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Monday, February 24, 2003

Re: Bringing "Science" To Bear In The Debate Over Abstract/Mimetic Art

By Kirk Hughey

A response to Michelle Kamhi's latest homily - point by point:

1.  Ms. Kamhi seems to suggest that the presence of doubt is objective proof of error.  The leading abstract artists she mentions obviously did not "persist" in their doubts and "fears".  All deeply original discoveries and creations tend to provoke a measure of doubt in their originators.  Ask any scientist if absolute certainty is a useful attitude.  I am reminded of a favorite Einstein quote: "A thought that sometimes makes me hazy: am I - or the others- crazy?"

2.  On the "systematic study" by David Halle of choices and attitudes toward abstract work "displayed on the walls" of some individuals I would only ask which individuals - and why this consensus has anything to do with how I or others may respond?   On brain-imaging studies by Semir Zeki what evidence is there that third-person observations of neuronal activity correlate with first-person imagery and response in assessing qualitative experience?   A more extensive patterning of activity may simply indicate that a wide range of non-art associations are triggered, not that the experience of the art in question is less intense or "meaningful".  Would it be fair to ask what attitudes Zeki brings to his experiment, its structure and interpretation - not to mention whether they might be questioned by equally (or more) eminent scientists?  Again though, I would simply ask for more background on the subjects of the test (not to mention the specific works of art).  Let's keep in mind that , in a discussion of art, it is  first person subjectivity that
matters most - to deny it would deny the entire basis of the art experience on the assumption that all humans are as similar as electrons.

3. Ms Kamhi must be getting desperate to equate the response to abstraction with UFO's, visions of angels and devils and hallucinatory voices.  Need we remind her that, to the best of our knowlege, such things are  imagined external events that do not actually take place while the response to abstract art is based on a real external event-the work itself? 

4. She confuses an open-ended statement: " .....can't be all bad" with a closed assertion that would be something like ...is only good".  Or something like the implicit position she(and the totalitarians) seem to take: "must be all bad".

I entirely agree with her on one point: the status of abstract art (and art in general)  is not of highest moment in view of current world events.  I do hope, though, that we will be spared her opinions on the latter.

Kirk Hughey

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