Abstraction & Processing

The art historian Jack Flam (2014) refers to this aspect of abstraction as “a new claim on truth.” By dismantling perspective, abstract art requires our brain to come up with a new logic of bottom-up processing. The work of Mondrian relies heavily on the brain’s early steps in processing objects, steps that depend on line segments and axis of orientation, and on the brain’s processing of color. But these bottom-up processes are likely to be modified or overridden altogether by extensive, creative top-down processing.

— from Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, Bob Grant

Predictive Processing & Art as Cognitive Remodeling


Visual art — representational imagery — begins somewhere between fifty and one-hundred thousand years ago, overlapping with the Upper Paleolithic Transition. The period consists of rapid gains in tool technologies alongside the beginnings of modern symbolic thought, with human societies developing currency systems, dispersed social organizations, and increasingly sophisticated religious belief.

To Alva Nöe, writing in 2015’s Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, the religious and social practices which began in this era, such as funerary rites, rites of passage, religious ceremony, symbolic adornment, and complex linguistic interactions, are examples of organized activities, “evolving patterns of organization” within which humans are embedded. Modern examples include driving a car in a highway system or navigating the complexities of workplace protocol — both being situations where we act improvisationally, within sets of constraints, and using established scripts, pre-determined by the situation’s structural context. Continue reading “Predictive Processing & Art as Cognitive Remodeling”

Generic Fit

“This makes the pop song an indispensable mirror: The way in which a listener imposes himself upon the text, or transforms the text from generic to specific, shows that listener something about himself. He learns his yearnings, his sadnesses, his loves; he recognizes an emotional life which is otherwise elusive, and solidifies in time an emotional state which is otherwise ephemeral.”

Continue reading “Generic Fit”