The world we live in today is filled with all sorts of signs, acronyms, and symbols. A quick glance of a half a second and we are able to receive information in the forms of audio, video, and still images covering every topic imaginable. We have mastered the “efficient” methods of texting and calling in the least amount of characters necessary by simplifying words such as “okay” and actions like “laugh out loud”.
This creates a problem for anyone working with visual mediums as the world wants consumable forms that are easily digestible. How do visual artists create something truly unique when art simply cannot be digested with a quick glance? According to Victor Shklovsky, Art making requires a different perception than what consumerism tells us to do.
Victor Shklovsky & Simplification
The concept of the Perceptive Effort is derived from Victor Shklovsky, who was a leader of Russian linguistics and literary criticism. In 1917 Shklovsky published “Art as Technique” which explains what defamiliarization is through how one views form which he called perception. Shklovsky attempts to distinguish what imagery is by understanding perception, simplification, and automatization.
With the world changing around us, the question of what is art and how do you distinguish it from its counterparts is becoming excitingly difficult. Any created form has seconds in the eyes of the views which for Shklovsky is nowhere remotely close to enough time. If anything, Shklovsky’s approach should hopefully provide a better understanding of how one might interpret the different artistic visual forms that they come in contact with whether online or in person.
The Perceptive Effort is a process that starts with an initial interaction with an object or idea and through various exchanges evolves into a method of rapid-fire understanding.
As one grows and lives their life, they interact with the environments around them where their perceptions become an unconscious automatic moment of understanding. For example, the first time you use a fork it will be a strange experience and probably frustrating. After eating with a fork 10,000 times you will never think about having to learn to eat with a fork again. Your perception of the fork, and the process of eating with a fork, has been reduced through habit into an automated interaction through practical use or even by simply looking at a fork. This fork now has one simplified and assigned role in your brain. Similarly, this process is seen in texts such as “by the way” becoming “btw” and so on.
The Process of Perception
According to Shklovsky, the steps of perception, automized habits, and simplification are complete when someone is able to do this two ways called “the method of algebra” or “the choice of symbols”. The method of algebra can be viewed through binoculars where objects and ideas can be closely examined, but the whole picture is not in view thus leaving out many main characteristics of the whole picture. The choice of symbols takes the simplified result and creates an “abstract silhouette” where a bit more perception is revealed with greater abstraction.
Shklovsky believed that the purpose of art was to “impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known” which essentially is the process of making objects unfamiliar. Shkolvsky encouraged artists to create forms that were difficult in order to increase the amount of time one must perceive the art in order to understand it. He believed this because he believed the process of “perception is an aesthetic end in itself” and must be a long process. This strictly contradicts almost everything about the 21st century. Whatever vehicle is driving the message to consumers nowadays has to be fast, efficient, and exceedingly easy to understand. This is where the problem remains: art in the 21st century is often designed in the context of 2-second viewing on a repeated and daily basis.
The Perceptive Effort is difficult to perform with success as an artist must balance the visuals of the form with what already exists and the potential perception the audience might have with the form. The process of art-making interrupts the Perceptive Effort by lengthening the time perceiving so that the atomized habits do not kick in and lead to a simplified understanding of what is seen. The process of being made unfamiliar by description and view while unaltering the form is called defamiliarization.
In life, people are often guided by signs, words, colors, and more whereas in art the viewer is left with whatever information is presented. A created image is not meant for the common perceptive effort of seeing simplified meaning in an object, rather it is meant to create a unique perception of the object. Viewing an object in an art setting versus viewing the same object elsewhere uses different modes of perceiving. And for art, this perceiving is often the process of defamiliarizing an object by stripping away its constructs in order to use the form as a means to an idea.
In my experience, it is easy to be consumed by the absurd amount of perceiving that occurs in a single day. Unrestricted, my natural creative state is sapped by my consistent comparison to all the gifted, talented designers and artists I follow online and that exist around me in my daily life. Restricted, I am able to perceive their work in a lengthed state with the luxury of my timing. The truth is that there is a difference in the process and intended result for many who create for Instagram v.s. a gallery space v.s. for their own creative practice. And that is okay as anyone can do all three or one of the three or none of the three. Either way, it is important to be able to distinguish the processes in creating visual imagery so that whatever form is seen on final perception is observable.
In the 21st century, there will be problems for art that will never have been seen before. What is art on Instagram? What is art in the 21st century? Where is art going, and how will it be perceived in those spaces? These are important questions that must be answered in order to better perceive any presented forms. The world and the process in which art is created will continue to change, so whatever forms are used today hopefully make a positive impact on future viewers, artists, and forms of the future.
This writing was based on Victor Shklovsky’s Art as Technique.