Art & The Conscious Mind; 10/02/15

Cranach Adam Eve


‘Adam & Eve’, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520

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‘For God knows that in the fay you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

– Genesis 3:6

Self awareness. This is the defining factor that differentiates us from the animals that surround us in the world. Each and every being on this earth has some form of consciousness, however, only human beings have the conscious capacity to be self aware. To be self aware, is to be human; allowing us not only to think, but to think about the fact that we can think. This piece was shown at the beginning of the lecture; the moment when Adam is tempted by Eve to eat the apple. Eve stares knowingly at Adam, whilst Adam scratches his head, almost ape-like in demeanour, as he wonders about the possibilities of this fruit he is holding. We are all like Adam at one point in our lives; unknowing and innocent, but we too become self aware as our minds develop throughout our lives. Through this gaining of self awareness, we gain the possibility of self reflection. The mirror test is an often cited scientific experiment that proves the sentience and understanding of our minds, and the point in which we gain this self awareness; young toddlers will not realise that the reflection is themselves, and will often try to interact with it as if it as another entity altogether, but after a certain amount of time has passed in their development, they understand that it is nothing more than a reflection of themselves. This reflection can also be said to be an extension of our own awareness, as it is a representation of ourselves consciously as well as physically.


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Although a person is made up of a great deal of parts, they are not the parts that they are made up of, but rather, the sum of it’s parts. This sense of self comes through the unity of these individual pieces of the human body, rather than in a specific area of the body. As we discussed just the other week, there is no distinct place in the brain in which science can define the conscious mind is placed, we can only assume that there is something linking the different sensory inputs together somewhere in the brain. This provides a logical issue, and the idea of the ‘self’, are riddled with these issues. If one is to think about the fact that they think enough, attempting to understand and derive the cause of this thought, it can drive them insane. Mallarme, a poet, stated after spending a year attempting to understand his own sentience; ‘I have just spent a most terrifying year; my thought thought, and I reached a kind of pure conception. What my being…has suffered during this long agony is unrelatable.’ If thought is such a dangerous thing, and especially the idea of thought about thought, then how can one start to believe they can ever understand it? There is an interesting aspect of the mind, however, that goes against this; we are often thinking when we are not actually aware of it. In order to achieve something in our life; whether that is simply putting on a pair of shoes or looking out of a window and noticing the weather is nice, we must think about it in order to do it. Then, we think about the fact that we have thought about it in order to bring it to the forefront of our mind. The initial reaction is often subconscious, and then the decision is conscious. If we are consistently thinking about something, and then the thought about the something, then surely we would go through the same ordeal that mallarme did? Is it when we delve too far, perhaps, in our mind, that the insanity and infuriation at our misunderstanding begins?


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Many attempts to understand the idea of consciousness ends in some form of infinite regression; some form of logical paradox. If one has a place in their mind that dwells on the final unity of the sensory input, then one must have something that dwells on that? If so, then where does this link of consciousness thinking about the ‘lesser’ consciousness end? If one is to place a mirror against another mirror, the light reflects off of one another. Although, this does not tear a hole in the fabric of space and time, so there must be an end somewhere, but where is this end? I believe that self consciousness, as a concept, is inherent in this unity of the sensory input, but is more of a result of them coming together, then something that actively combines them. The differing parts of the brain reflect upon one another, and through this reflection, through this thought about thought, self awareness, is created. Douglas Hofstatder once said; ‘In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.‘ and I cannot agree more.


‘Self Portrait’, 1646, Johannes Gumpp

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Self awareness is often brought into art, within this example above by Johannes Gumpp, we see an interesting perception of self awareness here in this painting. The artist places he viewer in the lace of himself, observing himself painting a painting of himself. The painting looks at the viewer, almost knowingly, whereas Gumpp stares intently at a mirror of himself. Here, we get an interesting juxtaposition of character; We can see the face of Gumpp twice, but they are not his ‘real’ face; one is a reflection, and one is a painting. The actual face of Gumpp is shielded from view. This creates an acute sense of self awareness within a simple piece of fabric with coloured mud spread across of it’s surface. Gumpp knows this is a painting, and seems to understand the intrinsic nature of a painting as a reflection of reality, but not reality itself.



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Self Aware art seemed to really take hold in the pop art movement; this piece ‘CLEAR SQUARE GLASS LEANING’ is quite possibly the epitome of self aware art. The piece’s title is exactly what the piece is; clear, square pieces of glass leaning against a wall. There’s something distinctively ‘meta’ about this whole piece’s concept, not only is it fully aware of what it is as an art piece, it understands what it is to BE an art piece. Kasouth has even gone on to say; ‘Art’s only claim is for Art. Art is the definition of Art.’ If art can only truly be about art, then surely art must understand it’s necessity to it’s own cause? this relates to more eastern concepts of every object in the universe holding a consciousness within themselves, no matter how different they are to our own definition of consciousness. As an artist puts a piece of their own consciousness into the mind of an art piece, then one must understand that the consciousness within the art piece must understand itself, it must understand that it can think about itself. Therefore, a self aware person can create a self aware artwork, as it’s consciousness, through the belief of extensionism, can extend into the work that it has created; it’s influence spreads through the artwork into the surrounding world.


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