“HELP! I need your opinion: This is a survey relevant to aesthetics. Below are two images; A. Is a Representational Image B. Is an Abstract Image. Simply tell me A., or B. Which one do you like better? Which one appeals to you more? And no, this is not one of those trick tests that use work created by animals. So WHICH IS IT A OR B???”
Discussions about Visual Art and visual images in 2010 can be broken down into three categories; the 'making' of a visual object, the 'consideration' of that visual object, and the 'valuation' of that visual object. For this experiment, I was only concerned with the 'consideration' aspect, not the 'making' of, or the 'valuation' of the visual objects. This is important to realize, and is directly related to the outcome.
These images are not paintings you are looking at; they are pixels on your monitor screen. They could as easily be Polaroid photographs on your desk, or oil paintings on a wall. Both of these objects DO exist in 3-D in the 'real world'; so, lets assume the following has taken place:
First, I observed object A in real life, as a model, and painted an oil painting that was an exact reproduction of that real world representational model and hung it on a museum wall. Next, let's assume that I took object B as a model, painted an exact reproduction of it, then hung it right next to object A on that same museum wall. I then happily walked out of the museum, whistling to myself, started to cross the street and was hit by a bus. As I am laying mangled under said bus, a crowd gathers around my newest work. They observe, and they comment. All they are left with are the two objects side-by-side on the wall. They see exactly what you see above. There is no 'context', no explanation, no interpretation. People come upon them and react, or not, to the objects exactly as they are. People form opinions, and react, exactly as they did on my Facebook page. So what happened?
Here are the results:
There were approximately 38 votes cast for either A or B, one vote was cast for both A and B, one for “C” and a few “nones” and “neithers”. Of the votes cast, approximately 17 votes were for A(45%), and 21 votes were for B(55%). It was pretty evenly split in terms of who “liked” which image better.
Some liked A, Some liked B. It was not a landslide either way.
Equally important, are some of the comments people shared about both images as they were stating or deciding an opinion:
About image A:
"A for me ! Like the movement & those are the colours I have in my head with chords (Well variations of golds yellows & reds )"
"A appeals to fuzzy emotional spiritualists"
"A ! I can see Christ ! :-)"
"I find interesting the edges and contrasts of texture between the two fields of B as well as the choice of where they break"
So, as I am under the bus and cannot comment this is what people are seeing, thinking and feeling about my two paintings. What does it all mean? What does it all prove? Absolutely nothing. This was certainly no test about what is 'better', a representational image or an abstract image. It was a simple question, "Which image do you like better?" What those people are seeing and feeling is their reality. My control of it ended when I hung those two paintings and walked out the door. Some like A more, some like B more, some are reminded of Christ, some are reminded of the moon, the desert, warm. cold, etc. etc. etc.
These conversations go on every day in galleries and museums around the globe. In classrooms, in Facebook. We are each an 'art critic' and 'visual connoisseur'.
We are bicameral mammals. Our eyes observe an object, instantly we process the visual data and we form a conclusion about that data that may or may not provide us a new idea about something, or trigger a powerful emotion. Our eyes and brains gather that data and instantly seek to order it in a fashion that helps us to process it. We try to 'see' something, like children see shapes in clouds. This is all part of our survival mechanism; fight or flight and all that, but science is learning how it is also part of our pleasure delivery system. Our individual sets of eyes and brains function in the same manner, yet the conclusion reached or the emotion triggered is ultimately very individual. As famed neuroscientist Eric Kandel recently noted while discussing emotion, “emotion is an extremely important subjective state that is universal…shared by people in all cultures, and it’s shared by all animals”. There are diverse examples that show how the universal structure of our brain allows subjective imprinting based on our individual experiences, and how that imprinting influences all of our continued experiences. There is also evidence that indicates there are subconscious emotional patterns at work that science is just beginning to understand, that may be universal. If Plato or Kant were alive today, they might very well be neuroscientists.
The objects I made that are hanging on the museum wall? Suddenly, I regain consciousness, I crawl back into the museum and am shocked to see a crowd already around my exhibit. One of you spots me and asks, "Michael, we are discussing your paintings, what are these based on?"
I explain, "Well, it's like this..."