Close comparison

Different domain

Environment

Impression

Material thinking

Meaning expansion

Metaphor

Metaphorical leap

Metonymic

Metonymy

Noise

Out-of-placeness

Overlookedness

Peripheral

Proximity

Same domain Domain matrix

Sensory connections

Sustainability

Synecdoche

Taxonomic

Tolerance 

Transferral

Unfolding

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

Close comparison

Different domain

Environment

Impression

Material thinking

Meaning expansion

Metaphor

Metaphorical leap

Metonymic

Metonymy

Noise

Out-of-placeness

Overlookedness

Peripheral

Proximity

Same domain Domain matrix

Sensory connections

Sustainability

Synecdoche

Taxonomic

Tolerance 

Transferral

Unfolding

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

Writing

Resisting Metaphors: A Metonymic Approach to the Study of Creativity and Cognition in Art Analysis and Practice

A metonymic approach is a way of constructing meaning in creative thinking and art analysis. Little work has been done into how metonymy functions in an art work or how an understanding of metonymic thought processes might reveal new meanings in art analysis or offer new methods for artists.

We use metaphor to help us understand concepts. In fact 'our ordinary conceptual system is fundamentally metaphorical in nature,' Lakoff & Johnson (1980). However, metaphor can both highlight and hide meaning. For example, if we consider the metaphor 'argument is war', we attack the other person’s views and defend our own position, but we also hide the co-operative aspect of argument in which there is an effort to find mutual understanding, (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

 

Susan Ryland PhD thesis 2011

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Optimal Innovation in Creative Thought

Cognitive linguists have not concentrated their attention on creativity, in the belief that creative use of metaphor and metonymy is the exception to the rule, and they wanted to establish what the ‘rules’ were. This appears, at face value, to be an entirely logical assumption, but recent studies by Rachel Giora, a linguist working at Tel Aviv University, have challenged this approach.  By studying conventional metaphors and metonymy it would seem that we have ignored a basic, but highly important, function of the human brain, that of pleasure-seeking.  Pleasure is not a bonus experience but a fundamental human driver.  The limbic system in the brain is stimulated by innovation.  But, as Giora has discovered, there is an ‘optimal innovation’. Giora has demonstrated, in her  ‘optimal innovation hypothesis’, that it is some ‘salience imbalance: the surprising discovery of the novel in the salient or the salient in the novel’, (Giora 2002: 12), that provides the most cognitive pleasure.  As Giora explains,

Optimal innovations are also more pleasurable than pure innovations. It is the surprise experience in suddenly discovering some novelty where it is least expected, or the gratification in discovering the familiar in the novel…It is not the most familiar, then, that is least enjoyable, but rather the most novel that is least pleasing. Pleasure, however, resides half-way between high salience and high novelty, (Giora 2002: 14).

 

Giora regards salience as being meaning that has been coded in the mental lexicon and is foremost in our mind due to ‘conventionality, frequency, familiarity, or prototypicality’, [Prototypicality in semantics is an instance of a category or a concept that combines its most representative attributes, such as robin being a prototype of bird, unlike penguin].  It follows that nonsalience is novel and inferred, being either non-coded or coded meanings that are unconventional, infrequently occurring, unfamiliar, and non-prototypical thereby making them slower to understand. Giora’s approach is in itself novel, as cognitive linguists have not tended to measure ‘pleasure’ per se.  Aristotle, over two millennia ago, recognised the ‘optimal metaphor’ when he spoke in The Rhetoric of how metaphor makes language colourful, in that it ‘gives style, clearness, charm, and distinction as nothing else can.’  Interestingly, Aristotle uses ‘clearness’ as one of the virtues of metaphor in language. So, although he sees metaphor as an embellishment (charm), he also acknowledges its power to communicate new ideas in ways that we can quickly understand. He sums up optimal metaphor thus, 

 

Now strange words simply puzzle us; ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh. When the poet calls ‘old age a withered stalk’, he conveys a new idea, a new fact, to us by means of the general notion of bloom, which is common to both things….Liveliness is specially conveyed by metaphor, and by the further power of surprising the hearer; because the hearer expected something different, his acquisition of the new idea impresses him all the more. His mind seems to say, ‘Yes, to be sure; I never thought of that’, (see Rhetoric, Aristotle, 350 B.C.E Translated by W. Rhys Roberts Book III http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.3.iii.html). 

 

I believe Giora’s research gives us a means of understanding not only creative metaphors, but also creative metonymies.  We use conventional metonymies in everyday speech, such as ‘give me a hand’, but can we create novel metonymies, that provide the ‘pleasurable’ stimulus that Giora refers to? I think so. Metonymic relations, that is, domain-internal elements, grouped together may not necessarily seem novel. In fact, the very fact that there are a number of related elements grouped together would tend to confirm their commonplaceness. But if the quantity of elements is further increased there will come a point, (a ‘tipping point’ or a ‘threshold’) whereby the differences between these elements begins to outweigh the fact that they are related. The frequency of the differences between them, will outweigh their preconceived frequency within the world. At this point, the differences between the elements is foregrounded and their relatedness backgrounded, enabling novel meanings to emerge.  There needs to be sufficient difference within a familiar grouping of entities or ideas for new meaning to be discerned. It is likely that this ‘sufficient’ or ‘optimal’ point will vary according to the material being used, and how easily difference is discerned.

The Power of Proximity

 

“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, founder of Buddhism (563–483 B.C.E.)

 

Art utilises our brain's desire to find meaning through the formation of patterns and connections. The kinds of conceptual connections we make determine the meanings that emerge from the artwork.

Traditionally, museums have used taxonomic displays to enable viewers to make comparisons between closely related exhibits. This approach is drawn from science where multiple samples of the same kind of thing (specimens, X-rays, DNA) are routinely placed side-by-side in order to undertake a visual analysis of subtle, yet potentially crucial, differences. Understanding the cognitive mechanisms that occur during close proximity taxonomic comparisons provides artists and their audiences with a ‘tool’ to explore meaning generation in creative thought. 

 

The need for, and value of, close proximity taxonomic comparisons has much to do with how long we can hold a thought in our short-term memory. It is believed that our short-term memory can retain a mere 3-5 units of information for a matter of seconds only.[1] Therefore, the closer together similar items are placed the better able we are to discern subtle differences between them. This is true for all our senses including visual, tactile, auditory (hearing), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), vestibular (movement), and proprioceptive (body awareness). In wine tasting, for example, regional wines (say, reds from Burgundy) are sipped in close succession to discern their distinguishing features.

 

When artists use sets and series of photographs or multi-screen displays with closely related content, they are exploiting proximity in order to reinforce similarities and foreground differences. The cognitive process involved in taxonomic displays is one of cross-referencing and comparison requiring the observer to look back-and-forth between the objects, a process that gradually reveals multiple meanings in an expanding network of associations. Once the viewer has established the similarities between the constituent parts their attention can shift to the differences between them and these, in turn, open up further layers of meaning. 

 

The terminology used to discuss cognitive mechanisms can be off-putting, not least because mainstream dictionaries have been slow to update their definitions. While metaphor is a fairly familiar term, it is only one cognitive device out of several that we use in order to interact with our environment. Although metaphor and its tropes have been known about for more than two millennia (Aristotle spoke of metaphor aiding “understanding” and “reason” [2]), the dominance of linguistic examples used to explain these thought processes has, over time, caused us to lose sight of how metaphor and its variants utilise all our senses.

Artists frequently seek ambiguity in their work to encourage multiple meanings to emerge across time, contexts and communities. For this reason, metaphor has limitations due to its tendency to control (and thereby limit) the direction of thought, highlighting one thing while hiding another. For example, a common metaphor life is a journey enables us to understand an abstract notion of human life through the more familiar activity of a journey in which there is a beginning, middle and end. What this metaphor conceals is the notion that life can also be conceived as cyclical. 

 

There are two cognitive mechanisms that serve the artist well for meaning expansion: metonymy (pronounced: meh-TON-uh-mee) and synecdoche (Sih-NECK-doh-kee). While their definitions remain a point of academic debate, their distinct functions in thought warrant further attention. Metonymy in creative thought expands meaning around a single domain (or idea) enabling us to shift our attention towards peripheral, often overlooked physical or conceptual elements. Conversely, metonymy in language is often used to narrow down thinking to convey an idea at speed, such as ‘give me a hand’ (a request for help that might require using one’s hands) which linguists describe as a part-whole or partonomic relationship.

 

Synecdoche, according to the cognitive linguist Ken-ichi Seto, is a “category related cognitive transfer.” [3] This ‘museum model’ of thought uses a process of taxonomic meaning expansion from a less inclusive category to a more inclusive one (or vice versa).[4] It functions to reinforce similarities and identify subtle differences between closely related things, raising new questions and information. Both partonomic (metonymic) and taxonomic (synecdochic) meaning expansion in creative thought provide an open, inclusive, non-discriminatory, network approach to meaning generation that allows multiple meanings to exist simultaneously. However, the crucial distinction between these two processes is that only synecdoche (the taxonomic relationship) highlights nuanced differences between similar things.

 

These issues come into play when we consider how an artwork is displayed. If, for example, a set of images is displayed in a linear format we will attempt to ‘read’ the work as we would a book, from one end to the other. When we are viewing a multi-screen moving image we have the added expectation of a narrative thread unfolding over time. However, when, for example, a multi-screen artwork is displayed in a grid format it invokes a non-hierarchical reading where the eye of the enquiring mind meanders up, down and diagonally across the grid without bias or preference. A single element within this format will only stand out when it is markedly different from the rest. 

 

KEY WORDS

Material thinking, meaning expansion, metaphor, metaphorical leap, metonymy, noise, out-of-placeness, overlookedness, peripheral, same domain or domain matrix, sensory connections, synecdoche, taxonomic, tolerance (manufacturing).

 

REFERENCES

 

[1]      Cowan, N. Metatheory of storage capacity limits. Behavioral and brain sciences, 24 (1), pp.154-176. (2001).

[2]      Aristotle. Rhetoric, Mineola/New York, Dover Publications Inc. (2004).

[3]      Seto, K.-I. Distinguishing Metonymy from Synecdoche. In: Panther, K. U. & Radden, G. (eds.) Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam; Philadelphia John Benjamins. (1999).

[4]      Ryland, S. Resisting Metaphors: A metonymic approach to the study of creativity and cognition in art analysis and practice. (2011). Available at: http://eprints.brighton.ac.uk/12414/1/SusanRylandThesis%20FINAL%20Nov24%202011_Redacted.pdf (accessed 8 June 2018)

 

 

 

 

You Move Me
A collaborative project led by artist Gemma Riggs working with Laura Murphy (choreographer), Jorina von Zimmermann (psychologist), Melanie Wilson (sound artist), Mary Paterson (writer), Susan Ryland (writer) and performers: Ikran Abdille and Benedikta Mcsharry.
See 'The Power of Proximity' by Susan Ryland (page 16)
You move Me_Publication_Final_with ISBN.[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [7.9 MB]

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