Art, Common Sense, and Objectivity


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Art, Common Sense, and Objectivity

To study art is to study human nature.

The prevailing view throughout the world seems to have been, and still is, that light is an inherent quality of the sky, earth, and all objects; their brightness is occasionally hidden or extinguished by darkness.

One child said “Sometimes when the sun gets up in the morning, he sees that the weather is bad, so he goes where it’s good.”

We might think that modernity would have eradicated such a view except we seem to be unable to reject what our eyes tell us is true. “Our image of the world, however, is all but unchanged, because it is dictated by compelling perceptual conditions that prevail everywhere and always.” One might argue that ‘I know better, I know that objects are illuminated by some source’. This may be true but there are many other visual variables wherein our comprehension is not nearly so enlightened.

Brightness depends upon a complex interaction of the distribution of light, on optical and physiological processes of the observer’s eyes and nervous system, and upon the objects ability to absorb and reflect light.

Luminance depends upon the percentage of light an object “throws back”. The eye determines only the light thrown back, which is determined not only upon the luminance of the object but also upon the amount of illumination upon the scene. Brightness will appear to the eye as being the sole property of the object itself.

Three dimensionality is determined by the eye to be shades of brightness, i.e. contour shading, likewise with depth perception.

“Illumination” is not self explanatory. To the physicist illumination means one thing but to the psychologist and the artist it means something entirely different. They “can speak of illumination only if and when the word serves to name a phenomenon that is directly discerned by the eyes”.

From the darkened audience the evenly lighted stage appears as an object with an inherent luminosity; the same effect is obtained from a uniformly lighted room. In this instance both the stage and room appear to be large independent luminaries. Illumination is something else.

Should we examine a small wooden barrel setting on the shelf our vision would inform us that the cylinder changes color and brightness as we scan from one side to the other side. Such a perception would happen only if we scanned slowly and carefully, micrometer by micrometer, as if we scan it through a small hole made in a sheet of paper.

When I see the barrel more naturally the whole object appears uniformly brown. “Over most of its surface the barrel shows a double value of brightness and color, one belonging to the object itself and another, as it were, draped over it—a transparency effect. Perceptually, the unity is split up into layers. The bottom layer will be called the object brightness and the object color of the barrel. The top layer is the illumination.”

Are qualities in my apperception (the process of understanding something perceived in terms of previous experience) inherent (essential character) of an object?

We have all been raised within an objectivist philosophical view wherein the object is ‘out there’ and it possesses certain qualities such as color, roughness, and stands in certain relationship with other objects.

“Most people tend to adopt this objectivist metaphysics…They thus come to think that objects have their properties “in themselves”, independent of sentient organisms, since as infants they learn object permanence and eventually come to experience properties as adhering in objects.” We have through social osmosis mistakenly learned that objects are mind-independent.

The most egregious and the most difficult to clarify error that objectivist make is the common sense assumption that objects are mind-independent.

“The world does not come to us prepackaged with determinate objects with their determinate properties. Instead we have to learn the meaning of physical objects, which we do by watching , handling them, subjecting them to forces, and seeing how they can be used—in short, by forms of interactive inquiry that are at once bodily and reflective.” This process of handling them, subjecting them to forces, and seeing how they can be used—in short, by forms of interactive inquiry that are at once bodily and reflective is what cognitive scientist call the ‘embodied mind’ or ‘embodied realism’.

Objectivity, i.e. our comprehension of truth, is our shared subjectivity.

Our senses, which are common to all human creatures, help us to form what we call common sense. However this ‘common sense’ often leads us to a serious mistaken identity of the meaning of objectivity.

Quotations from “The Meaning of the Body” by Mark Johnson.