wonder art religion science cabinets of curiosity

For those who have not yet discovered the online journal Aeon, here’s a gem of an article by Jess Prinz to introduce it to you.

It goes some way to explaining how the concept of wonder fits into our life, and the importance of it. It helps me to understand what it is I want specifically from art:

These bodily symptoms point to three dimensions that might in fact be essential components of wonder. The first is sensory: wondrous things engage our senses — we stare and widen our eyes. The second is cognitive: such things are perplexing because we cannot rely on past experience to comprehend them. This leads to a suspension of breath, akin to the freezing response that kicks in when we are startled: we gasp and say ‘Wow!’ Finally, wonder has a dimension that can be described as spiritual: we look upwards in veneration; hence Smith’s invocation of the swelling heart.

At risk of sounding a bit strange, I have to admit that the experiences of sensory, cognitive and wonder are key to my enjoyment of art – and not just the art itself – but where it is, the context, the place. I commission work for unusual locations, and that points to my interest in the bodily experience of witnessing the presence of an artwork in the world.

I do enjoy visiting galleries and of course they are in the world too, but they are stripped bare of lived experience, deprived of touch, smell and texture beyond the artworks themselves, they isolate the art rather than embed it. Don’t get me wrong, this absolutely what some works need for one to engage and experience wonder to the full and I love it when they do so.

But for me, I’m not so sure I can separate out those experiences of sensory, cognitive and wonder – I find work that is essentially only any one of those not fulfilling – and the gallery and museum tradition often shuts me out. Show me a fascinating surface I’ll want to touch it, exhibit a book and I want to read it.

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