Why does dual-process theory provide a more conclusive evaluation of cognitive understanding of the artworks of Gerhard Richter and Nigel Cooke than a linear methodological approach?

Why does dual-process theory provide a more conclusive evaluation of cognitive understanding of the artworks of Gerhard Richter and Nigel Cooke than a linear methodological approach?


Art and how we understand it may be divided into two main areas, cognitive and psychoanalytical. Within the confines of this thesis, the discussion of cognitive concerns will focus on the origins and functions of artistic forms, and on media as complex channels within cognitive realms. The psychoanalytical concerns will be focussed on the process of creation, transcendence of self and artistic merit. The term an art in this study is referring to a narrow class of media – painting.

This thesis will discuss the ineffectiveness of the linear methodological approach which is based on the conformity within the studio based practice of Gerhard Richter and Nigel Cooke.

It will argue that individuality is based on personal cultural experience in preverbal communication and an intermediary connection between artist and social structure. It will look into the cognitive evolutionary theory of art in conjunction with the psychoanalytical perspective on art.

It will evaluate the role of the ‘real’ that influences Richter and Cooke paintings, regarding the time when an artist works, and their personal experience in a social cognitive distributive network.

It will conclude with placing this concept/argument within the broader context of art criticism through authors with different worldviews, such as psychology, feminism, existentialism or physicalism.

Methodology – dual-process accounts of reasoning

As is the nature of this investigation it has been framed through using a number of prominent philosophical, psychoanalytical, psychological, and phenomenological sources integrated into dual process theory and evaluated by dual-process accounts of reasoning from cognitive psychology according to Eliot R. Smith and Jamie DeCoster (Table. 1).

Table 1. Summary of Theoretical Properties of Two Processing Modes

# Associative Processing Rule-Based Processing
1 Draws on associations Draws on symbolically represented rules
2 That are structured by similarity and contiguity That are structured by language and logic
3 And learned over many experiences. And can be learned in just one or a few experiences.
4 Occurs automatically Occurs optionally when capacity and motivation are present
5 And preconsciously, with awareness of the result of processing And often with conscious awareness of steps of processing

The dual-process theory model is widely used and highly elaborated in many “specific areas of social psychology and cognitive psychology”. (Chaiken and Trope, 1999:323) Historically, the underlying basis or principles of the dual-process theory are most likely to come from William James. James argued that dual processing of reasoning is used in the evaluation of the art and design works. (Dewey, 2005:187 – 271)

A conceptual structure is based on shared rules and validity from methodically different properties of ‘favourable’ sources. In this study dual-process theory is used as a unifying model for cross-disciplinary participation of authors, with many different worldviews. The integrative model of dual processing of reasoning strongly suggests the great value and significance of social and lingual influences on individual cognition. It investigates justification of sensory-driven experience ‘from symbolic rules to the association and from association to symbolic rules’. We must recognise that sensory driven experience takes place and are evaluated in a social system for various reasons, not within individual intellectual capacity. (Smith, DeCoster, 2000:108 – 131)

Making the invisible visible – preverbal experience: where cognitive and psychoanalytical theories meet

This section investigates the cognitive principles involved in pre-verbal understanding, cognitive foundations and cognitive function of art. Deploying the psychoanalytical perspective on art as a mutual source for evaluating the criteria through which art is processed in the mind of the artist. It will also consider the role of the artist as maker and processer of the visual in wider culture. Through this there is an exploration of an artist and viewer as active players in the co-evolution of culture and cognition.

Analogy – parallel of the embodiment

Painting is a creative activity that results in the artist intentional capacity to have an effect on the perceptual impressions provoked in the mind of the audience.

The underlying foundation for human social communication is the principles of ‘cause and effect,’ beyond which is the altering of ‘cause’ to get a different ‘response,’ what can be termed as ‘attentional control.’ This is similar to the attentional control exerted within family groups, parents’ guide their children towards aspects of the world they deem appropriate. For artists this means carefully engineering experience, the mind of the viewer receives the artist’s messages through sensory-driven processes. (Donald, in Turner, 2006:4).

The making and the viewing of art can be described as ‘answering activities’ that help sensory and visceral experiences to be understood. The understanding of the lived experience, the creation of culture and the need to leave our mark on the world are all explored through art. (Milner, 1987:29-40) Therefore, “the perception of art works, and so understanding the art-perceiving mind is a key to understanding human cognition.” (Andler, 2006:168) The perception of art is formed in the mind of the viewer; emotion, experience and understanding are all cognitive processes. The artist turns an essentially internal impulse to use creativity to understand self and world, into an outward expression in the outside world.

In the ongoing discussion on the role of the visual and the cerebral understanding of what is seen, felt and experienced it is argued by some that knowledge of the language determines our identification. It proposes that the stimuli of external and internal personal experience need a language to be processed. (Solso, 1996:111) The more that is experienced the richer the language to describe it, the more the artist turns experience into art the richer the language they develop.

The artist and their role as ‘processor of experience’ must change over time to fit their new level of awareness, as the role of art and indeed the role of artist changes (Donald, in Turner, 2006:6 – 7). This is similar to the way a child processes the experiences they have in order to understand self and world, the type and extent of processing changes over time. Here it is possible to see the importance of context and past world knowledge on perception, individual frame of reference of each individual is unique and so each individual perception is unique. (Solso, 1996:112)

Perception of reality is individual, it could be said that there may be a multitude of ‘realities’, personal to each individual. There is “a locus of possibilities within a fully human perspective, a perspective that interprets ‘reality’ through culturally structured but disputable (and amendable) frameworks of beliefs, standards, and conceptions, rather than by a set of metaphysically absolute reference points.” (Halliwell, 2002:376) Beyond this idea of personal perception which can be blocks to experiencing, understanding and interacting, is the layers of meaning within all communication.

Much of what is communicated visually can be understood as pre-verbal. It is cognitive understanding that is derived from a ‘felt sense’, coined by Eugene Gendlin, born of instinctual reactions. (Perl, 2004) As has been discussed, the cognitive exploration through creativity that enables infants to understand self and world, happens in the pre-verbal stage. Beyond this, some experience is unavailable to the parts of the brain involved in language formation. However, creativity is the vehicle through which the pre-verbal can come into understanding. “By an aesthetical Idea I understand that representation of the Imagination which . . . cannot be completely compassed and made intelligible by language. . .” (Pothatst, 2008:54)

Psychologist Erich Fromm stated that art or the visual has the capacity to capture the symbols for ‘sensory expressions’ such as smelling, hearing, touching or seeing. (Fromm, 1951) This kind of representation employs a symbol to stand for ‘something else’ which is related to our inner experience, a feeling or thought. It represents something from outside ourselves and paraphrasing something inside ourselves. (Winnicott, 2002:1 – 34)

Beyond Fromm’s description, is an understanding of symbolisation that is “itself a power of mind, a way of representing reality with one’s body and senses, a uniquely human capacity no less important than symbol or language.” (Torres, 2000:125) Not only is the original experience beyond words or simply pre-verbal, but the artist response is too, the cognition of experience, the bodily movements of art making and the sensory stimulation provoked by the art object. “According to what is called a constructivist or structural theory of object recognition by contemporary cognitive scientists, visual processes build visual form in part from visual primitives, during perception.” (Gaut and Lopes, 2001:235 – 238) This physicalist worldview could preclude verbal explanation of the scheme, in other words we need include in moral and intellectual principles properties.

The Sensory-driven experience

Social culture is an evolutionary adaption; it is one aspect of ‘the mimesis’ according to Donald, which is the inherited primary foundation of behaviours that produce culture. (Donald, in Turner, 2006:14) The ‘Bildung model’ suggests that the ingenuity of the individual may be directed to the sensory-driven processes of mimesis. (Bruford, 1975) The evolution of social culture is reflected on the personal or the global scale. As a reaction to the human sensory-driven processes, the created images help to make some sense of the world or spiritual experience. Reason is a mental processing at the center of art making, and a differentiation between the dynamic mental process underlying in picture production and picture perception. (Willats, 1997:315)

The nature of social communication in images is worth some elaboration. Human families are willing to spend a large amount of time in a ‘skill-related play’. Through play, children are rehearsing and making structural changes to moulded their own actions. They can be said to be generating new or unique patterns of behaviour or engaging in ‘role-playing’ or ‘imaginative games’. Donald sees this as ‘a great evolutionary step’ towards what we know as culture, arguing it precludes in any different species from cultural activities. (Donald, in Turner, 2006:16)

It is possible to make a comparison between Donald’s description of ‘skill-related play’ and the psychoanalytical perspective on creative processes related to child development. Melanie Klein and others have investigated the way children develop through the process of creative investigation of the world. (Segal, 2012:1-9) It is through this creative play and the following assessment of the differences between internal and external reality that the child develops understanding. Winnicott stated that as a child develops and experiences the world they use reality testing and creative problem solving in their play, this has a direct relevance to the artist in the process of creativity. “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative … it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” (Winnicott, 2002:3-4/73)

Donald defined art as ‘metacognitive in nature,’ reasoning metacognition is, by definition, a self-reflection and an innate derivable form of the human capacity for self-observation. It is a clarification of experience by cognitive functioning on a personal/individual and a social level. This contribution is significant for art in a historical context, which transmits a formal link or it is coordinated by dominant worldviews in the vein of Christianity, Buddhism and Islam et cetera. The historical context is also transmitted into modern society which is evidenced by the disordered and fluid imagery, which is an expression of many worldviews. It clearly indicates the crucial role of painting “as a collective vehicle for self-reflection and as a shared source of cultural identity.” (Donald, in Turner, 2006:5) Here the personal and the societal, cultural signifiers inherent in art works, or art as artefacts of mind and culture. (Levinson and Robinson, 2004:95 – 107)

Distributive Network

The intermediary experience of art can be found in the moment when inspiration strikes through several stages of creative problem solving, gaining a greater understanding of an artist inner symbolic transformation. “An intermediary is necessary between man and the world, between man and man, between self and manifestation of self.” (Lemaire, 1977:54) Art offers a way for an individual to come to know deeper aspects of themselves; to understand how they relate to others and the world around them. An example of intermediary perception within the artist for the single abstract appearance or percept covering this kind of integration is ‘event-perception.’ It can bring together several blurred individual sensations such as sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and emotion into a single mental concept that is developed as a consequence of the process of perception. (Turner, 2006:94-113)

Psychoanalysis explores the unconscious processing of experience, memory and emotion through ‘free association’ and ‘active imagination’. The important emphases are on the unconscious mind and its ingenious, free and unpredictable way of expressing through art forms that which are not possible to express in words. There is a need to distinguish between a representing world and a represented word, the visual and the articulation of experience is individually different. They offer the artist and viewer or reader different things; the pre-verbal needs a non-verbal representation. The object recognition or feeling recognition involved in viewing art works is an experience that links us to the collective unconscious. (Roth and Bruce, 1995)

In Jung terms the depths of human knowledge is found in the ‘collective unconscious’ and is available through spirituality and creativity. (Lawson, 2008:113 – 177) It is part of the human capacity to move beyond conscious constraint and have access to the ‘annals’ of the most deeply held knowledge, emotion and imagery. For Howard Hodgkin, Francis Bacon or Nigel Cooke this was one of the most valued aspects of creation. When the ‘ideas’ flutter in the ether for the receptive artist to catch, it is bypassing the conscious mind. This is where the message is communicated. In other words, painters reflect on their inner world and transmit a sensory–driven experience. Henry Ward Beecher said “every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” (Beecher, 1868:69)

Evaluation of artist’s works

What an individual creates and presents may be very varied in approach, style and outcomes, in some cases the stages undertaken by artists may be recognised as shared. Usually the first stage could be considered as preparation, an accumulation, and collection of information, signs and skills that specified the imagination. Scalia states that “The creation of unconscious meaning initially involves the conversion of psychic intensities into latent thoughts.” (Scalia, 2002:18) Ehrenzweig added to the field by encouraging the creative thinker to be wary of self-censorship referring to the particular/precise final product of the imagination. (Ehrenzweig, 1967:47)

The second stage referred to by Scalia “… of unconscious thinking involves the appearance of many unconscious ideas in the form of one idea or image” (Scalia, 2002:18), is the incubation period where there are several unconscious perceptions forming in a singular phenomenon. Kenneth Surin talks about the ‘metaphysical circuitry’ that goes into the concept of an image-concept. (Surin, in Khalip and Mitchell, 2011:171-180) It is a process of forming an image that is unconscious that stems from memory both personal and universal. This results in an image that is both a representation of an individual experience and a universal one.

Gerhard Richter and the Gaze, Grey Series

German artist Gerhard Richter is known for the complexity and the range of styles in his artwork. Some critics consider Richter as a one of the world’s leading contemporary artists.

His blurring and wiping works could be described in Lacanian terms as underlining the one difficulty related to the personal need to understand the world and our particular position within it – the life which is lived within the context of lack. (Miller 1988b:192)

It might suggests, considering the vitality of perceiving an object, which is responding to ‘symbolic order’ that Richter and Lacan support and strengthen mutually. For Lacan, although not for Richter in his painting from photographs, is not a unitary system related to the concept of reality. Richter deals in his work with the visual forms and Lacan with spoken forms. For Richter the photographs demonstrate the ability of a subject to be imprisoned in the frame. Lacan proposed the value of visible as “a trap”. (Lacan, 2004:93) It exists as a thing in itself; it symbolizes only its own referent (fig. 1). Where the only option how it transforms to a symbol is to recreate it, altering it in re-frame and offering re-represented form of it. It needs to be worked through in order to gain new knowledge. Lacan’s argument is the same as Richter, in that it expresses doubt about the way that we see and what we see, what we desire and what we lack.

Richter is seeking our answers of understanding of sensory-driven experience when we look at painting and question our perceptual sensory apparatus about the process what may be involved when we perceived an object. Lacan’s subject matter is related to the language with an intention of authenticity and truth (Kelly, 1998:122).

Richter blurred paintings, particularly grey, may be explained as a signifer of blurring memories or blurring the quality or state of being the true (fig.2 and fig.3). The Richter’s masterly style of using the oil paint and the subsequent blurring drives the viewer’s focus and refocus again on a picture, questioning our ability to verify what we can see. Lacan proposed that we are listening more carefully to anything when there are no truths on which we can rely, just like in Richter works.

The psychological effect of Richter’s blurred paintings, in Lacanian terms, may perhaps question our confidence in understanding of our very existence based on the verity of how we may be seen or recognizable. In the terms of reverse questioning where we do not question what the painting about but where paintings question us about what we can see and what we can recognize. The gaze, which Lacan clearly borrowed from Merleau Ponty, is about the dependence of the subject on recognition. “I discover vision, not as a “thinking about seeing,” to use Descartes expression, but as a gaze at grips with a visible world, and that is why for me there can be another’s gaze.” (Merleau-Ponty, 2002:409) Whereas Lacan takes the idea even further, demanding that the subject is evaluated in some ways of how one desires to be mentally projected.

Richter understands the viewer’s role in the formation of the sensory understanding of his art. The personal understanding of art is done through the prism of who the viewer is, what they have experienced and their own understanding of their own worldview.

The series of his Grey paintings emphasized on John Cage’s proclamation, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” (Elger & Obrist, 2009:94) Linking that to his letter which he has written to Benjamin Buchloh “…I can communicate nothing… there is nothing to communicate… painting can never be communication… [no] trick whatever is going to make the absent message emerge of its own accord… I look for the object and the picture: not for painting or the picture of painting… I want to picture to myself what is going on now …” (Elger & Obrist, 2009:93)

Richter is rejecting the thought that his attention has firm control over the perceptions of his own ideas on the perceptual emphases of audience when they look on his art. Richter stated that as ‘violence’ (Elger & Obrist, 2009:32). Lacan stated that as, “When the function of speech has become so firmly inclined in the direction of the other that it is no longer even mediation, but only implicit violence.” (Miller, 1988a:51) The formulated idea in his insight is the discussion, someone’s ideas and justification of it upon another.

Grey blurred paintings are useful to summarise those rules; they lack the logical narrative – at least in this for the viewer. His paintings present to the viewer a surface, which is making a reflection of the observer back to the observer. That in Lacan’s terms regardless of what we may want to express verbally, the subject of our needs is a signifier in the endless possibilities of the meaning or ideas expressed by the sign.

Perhaps in Richter paintings, the viewer is left only with the surface, here we may recall Lacan and his approach to the gaze. We do not look at anybody in the way, how they see us (Evans, 2002:73 – 74). The observer cannot possibly be acquainted with the desires enclosed in the artist who witnesses the gaze.

Richter is positing that his artworks do not symbolize an idea; he stresses that his paintings are ultimately “the idea in visual or pictorial form”. (Elger & Obrist, 2009:70) There is not a difference for him in his abstract or realistic paintings.

Nigel Cooke and ‘Baconesque Tropes’

British artist Nigel Cooke structured his paintings from the psychoanalytical point of view within a Jungian’s ‘archetypal’ framework. Innumerable morphological forms recurring from five main archetypes are particularly noteworthy ‘The Martyr (fig. 4) and the wise old Man’ in his work.

Cooke makes reference to the work of other artists from art history in his paintings, to van Gogh, and to Francis Bacon in a form of ‘Baconesque Tropes’. Cooke’s painted characters symbolise aloneness, which allows him to critically evaluate the ‘existential anxiety’ of the artist and philosopher. Cooke’s paintings are focusing on the subject matter that could appear dark, distressing and disturbing, coming through the way the paintings are painted, lyrical with a nostalgic essence. By a marriage “of masterly technique and distressing dystopia” (Milliard, 2008) his paintings soften the hardness of his message by creating the allegorical lyrical picture plane (fig. 5).

In Klein’s terms, we are looking at the ugliness as the expression of our internal experience of depression. Klein claims, “It includes tension, hatred, and its results- the destruction of the good and whole objects and their change into persecutory fragments.” (Phillips, 1998:217; Meltzer, 2004:27)

Cooke’s works are based in a social dystopian subject matter. It forms this into a whole that is pleasing to the eye through his masterly technique (fig. 6). His ability creates a manifestation of self in the painting where the image comes first, and as consequences he gains a greater understanding of self. Through the interaction of the unconscious depicted on the canvas as a separate entity, an artist has the quality to develop oneself. (Shaw, F. 2010)

The viewer has to face parts of their cognitive network in the artwork and meet the contradictory feelings this evokes; of aesthetic and anxiety, harmony and disharmony (fig. 7). The artist is primarily concerned with their creativity, although a viewer is the ultimate part of the process, the artist is less concerned with their relation to them.

Role identification as a social heritage for an artist is an encounter with their predecessors, as Picasso squaring up to Velasquez, Bacon squeezed out his own tribute to van Gogh in the series of paintings from 1957 and Picasso on Velasquez (Cooke, 2008). Cooke influenced by Deleuze’s, Bacon, reflects on the subject matter and is processing the ‘sensations’ (Deleuze, 2003:35 – 42) provoked in his own work, and his current interest in ‘The Martyr’ in the art world by van Gogh.

It seems that the psychoanalytical perspective on Cooke’s influences on his artworks is a more ‘critical’ than a ‘cognitive’ evaluation of the subject matter. Cognitive reasoning offers a rather more broad analysis than a detailed analysis of Cooke’s facture.


To measure the impact of an artist on the art world when the artist is still alive is difficult, this is because, to some extent the artist still produces further artworks, creating new things that either add or take away from their legacy.

In addition, any analytical assessment requires us to determine the ‘real’ and define it. The ‘real’ for Jung, Klein, Donald, Ponty or Solso quoted here, would possibly have a different meaning, but there are shared facts or knowledge. In Lacan’s terms, it could be the symbolic order belonging to the period before language, similar to Donalds ‘mimetic’ period in which what is depicted to symbolic order, existed before we were born. Therefore in those terms, the real does not have objective reality or exist. It is kept out of sight from the view of the representative order. (Fink, 1995:24) It exists only in so far as we give it the uniform properties.

Any conclusion driven by any one of the authors discussed earlier, would have different analytical properties according to that author’s worldview. It is essential for artists to be open-minded in their approach, without this their starting point would be imprisoned by networks of properties of their specific theoretical discipline. It can offer expertise on creativity, mental processes or social association to art. However, it is not able to inform the studio practice of any artist who is seeking the challenge of the subject which is older than Mesopotamia, the cradle of human civilisation.

Both artist and analyst nominate that sensory driven perceptual analysis of the subject is questionable or we may say deceived. However, the study suggests that a painting is designed to compound the cognitive outcomes in a state of mind of an audience. Those rules apply even in cases of extreme narcissism where the only anticipated audience is the artist. Therefore, the purpose of painting is primarily cognitive. Thus, painting is essentially not the same as other kinds of cognitive engineering. (Donald, in Turner, 2006:3 – 20)

The psychoanalytical perspective accepted the adaptive dynamic mental processes that are undertaken in the creative course of action in the artist. When the artist reflects on the cultural criterions of the society, there is a response leading to new ways of working. Its entire subtlety is compounded within the society which can only be affirmed as stated in An Anthology of Changing Ideas “When the artist passes from pure sensations to emotions aroused by means of sensations, he uses natural forms which, in themselves, are calculated to move our emotions, and he presents these in such a manner that the forms themselves generate in us emotional states, based upon the fundamental necessities of our physical and physiological natures.” (Fry, in Harrison, Wood, 2008:82)

Only by challenging what we take for granted, can the artist be given the possibility of finding the authentic artistic content. Diversity in thinking and dual processing of reasoning approach is a vital organic conductive human capacity. Enriching properties of dual-process theory strengthen diverted creative abilities of an artist.

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