Art & The Conscious Mind – 20/01/15

Paradox 1

 ‘Paradox I’, Robert Pepperell, 2005, Oil on panel

(Image taken from;

Field has certainly taken a different path this year than of last year; which consisted of a group member not turning up to lessons and us failing because of the consequences, as well as a lot of tedious workshops focusing on subjects I did not really hold much of an interest in. This year, however, has been brilliant; Painting performance really opened my eyes to a way of creating art that I had belittled and stayed away from for years, and now I am focusing on a concept that is to do with the context of my work more, rather than the physicality of the performance; Art & The Conscious mind. The lecture began with a rather defining point; what makes us human. The first, was the self awareness within us that we call ‘consciousness’, how we gather, store, and learn from the information fed to us by the world, and the way that human beings are the only creatures on this earth that create art.


‘Cupid and Psyche’, 1640, Anthony Van Dyck

(Image taken from;

Then, we were shown this image by Van Dyck. A simple painting, it details the point of the mythological story behind Cupid and Psyche; in which Psyche’s beauty caused Venus, the Greek God, to become jealous. She gave a parcel to Psyche, warning her not to open it or she will fall into a ‘death-like’ state. Of course, as per usual with human nature, she opens the parcel and is struck into a state of ‘unconsciousness’, in which she is unaware of the world around her as it passes by. Cupid, captivated by the beauty of Psyche, goes to her, and by piercing her with an arrow of love, awakens her from her slumber. She is now aware of the world surrounding her, ‘conscious’ so to speak. There is a continuing idea of being unconscious as being dead to the world; defined by an inability to control oneself, combined with a lack of awareness of the world around them. They are dead, in all senses of the word, but also still acutely alive.

This is reflected in the trees behind the two figures; the one behind cupid flourishing with life, whereas the one behind Psyche dead and lifeless, except for a few leaves resting upon the top of the tree, hinting at possible growth; possible new life after the death. Could consciousness continue after death? this is something I explore within my own practice, resurrection and immortality through belief and worship are often referenced through my analysis of religion (and I later discovered a means of understanding consciousness, and all spiritual concepts, as existing on a  separate plane to this physical one that we reside upon, believed by religions and philosophers alike, called ‘Dualism’. Interesting, to say the least, and heavily entwined within my work.)

. However, the point of this matter is that the trees are not strictly noticed at first glance. In fact, myself and my fellow students did not even notice this correlation between the trees and the foreground figures until Robert had mentioned it. This was a perfect showcase of the way that our brains collect and analyse information, and one of the primary biological functions of our conciousness. Our minds are always gathering information, as well as filtering through and organising the most important aspects of it. To understand something going on, other aspects of the reality surrounding us must be filtered out in order to focus on the few things that matter. How intriguing it is to think about such a concept; the world is there for the taking, but at times we are so wrapped up in our own small parts of it, we fail to see things right in front of our eyes.


(Image taken from;

A concept that I was fascinated with that was spoken about during the lecture was that ‘Consciousness brings the world into being for us’. This is a very monumental statement to make; without consciousness, it implies, there would be no world for us to explore and understand as we do today. If we were to function without the cognitive mind that we hold within our brain, we would function much like an ant, or some other simple minded being on the earth. In such a way that we would not understand the world surrounding us enough to function in a sentient way; we would be dictated purely by our body’s wants and needs; our body’s sensory inputs. Therefore, our brain could not even begin to comprehend the vastness of the world around us, and would function purely on instinct. An ant, if it were to crawl upon the foot of a person, understands the touch of the foot, and can see a little bit before itself to view the skin/show. However, it’s brain is far too feeble to piece together a complete picture of the human being that is crawling upon. Likewise, even though we are sentient enough to understand a great deal of the universe surrounding us, we will never be able to fully grasp anything; we may even be at the end of our ‘knowledge’ at this point.

Scary as a thought, but intriguing, could we push our understanding further than we already do? possibly. We have begun to understand Quantum physics a little bit more than we used to, and this creates promise for a future in which our consciousness can grow and develop far beyond what it already is. However, there is a defining concept that seems to falsify any attempts at growth through conscious development; Nothing we see is actually there. This is better put by Helmholtz in this passage; ‘The objects at will in space seem to us clothed with the qualities of our sensations…all of these qualities of sensation belong to our nervous system alone.’ If we can only put together the world through our nervous system; through our senses, then how can we even be sure that the world is there to begin with, and not simply a product of our sensory input. How can we even be sure that the world is the way it is? Everyone perceives the world in a completely different way, and therefore each and every conscious is completely different, and the way it perceives the world is completely different.


(Image taken from;

Then, as we descended unto the topic of the nature of reality. Robert’s lecture took a turn for the scientific; quantum physics were brought up. I’ve never really delved into this field before, but it’s incredibly fascinating. Now, to understand Quantum physics, one must throw out each rule they understand about the nature of reality. At any moment, the nature of a molecule on a sub atomic level is that it can be measured in numerous ways, but at the point of measurement the nature of the molecule changes. So, the very thing you are trying to measure, cannot be measured. The molecule is all of the different forms that it could be, at the very same time. However, beyond this it starts to escape our understanding; we struggle to wrap our thoughts around such a mind boggling phenomena, and much like the ant being unable to grasp the image of an entire human being, we cannot begin to fathom the sheer intensity of the universe’s wonder. Theoretically, with the tools we have, it is unable for us to understand the very nature of consciousness; it is like asking a spanner to tighten itself.


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