Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Saul Steinberg's Metaphor for Consciousness

When talking about the great Saul Steinberg I should really focus on his incredible Architectural cartoons and illustrations that depict how architecture is animated, occupied and brought into existence through its occupants. However I may leave that for another post. Instead I wish to use a particular illustration of his as a metaphor and musing for the cognitive mechanisms at play when we experience a piece of architecture (or anything for that matter).

The above illustration depicts a visitor in an art gallery looking at a painting by Georges Braque. Above the visitor is his thought bubble containing the stream of mental imagery that is provoked upon seeing the painting. ‘Braque, baroque, barrack’ begins a stream of consciousness that evolves into a set of highly personal references and ideas. It is interesting to consider that this stream is happening continuously as we perceive our external reality. Ideas, past experiences and references are all deeply interwoven instantaneously and unnoticed into our perception of the external world.

This is our subjective experience which is often mistaken for an objective reality. This simple cartoon is a reminder of how we are in constant dialogue with our surroundings - mapping ideas and meanings onto external stimuli which in turn alter the meanings we imbue them with. It also reminds us how we can cloud our own perception, with unfettered images and random meanings, which to us feel of significance even if it is to the detriment of the moment of experience.

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