Knowledge and Form

| November 15, 2012

This is why art must be given particular credit for extending the world of knowledge. The semblances constructed through artistic activity can often teach a good deal about their originals, but, more importantly, they teach the viewer about the nature of his or her perceptual images. It is largely in artistic productions that our culture incorporates knowledge of the evolution of phenomena, however tacit this knowledge seems. After all, while the unusual skills of the field botanist, gamekeeper, herb-gatherer, field geologist, etc., remain distant and mysterious accomplishments for our cultural outlook, the skills involved in seeing or hearing artistic works are widely recognized. Unfortunately, these skills are thought to bear only upon artistic productions. Natural phenomena, in common assumption, do not call for them, and thus connections between such skills and those of the various professions mentioned are rarely made.Yet each of these pursuits extends the powers of recognition; that is, they make the perceptual image more complete. The botanist making field identifications, for example, recognizes a species with ease because he or she has been able to make it more transparent to an organizing intuition than it was, say, as an anonymous weed. But the scientist does not have the aid of the artist’s rendering in the effort to clarify vision, and therefore must be, in principle, even more active than the audience of art. As recognition expands it must penetrate that “nexus of causes potentially appearing in every natural image,” bringing it forward in signatures that can be directly grasped by the trained observer. With further study our botanist may also be able to detect the interaction of other species, and the effect of other environmental elements, in the formation of the particular specimen examined in situ. In this manner the recognized world grows toward intelligibility.Skills such as these have usually been thought purely individual because they could not be communicated as propositions separable from experience. Only the second clause is accurate. In the moment of recognition, perceiving and knowing are identical: only those who see can know, and alternately, only those who know can see. But if such knowledge results from a developed skill, it does not follow that it must remain individual. This unity of seeing and knowing has been central to artistic expression for ages, and both the gamekeeper and the field botanist have been able to train others to be like themselves.

via The Nature Institute – Perception: Connections Between Art and Science.