Visual Intelligences Research Project

Writings : Art History and Visual Intelligence : Nigel Whiteley: Visual intelligence in an age of low eye-cues

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Visual intelligence in an age of low eye-cues
Nigel Whiteley
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[Association of Art Historians annual conference April 2003, London, Visual Intelligence stream]

In this paper I’m making a plea for what I call ‘visual intelligence’ and to make it something we deal with directly rather than implicitly. I know psychologists have used the term Visual Intelligence to mean something different . What I mean by it is the intelligence practised by the visual artist in the execution of artworks, whether historical or contemporary, figurative or abstract, whether painting, sculpture, installation or video work. It is manifested in decisions about visual matters (the formal and stylistic elements of an artwork) in relation to subject matter, iconography, symbolism, content and mood.   The Intelligence accounts not only for one decision rather than another in the execution of an artwork but also, importantly, for qualitative differences.   The acknowledgement of and investigation into qualitative difference is part of the significance for art history of Visual Intelligence.

The more developed the artist’s Visual Intelligence, the more her or his artworks are likely to display resonance, emotional intensity, expressive power, subtlety, sustainable impact, symbolic richness, poetic evocation, compelling vision, et al.   These responses are personal, but not merely subjective – consensus over time through argument (part of the role of criticism).

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