Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Conceptual Structure of Visual Metaphor

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Conceptual Structure of Visual Metaphor

Article excerpt

Theories of cognition have undergone radical change in the last few decades. No longer seen as an independent process, the contemporary view places the mental functions associated with cognition as one element within a complex network. Within this network, cognition does not exist without the environment, social connections, feelings, and emotions. Rare is the cognitive scientist or cognitive psychologist who does not profess to be an interactionist or connectionist (Thelen & Bates, 2003).

Studying metaphor has equally undergone radical change, although there is a lack of consensus of a theory of metaphor. The study of metaphor involves numerous fields in recent history from cognitive neuroscience to linguistics. Visual metaphor research occupies an underrepresented area of inquiry. With the development of the cognitive sciences, a cognitive view of metaphoric thinking is emerging. This calls for a reconsideration of visual metaphor in the practices of artists and leads to my central research question: Is there a conceptual structure to the creation of visual metaphors by artists that closely aligns with the cognitive view of metaphoric thinking?

The Cognitive View of Thinking Metaphorically

The basis for the process of metaphorical thinking is argued to come from the senses (Arnheim, 1969; Edelman, 1995; Efland, 2002; Lakoff, 1993). Perception flows from sensory experience and includes observation, classification, and conceptual thinking. The structure of metaphoric thinking is described as conceptual blending (Fauconnier & Turner, 2002). Examples of explaining conceptual blending include frame restructuring (Schon, 1993), conceptual mappings (Gibbs, 1992; Lakoff, 1993; Winner, 1988), and image schemas (Efland, 2002, citing Lakoff & Johnson, 1987). Each explanation involves a codification of perceived sensory experience enabling placement within a memory system, abilities to retrieve, and abilities to reorganize. Reorganization, or blending, is the essential ingredient for thinking metaphorically regardless of whether the terms of frames, maps, schemas, or domains describe the system. Considering the journey from sensory experience to conceptual blending, thinking metaphorically represents mind-body interconnectedness. This mind-body interconnectedness leads Gibbs (1992) to suggest that long-term memories may be metaphorically structured and leads Lakoff and Johnson (1999) to develop a philosophy of embodied realism.1 The interconnectedness also destroys the dualism of a mind operating separately from the body.

The conception of mind being interconnected with the body is not new, but only in recent scientific history does it gain acceptance. It replaces the uncertainty of Descartes who, while implicating a connection, never articulates one and keeps the mind as separate and surrounded in mystery (Damasio, 2003). Discovery and inventiveness through metaphor exemplify the mind-body interconnection-an interconnection strongly realized in art (Edelman, 1995).

Based on evidence from the field of neuroscience, I consider the mediation of meaning-making developed through the interaction of the mind and body within an environment. Mediation may not only occur through sensorial experiences and cognitive actions upon those experiences, but through emotions and feelings as part of "the network that enables cognition. My consideration includes the work of neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio (1999, 2003), Gerald Edelman (1995) and Joseph LeDoux (2002). They acknowledge the integral part emotions and feelings play in the creation of mind. They also acknowledge that pure reason devoid of emotion and feeling is neither possible nor preferable. Making meaning through the interplay of emotions, reason, and context seems to describe the types of relationships existing within art practices. If the cognitive view of metaphor relies on the blending of concepts, and concepts derive from the play of the affective with the intellectual, then this appears to set art practices as an arena for the study of metaphor. …

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