Pearls from artists* # 357June 19, 2019
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The term hermeneutics has been used to describe the task of understanding and interpreting ideas and texts. In a similar way, we need to set for ourselves the task of developing a hermeneutic of the visible, addressing the problem of how we understand and interpret what we see, not only in the classical images and art forms created by the various religious traditions, but in the ordinary images of people’s traditions, rites, and daily activities which are presented to us through the film-image.
Rudolph Arnheim, in his extensive work on visual perception, has shown that the dichotomy between seeing and thinking which runs through much of the Western tradition, is a very problematic one. In Visual Thinking, he contends that visual perception is integrally related to thought. It is not the case, according to Arnheim, that the eyes present a kind of raw data to the mind which, in turn, processes it and refines it by thought. Rather, those visual images are the shapers and bearers of thought. Jan Gonda, in writing on the Vedic notion dhi, sometimes translated as “thought,” finds similarly that the semantic fields of the word in Vedic literature does not correspond as much to our words for “thinking” as it does to our notions of “insight,” “vision,” and “seeing.” Suzanne Langer has also written of the integral relation of thought to the images we see in the “mind’s eye.” The making of all of those images is the fundamental “imaginative” human activity. One might add that it is the fundamental activity of the religious imagination as well. She writes, “Images are, therefore, our readiest instruments for abstracting concepts from the tumbling streams of actual impressions.”
Diana L. Eck in Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India
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