The intelligent eye (1)

If you consider yourself an art lover, ask yourself these questions:
What was the experience of your last visit to an art museum like? How did you look at the works of art? Which art works have left strong impressions on you? What impressions are they? In what ways have you benefited from the experience, aesthetically or otherwise?

If you are struggling to give clear or coherent answers to these questions, It is likely that you are one of the "wall cruisers" that David Perkins refers to in his book The Intelligent Eye. Maybe reading it will help you take a different approach in the next museum visit. But the book offers more than that. This succinctly-written monograph is not only about art appreciation but also about thinking. It deals with two central and inter-related themes: (1) looking at art requires thinking, and (2) looking at art helps cultivate thinking dispositions.

According to Perkins, looking at art requires thinking - a disciplined kind of thinking that is different from everyday thinking. Everyday thinking is governed by our experiential intelligence, and is streamlined for fast, efficient responding. Perkins describes such thinking as hasty, narrow, fuzzy and sprawling, and refers to it as the “90% Solution”, since it serves us well 90% of the time. The problem with everyday thinking is that it sometimes gets us in trouble, so we need the “10% Solution” to go with it. The 10% Solution is reflective intelligence. It requires the dispositions that cut in the opposite directions of everyday thinking. And looking at art is a good arena in which to exercise it.

Before moving further, it is necessary to elucidate the meaning of the word "dispositions" here. Perkins defines a disposition as "a felt tendency, commitment and enthusiasm", and he regards thinking dispositions as "more than skills and strategies".

The four thinking dispositions that can be applied to looking at art are:
  • Give looking time!
  • Make your looking broad and adventurous!
  • Make your looking clear and deep!
  • Make your looking organised!

It is not difficult to see how these thinking dispositions which are governed by our reflective intelligence are meant to counter the hasty, narrow, fuzzy and sprawling thinking habits characterised by our experiential intelligence.  However, Perkins emphasises that reflective intelligence is not a divorce from but a control system of experiential intelligence. He believes that we need the thinking dispositions of reflective intelligence to manage the best deployment of our experiential intelligence, and it is when we put together the deliberative and managerial powers of reflective intelligence with the quick and flexible response mechanisms of experiential intelligence that we truly have the intelligent eye.

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