Sunday, October 16, 2016

Embodied Cognition, Making and Proust's Madeleine

Proust’s Madeleine, embodied cognition and making art; what could these things possibly have in common? All things I am fascinated with and passionate about, I have never really understood what they had in common until recently. They were all floating in my head-in that fuzzy cloud where connected ideas hover although I can’t clearly see their connections-and as I ran-which is when most of my ideas work themselves out, it came to me. Proust’s Madeleine was about sensory memory. Biting into that cookie caused Swann to remember having tea at his grandmother’s house. The smell, the taste, the texture of the Madeleine brought it all back. Sensory memories are strong and I have always understood that. But neuroscience and philosophy, until recently, argued that the mind and body were separate and that the brain could exist in a vat without a body. I have always instinctively known that wasn’t true. As a sensory being, I know that my thoughts, memories and ideas are intricately linked to sensation. When I want to remember where I have left my car keys, I remember the coolness of the marble counter and the clink when they hit that hard surface. When I want to remember something I have read, I remember where I was and how I was sitting-in essence what I was feeling-to enable recall. Brain and body are intricately linked. Neuroscience is just now beginning to prove this through fMRIs and other research.

Making art requires sensations. You feel the pencil, as it moves across the page. You know how the clay will feel as you shape it. Without that knowledge you cannot imagine what your work of art might look like. The knowledge of how a material will react is embedded in sensation and in your body as well as your mind-you cannot separate the two. And the joy you feel in creating is in part a sensory experience. I make works on paper, because I love the feel of the brush or pencil as it moves over the surface. It is soothing and exciting at the same time and fulfills me in a way that is inexplicable and primal. Man is a sensory being and we have been making things since before recorded history. Body and mind are linked: thoughts and feelings are permanently joined in our synapses.