December 14, 2012 Repository 39: Requiem for Perception: Our Addiction to Sensation Posted In: art practice, books, community, contemporary art, culture, perspective, social critique

As artists we are given the job to assert in a visual way (or musical, dance, etc) the signs of our times – we are challenged with either facing the music or squirreling around without integrity making work that simply decorates our ideas.

It’s with this in mind, and an eye on world and art world events, that I see a keen addiction to the sensory – a sensation addiction. Senses are natural, sensational is an obvious attraction, however perception is always matched with sensing, and some how the perception part is totally missing. In other words I see a lot of art made only about the senses – and people acting only to relieve a sensory itch – leaving the perception, the interpretation of the sensory, out in the cold.

The addiction to sensory information is illustrated in everything from a friends’ Facebook addiction, to the average person’s plane ride (Movie!! TV!! Computer!! Music!!). And on a more unfortunate level, to young adults walking into public spaces and shooting people for no identifiable reason whatsoever except for the sensation that the event was motivated by.

In the art world we see the massive pull of art now as luxury item – a sensation on its own. A disgruntled art dealer was recently quoted in The Art Newspaper about the crass aspects of modern art as

“being with Rembrandt is like making love. And being with Warhol is like fucking.”

Art has become competitive consumption versus aesthetic, academic or spiritual speculation. The value no longer sits with a curator, scholar or critic it sits with the all mighty consumer who is in a whirlwind of sensory overload.

Charles Saatchi infamously produced the show called “Sensation” in 1997. To me this was an honest collection of work admired by someone who has made his living in sensation: Saatchi is an advertising mogul. The reaction to the exhibit seemed silly to me – this is the job of the advertiser, to move and make you sense without doing any major perception. Hence the artwork chosen did the exact thing – moving through the exhibit you sensed everything, and were not required to ask for more or organize any of these sensations, no perceptions necessary!

Artists and the art world saw the blindness related to this sensation frenzy and followed suit. It is still marching to this beat today. Just like the audience too is marching to the beat of a sensation-filled, consumption focused world.

However there are countless artists making highly perceptual work, with layers of meaning and understanding in the work. Someone must produce a show on the scale of Saatchi’s, and call it “Perception”. As of this writing no sponsors with the gumption to do this come to mind….will need to think more about this.

Along with the exhibit, someone could write a fictional book like the master chronicler of the way we live, Tom Wolfe. His new book “Back to Blood” includes the stories of sex-addicted pychiatrists, Yale-marinated editors, and “de-skilled” conceptual artists all based in Miami, FL. Unlike Wolfe’s work, this “Perception” work would celebrate the new America as a place of mindfulness, and collaboration. Clearly one remains easier to publish than the other – it is worth a think though, and if any authors or books come to mind please email me or post below!

Finally, Goya illustrated this exact human concern a long time ago in his Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters. So less something unique to this time and place of our world on the verge of 2013, it’s simply a human tendency. We happen to be on an apex of it though and I predict/hope for/anticipate a return to reason, i.e. perception soon. Oh and Goya’s monsters are owls (cute!) – this too needs to be revisited for our time.

A Woman Sleeping, 1655, Rembrandt van Rijn, The British Museum, London

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos), 1799
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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