Panel: Embodiment in Criticism and Connoisseurship

Joanna Ganczarek, Daniele Nardi, and Marta Olivetti Belardinelli, Am I here or there? Space and Action in Aesthetic Experience

When viewers approach a canvas that delivers a life-like, almost photographic rendering of a scene, the person’s perception of space and body might change considerably. Through a combination of perception and imagination they are transported from ‘here’ to ‘there’. They remain in the physical space surrounding an artwork but also engage in imaginary actions within the pictorial space. This situation exemplifies the account of multiple states of existence and the flexibility of cognition. It also highlights the connection between perception of space and actions that can be performed within it.
The aim of the paper is twofold: presenting experimental data on subjects’ experience of space and action when viewing Vermeer’s paintings (1) and framing the data within the wider theoretical context of embodied cognition paradigm (2).
Regarding the first objective, physiological measures (eye movements and body sway) will be described with particular attention to the indices that suggest that the imaginary actions and places have an effect on viewers’ bodies. With reference to the second objective, relevant aspects of embodiment theory will be discussed such as the concept of motor components of spatial cognition and affordances.

Daniel Weiskopf, Embodied Encounters: The Role of the Body in Art Criticism

In “The Body/Body Problem”, Arthur Danto argues that while the medical and biological sciences deliver new kinds of theoretical and practical knowledge about our bodies, art cannot do so. Rather, we understand artworks through engaging our “folk” embodied knowledge. I survey three ways that the body enters into the interpretation of artworks and argue that while embodied knowledge can be an essential tool and a corrective to certain theories of artistic representation, it also has sharp limits.

First, bodies are represented objects, and are therefore sites of interest, attention, and empathetic engagement. Mimetic theories such as Kendall Walton’s give a central role to imagination and pretense. Embodied cognition also emphasizes simulation in understanding bodily and mental states. But the limits of mimetic theories show up when encountering art that deals with detached or disassembled bodies, and thus aims to subvert these reactions.

Second, artworks, like bodies, exist in space, with surfaces and skins, interiors and cavities, skeletons and supports. Attending to these helps show the limits of philosophical theories of depiction, which treat images as if they were disembodied or purely formal structures. Our bodies are vehicles for spectatorship, and viewing artworks requires specific standpoints, postures, and contortions, which can produce their own emotional and discursive responses. Theories of interpretation that rely on a “disembodied” relationship to artworks, treating them as abstractions, overlook crucial facts about critical appreciation.

Third, bodies are a reservoir of analogies and metaphors. James Elkins argues that the body often serves as an abstract formal grid that can be projected as a scheme for interpreting the non-bodily world. But not all images and objects fit this formal grid, and where they don’t, embodied spectatorship breaks down. It is an open question how much remains comprehensible in artworks that stretch or break the limits of bodily metaphor.

Jonathan Chou, Phenomenology in Practice: Implications for the Art and Craft of Fiction

What can phenomenology teach us about the art and craft of fiction? Why and how does one write? Drawing primarily from the preface of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s seminal work, “The Phenomenology of Perception,” this paper explores a phenomenological theory of the art and craft of writing. Beginning from the dissolution of the Cartesian mind-body split, I argue that the imaginative act of writing can no longer be thought of as a translation or reification of a mental image, but must instead be conceived of as the means by which one creates the world and establishes the truth of one’s consciousness, or one’s being-in-the-world. Yet, as writing is not equivalent to perception, the art of writing must be distinguished from its craft. If the act of perception is always already begun, our understanding of our relation to the world is not; the work of description is an infinite task and cannot be completed so long as we are in the world. This is the responsibility of philosophy, Merleau-Ponty contends, to invite us to take notice of our relation to the world. I argue in similar fashion that a successfully crafted work of writing inserts a space between its reader and the world and by doing so awakens the reader to his or her own thoughts. Writing thus stands to suspend the movement of our being-in-the-world, to loosen “the intentional threads that connect us to the world in order to make them appear.” As the attempt to provide a direct description of embodied experience, to “[rediscover] that actual presence of myself to myself,” phenomenology may bridge the divide between philosophy and art and above all give writers new ways to imagine the purpose and execution of their work.

Claudia Villegas-Silva, Embodiment and Post- Human Aesthetic in Contemporary Latin American Theater and Performance

This paper explores three performances by Latin American directors and artists: Juan Carlos Zagal, director of Cinema teatro (“Historia de Amor,” 2013); Raúl Miranda (“Domus aurea” [Golden House], 2010); and Trinidad Piriz (“Helen Brown,” 2013). The three performances considered here constitute examples of the diversity and search for renewal of theatrical codes using new media in latinamerican theatre. Many practitioners of theatre today are in search of new aesthetic practices capitalizing on the many advances in technology. In order to demonstrate the way in which technologies are staged, I will discuss three plays which show innovative and compelling uses of technology that compel the audience to speculate on what it means to be human and critically question the post-human position.The three artists construct alternate spaces by mediating technology and gender as well as the idea of real time, space, and presence, consequently creating a post-human aesthetic. The use of new media lead s to the construction of new physical structures to house these types of performances because of the transformation of spatial and temporal perception caused by different technologies. These new spaces urge us to (re)consider notions of identity, consciousness and the organic body.

Susanna Melkonian-Altshuler, Knowing-how and artifact concepts

This talk is about the explanatory role of knowing-how for understanding the structure of some abstract artifact concepts. A non-intellectualist view of knowing-how will be presented according to which our phylogenetic capability to create new worldly items derives from trial and error experiences. This evolutionary notion of knowing-how will then be used to characterize artifact concepts.
In metaphysics, it is generally held that making objects involves productive intentions (e.g. Hilpinen 2011). The problem with this view, however, is that it is incapable of accounting for the nature of productive intentions. Where do productive intentions come from and how did we develop our very first ideas of artifact production? I am going to argue that artifact production knowledge can be derived from sensory-motor experiences. When our ancestors first manipulated new items they did not have any productive intentions, but rather developed them in terms of experimenting with nature and perceiving effective results of their actions.
An advantage of this evolutionary view of artifact production is that it connects to grounded views of cognition. On a modified view of grounded cognition, I will argue that the conceptual structure of some present-day’s abstract artifact concepts such as PIECE OF MUSIC or PIECE OF ART can be effectively explained if it is taken into account that “visual recordings” of first observed result objects played a major role in developing abstract artifact concepts.