Experience and Experiment in Art

Alva Noƫ

Full English version in: Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2000, 7(8-9): 123-136.

A significant impediment to the study of perceptual consciousness is our dependence on simplistic ideas about what experience is like. This is a point that has been made by Wittgenstein, and by philosophers working in the Phenomenological Tradition, such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Importantly, it is an observation that has been brought to the fore in recent discussions of consciousness among philosophers and cognitive scientists who have come to feel the need for a more rigorous phenomenology of experience. The central thought of this paper is that art can make a needed contribution to the study of perceptual consciousness. The work of some artists can teach us about perceptual consciousness by furnishing us with the opportunity to have a special kind of reflective experience. In this way, art can be a tool for phenomenological investigation.
The paper has three parts. First, I present what I call the problem of the transparency of experience. This is a problem for philosophy, for art, and for cognitive science. Second, I present an alternative conception of experience as a mode of interactive engagement with the environment. Finally, against the background of this conception, I discuss, briefly, the work of the sculptors Richard Serra and Tony Smith.

Keywords: art, experience, experiment, phenomenology, Serra, Smith.

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