on interest. Dewey places the experiential artist at the transcendental boundary, as “art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is” (AAE 18). Under this operative, art satisfies the projection of these feelings and receiver interpretation is an extraneous bonus. Nietzsche philosophically exemplifies this artistic approach, “above all: an art for artists, only for artists!” (7). Dewey articulates that “an experience has a unity . . . constituted by a single quality that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts” (AAE 37). Creative production and appreciation fit into this pattern of valuation by the making of something in attentiveness to its own activity.
Through the aftermath of intertextual exchange, we have learned that quality is a conditional attribute functioning as a pragmatic interpretation of the most advantageous aspect of sensation. Our contributing thinkers have shown that art making can function as a pre-conceptual, nonintellectual awareness following a quality assessment, an indefinable mystical mode of concentration that happens before analysis. In this way, it is experienced immediately as an intuitive unarticulated feeling of good, bad, and shades between. Pirsig uses a train analogy to explain the aesthetic event: boxcars full of freight are the past experience (both individual and cultural) that informs the engine (dynamic cutting-edge) at the present moment. Meanwhile the train-track is the quality, neither a part of mind, nor a part of matter. It is a third entity which is independent of the two” (Pirsig ZMM 129). Because we are unaccustomed to it, we do not usually see quality as capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction, pointing outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Correcting this misconception, Dewey likewise holds that “thinking goes on in a train of ideas, but the ideas form a train only because they are much more than what an analytic psychology calls ideas . . . they are phases, emotionally and practically distinguished, of a developing underlying quality” (AAE 37). As the first to write a philosophy of art, Schelling was convinced that art has a truth status, in that “all knowledge is founded upon the coincidence of an objective with a subjective,” which are unified through aesthetics (5). He correlates the objective with nature and the subjective with freedom, and claims that the “basic character of the work of art is that of an unconscious infinity,” a synthesis of nature and freedom (225). As cognition residing beneath the surface of thoughts, quality is associated with a pre-intellectual order and clarity. In the development of sensibility in response to quality, Martin established that “when the mind is untroubled is when inspiration is most possible” (W 35). Each of her works invokes an integrity that speaks to concern for quality in its entirety. She selects what to notice in the immediate flux of experience, but ignores reality that has no value. Drawn without cognition by a serene mind, in her work quality is manifest through a concentrated expenditure of involvement, concern, and commitment (see fig. 15). As Pirsig averred, to isolate and identify objects, quality judgments must be first established. This ever-evolving capacity refers to the ability to discern an undefinable but recognizable quality evident in an event and its associated sensations. Martin believed that “when the mind is covered over with perfection, the heart is filled with delight” (W 31, italics mine). Experiencing the present moment with maximum potential, as an expression of allusion, art can say something without saying it.
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