Our daily lives are spent in a generalised, unremarkable state of ordinary consciousness in which we do not experience emotion, what might be described as mood fluctuations, whose movements are more or less good, bad or indifferent. We experience (or potentially experience) emotion when there is a deviation or irregularity from the norm, provoking an interest. Artists deliberately perform operations that come instinctively, consciously or unconsciously, to confuse our everyday schemas. In doing so they attract attention, sustain interest, and create emotion in their audiences.
According to V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein’s research, the artist, consciously or not, employs eight universal principles when making work to stimulate the audience’s brain. These principles act as a framework for understanding visual art, aesthetics and design. The principles explain why we instantly respond to an artwork more than others, they are not fixed in terms of originality or the evocativeness of individual artworks.
THE 8 PRINCIPLES OF THE ARTISTIC EXPERIENCE:
1. The Peak Shift Principle
2. Isolation of a single cue
4. Extraction of contrast
5. Perceptual problem solving
6. Unique advantage point
7. Visual Metaphors
The selected artists demonstrate one or more of the eight principles. Using the principles we can explain why we are drawn to them without thinking about the context or the interest of the artist. Our interest in the works can be described by one of the eight principles. Allowing use to consider to what extent taste or education come into play when viewing artworks. Is art actually a matter of triggering our inbuilt responses, as apposed to an academic interpretation?
Benjamin Brett (b.1982) lives and works in London, graduating from the RCA in 2013. He has recently exhibited in a group show, Synesthesium at Ana Cristea Gallery, New York. He will be included in the upcoming Thames and Hudson publication 100 Painters of Tomorrow.
Jack Brindley (b.1987) lives and works in London, graduating from the RCA in 2013. He was selected as one of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2012 and has recently had a solo show at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery earlier this year.
Alice Browne (b.1986) lives and works in London, graduating from Wimbledon College of Art in 2009. Her recent shows include In Place at Limoncello Gallery, London and Sequence at Annarumma Gallery, Naples.
Jess Flood-Paddock (b.1977) lives and works in London. She has been awarded the Kenneth Armitage Foundation Fellowship, including a two year studio residency in London and has an upcoming solo show at Carl Freedman Gallery.
1- Ellen Dissanayake (2009) “The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics”. Cognitive Semiotics 5, 148-173.
2- Ramachandran, V.S.; Hirstein, William (1999). “The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (6-7): 15–51.
- Emma Moore
The 8 Artistic Principles, recently staged at The Attic, One Thoresby St, brought together four artists under a curatorial interpretation of eight artistic principles, proposed by V.S Ramachandran and William Hirstein as a means to deconstruct and understand aesthetic experience. The exhibition comprised the work of Benjamin Brett, Jack Brindley, Alice Browne and Jess Flood-Paddock, each of whom either consciously or unwittingly evoked one of these artistic principles.
Situated on the fourth floor of an ex-industrial, Victorian building the Attic is reached via a concrete staircase that spirals upward to the top of the building. Once in the space the physical exertion required to get there makes visitors aware of their, for the most part, exhausted body. This awareness was strangely befitting in relation to a show which discreetly nods to physicality in relation to site-specific installation and abstract painting. Upon entering the show visitors are confronted with the work of Jack Brindley. Two solid rectangular structures stand firmly in place, obscuring the view of the show. Placed within close proximity to each other they manipulate the flow of bodies through the space. Facing outward toward the entrance a framed paperwork, made from the transfer of ink from a sheet of carbon paper to a blank recipient, hangs on each of the structures. The opposing sides are perfectly plastered surfaces. Under explicit instruction from the artist, a local builder is employed to carry out the plastering. Brindley’s piece is aptly named ‘These Hands’ and in previous iterations of the work the materials are listed: ‘plaster, collaboration’. In an exhibition comprised primarily of abstract painting, Brindley’s work poses an interesting counterpoint. With painting the viewer is always conscious of the paintings making and artistic labour is easily observed. In ‘These Hands’ Brindley, as artist, actively removes himself from the production of the work. Even the framed paper works lack any sense of human contact.
The rest of the show appears once I’d navigated between the other bodies and structures. ‘Fallow’, a large canvas by Benjamin Brett, dominated the back wall. A chasm of empty space in front allows the work to breathe. The bodily relationship of the artist to the work is evident as swooping strokes of army greens and deep brown stretch from one corner to opposite. Murky colour vibrates below the surface. Floating to the top are repeated outlines of a German soldier’s helmet, a recurring motif in the artist’s work. Brett’s exploration of the space of the canvas results in a multilayered narrative which seems to slowly reveal itself over a quiet passing of time. On the adjacent wall Alice Browne appears to embrace a more intuitive approach. There is a strong sense of movement in her work, quick and gestural, relishing in the suggestive rather than descriptive. In ‘Blockade’, through an economic use of colour and employing minimal shapes, Browne toys with the orientation of the picture plane, somehow inciting the foreground to fold back away from itself retreating from the audience’s gaze. Similarities abound between Brett and Browne , their use of muted colour and animated brushstrokes, fuel a conversation between the work which flows through the exhibition.
Sandwiched between the canvases of Brett and Browne hangs a moka pot; the work of Jess Flood-Paddock. A modern day kitchen utensil, the pot has been intentionally rusted by the artist. Three small, tired looking bells hang from its base and attached to its side are several shells. Only the pristine handle belies its falsified history. Ramachandran and Hirstein observe in their thesis that art should enhance, transcend and distort reality. Removed from its original context and devoid of function Paddock’s obsolete coffee maker distorts its reality and the passing of time. This idea of distortion could also be applied to Brindley who in many ways distorts the role of an artist.
Surveying the show I felt the dense weight of the history of painting loom overhead, conscious of its supposed death in the late 1960s as post-studio practice took hold. Digital technology now provides endless possibilities for the immediate construction of images which begs questions surrounding the role of painting, its relentless persistence as a medium and, in equal measure, its allure.
The eight artistic principles were first proposed by Ramachandran and Hirstein in an article titled ‘The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience’. Driven by a want to understand the incomprehensible i.e. why do humans create?, Ramachandran and Hirstein carried out an analytical study more in line with scientific research which included comparisons made between lab rats tested for adaptive behaviour and a humans escalating emotional response to repeat images. Their proposed universal laws derived from what could be read as too generalised and conservative a definition of art, one which fails to allow for consideration of conceptual, ephemeral, performative and tenuous collaborative works.
Instead of posing questions on what art can and does do for us, Ad Reinhardt, whose Black Paintings of the 1960s represented abstraction at a nihilistic high, inverted the focus. In Reinhardt’s drawing What do you represent? (1946 -47) a grinning, well dressed man points at an abstract painting “Ha Ha what does this represent” he smirks. In the image below, the painting points back demanding of its astonished viewer “What do you represent?”.