Kim O'Hara wrote:In those terms, "choosing how to organise our sense impressions" is, I admit, a bit misleading. "How to interpret our sense perceptions" may be more accurate, and the "choice" is most often an automatic response resulting from the sum of our prior experiences.
Agreed, this sounds much more relevant.
Kim O'Hara wrote:
You seem to want to discuss art in terms of ultimate reality but conventional reality seems to me to be more appropriate.
Yeah, sorry about that, I mostly read on abhidhamma lately, so tend to bend that way. I'll try to use a bit more conventional terminology.
Kim O'Hara wrote:On that level it is certainly possible to choose to flip between two interpretations of one image - think of the classic figure/ground illusions, for instance - and, I think, to consider a work of art as more than the simple sum of its parts.
Well, I'd agree that on conventional level there might be an illusion that it is possible to choose/switch between different interpretations of the same sensual impression. Anyway, let's focus on what does it mean to "consider a work of art" in reality? As I understand it, the sense perception involved is a real process, the liking/disliking of what's seen (heard, etc) is also real, un/pleasant feeling associated with what's perceived is also real, but the interpretation of the meaning of what's perceived, is based on concepts, and according to abhidhamma, concepts are not real. So, likewise, the inferred meanings of beauty, ugliness, innovation, novelty, etc, of a particular "work of art" are all concepts, so not real. On the other hand, liking/disliking, or basically attachment to these concepts is also real!
So the question becomes how is experiencing a work of art (and this I hope is directly related to the thread topic) different from experiencing an ordinary object? When experiencing an ordinary object, the sense impressions involved are still there, the liking/disliking are also there, the un/pleasant feeling is also there, and so are the concepts about the meaning of what's seen for example. But, as far as I can tell, there's much less attachment to the conceptual meaning of what's seen.
E.g. let's say I see a rock, I might conclude "a nice-looking rock" and just move on. But if the rock was sculpted by a famous sculptor and I'm very much into sculpture, I might go on and on about how well the work was done, what I like and what I don't like about it, how meaningful it is to me at this point in my life, how well it expresses the battle between good and evil tendencies in a human being, etc. All this would be simply conceptual proliferation, and every person would have a different conceptual story to tell about the rock. Now, even if we take the abhidhamma stand and just dismiss all these concepts as mere illusions, the important fact remains that the attachment behind all those concepts will be real in every single case, and according to the 4 noble truths, attachment has everything to do with suffering. Hence, I struggle to see how can art have a positive effect for someone trying to gain freedom from suffering.