What is the relationship between the mind and body and does it have a big impact on the artist's artwork
What is the relationship between the mind and body and
does it have a big impact in the artist's artworks?
The mind is known to be the most powerful object any human can possess in the world. It can
influence one’s entire being of reasoning and emotion and even those of others. The effects of the
mind can be shown in a physical way through the body. In relation to this, the body is known to be
fragile, but if it works with the mind, as one they would become something so powerful. On the
other hand, an artwork can be interpreted according to the person. I would interpret an artwork as an
outcome of the relationship between the mind and body. Not only can it be shown in a painting, but
also in a performance or a installation. But, what is the relationship between the mind and body and
what impact does it have on art? That is the main topic.
The main areas which I would investigate would be not only an artist’s artworks itself, but also
some theories behind the mind and body and views from a few philosophers. I will also look at
different types of art such as Op art – which are mainly art which can also be described as illusions.
Some of the artists which I will look at are: M.C Escher and Victor Vasarely who focus more on
illusions and 'playing' with the mind. I will also glance over performing arts and body language as it
links with combining the mind and body. The philosophers I will look into are: Sigmond Freud and
Plato as their theories are related to my argument. These theories would help me support the
evidence given. From this essay I plan to show how much of an impact the human mind and body
has on every art piece ever made and how it reflects to the artist trait of thought.
The first artist, M.C. Escher, related most of his work around mathematics. Escher was born in
Leeuwarden in 1898. As his only talent was in Art, in 1919, Escher went to the School of
Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, studying under Vorrink. However left in 1922 after
two years and had obtained a good grounding in
drawing and mastered the art if woodcut. He
maintained a regular contact with Vorrick and even
sent him copies his latest pieces of work, amongst
them was Sky and Water I (1938). His main medium
was drawing and sketches, however, he also used other
mediums such as lithographs and woodcuts and wood
engravings. From my view, Escher’s work plays upon
how the viewer views the artwork and how it plays
with their mind. An example of this is would be
Ascending and Descending (1960).
Bruno Ernst explains how this piece of artwork works. He
If we study the print and follow the monks step by step we
shall discover without the slightest doubt that each
pace takes a monk a step higher. And yet on
completion of one circuit we find ourselves back where we
started; therefore in spite of all our ascent we are not a single inch higher
Ernst as well as Escher calls this deception ‘The Quasi-Infinite’ Ernst then explains the concept of
So the sections do not lie in horizontal planes, but they go upward (or downward) spirally. The
horizontal is seen to be in reality a spiral movement upward, and it is only the stairway itself that
remains in a horizontal plane
From these quotes, it shows M.C. Escher’s way of thinking
while drawing one of his famous pieces. How it relates to
the argument is that these artworks can trigger something
within the mind and open up an idea – like an inspiration.
M.C. Escher probably wanted to do this, showing a point
that the mind is not limited and ideas can open up doors to
bigger ideas. Ernst stated that Escher tried to represent the
‘limitless and infinite in many of his prints.’ I think that
what he meant was trying to reflect on the human mind.
Other examples of this are in his other prints such as
Waterfall (1961). This piece also shows the same principle.
Victor Vasarely was an Op art artist who painted illusion which plays on the mind. His work has
the same principle; however, it is shown in a different way from M.C. Escher. Vasarely is regarded
as the ‘father of Op-art.’ It is said that during the 1960-70s his painting became a popular culture
and has influence the style of architecture, computer science, fashion, even the way people view
things in general. It is stated in the artist’s official
The breakthrough brought by his kinetic visual
experiments transformed the flat surface in a world
of unending possibilities, book marking an era in the
history of art and foreshadowing a new global reality
shaped by programming and the internet
This strongly connects with the concept of M.C.
Escher’s work with the unlimited possibilities.
Vasarely’s Zebras (1950) shows the illusions it can
play on the mind and how the mind can interpret the
painting one way or another. In one way it might look
like two zebras, but in a different way, it might look like something other than the zebras. Another
example of this would be the ‘Rabbit or a Duck’ illusion. Compared to M.C. Escher’s work,
Vasarely also uses lines to deceive the mind however; he also makes use of colour i.e. Gestalt-Tri
Branching off the word ‘Art’ there are other types such as Performing art or even body language.
Performing art combines the mind and body and expresses it in a series of actions by the artist.
Performance art derived from the Futurism and Dada era, but became popular during the 1960s-70s.
There were many performance artists such as Joseph Beuys who:
“Was an influential artist who expressed his views on the pain of human existence, and complex
allegories of social and political issues and man's relationship to nature.”
He influenced hundreds of people with his ‘actions’ and from 1963 on. From his work you can see
his views on the issues raised clearly and so it shows that by combining the mind – his thoughts –
and body – his movements – make a successful artwork thus proving that both have a huge impact
During last March, I went to New York and during that time, the exhibition, ‘Contemplating the
Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum’ was taking place in the Guggenheim Museum.
There were hundreds of artworks displayed from various artists including, Anish Kapoor and
Rachel Whiteread. Among them was this artwork by Tino Sehgal, showing the movement of a man
and a woman entwining and embracing each other on the floor – the piece is also known as ‘The
Kiss’. From what I saw, the movement of both of them seemed gentle and tender; as they were
move in slow-motion, and it gave off a sincere and calming atmosphere. From this piece, you can
see that the actors had to think carefully about what they are doing and express it precisely so they
could give out the desired impression. Compared to the visual art, performance art makes more use
of the body, using every part of the body to express the artist’s thoughts and so this type of art might
be more effective in this area.
In relation to performing art, body language can also be interpreted to express the person’s feelings.
However, this is difficult as a single movement may be ambiguous. The Oracle Education
Foundation states that:
Body language is heavily influenced by cultural background and by education. As a consequence,
correct interpretation of body language of a person requires knowledge about the background of
This means that our body language is influenced by the environment we live in. This is also a way
of interpreting the way each individual thinks and how each of us reacts to a situation or object.
How this relates to performing art is that even if there is neither dialogue nor any movement in the
piece, the stance of the person or object can show the same principles as performing and visual art
and still be as powerful.
Other than looking at the physical side of the argument, the theoretical is just as important as it
holds the answer to why we interpret the artworks this way, and why the artist decided to show their
thoughts this way. One philosopher who could support my argument would be Sigmund Freud.
Freud was born in Moravia, Czech Republic, in 1856 and moved to Vienna with his family when he
was three years old. At the age of seventeen, he entered the University of Vienna’s medical school
and after independent research and clinical work in the general hospital of Vienna, he went into
private practice specialising in neurological and hysterical disorders. Freud spent several months in
France studying Jean-Martin Charcot's method of treating hysteria by hypnosis. Later, Freud and his
friend and mentor Dr. Josef Breuer introduced him to the case study of a patient called Bertha
Pappenheim. Her symptoms included a nervous cough, tactile anaesthesia and paralysis. Over the
course of her treatment, the woman recalled several traumatic experiences, which Freud and Breuer
believed contributed to her illness. Addition to learning by observing the symptoms and experiences
of his patients, Freud also engaged in a rigorous self-
analysis based on his own dreams. Freud’s theories are
based upon what he has researched on and experience
from treating patients and are mainly about the
human mind. His theories explain the reasons why we
think the way we think. One theory he made was
‘The Structural and Topographical Models of
Personality’ This theory explains that our personality
goes through three stages: the Id – does not care
about reality, Ego (based on the reality principles) –
understands the needs and desires of others and
Superego – the moral part of the conscious and
develops due to the moral and ethical restraints
placed on us by our guardians.
According to Freud:
Ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the superego, and still take
into consideration the reality of every situation.
How this relates to my argument is that when you interpretate a piece of art, the way you do it can
show whether you are using the Id, Ego or Superego and can show which part of your consious you
use most; this can also apply when an artist is making an artwork.
Another philosopher who explored this consept was Plato, a Greek Philospopher, and his theory of
the Allegory of the Cave. Plato was born in Athens around 427 BC. After the Peloponnesian War,
his mother's brother and uncle tried to persuade him to join in the oligarchical rules of Athens.
Instead, Plato joined his two older brothers in becoming a student of Socrates. Socrates forced them
to challenge then to examine their ideas and beliefs critically, which was annoying and antagonizing
many in the process. Socrates taught Plato that “it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue
every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and
others, for the unexamined life is not worth living." From this quote he based his theories about the
human mind on it. The story of this theory is:
Plato represents man’s condition as being
“chained in a cave,” with only a fire behind
him. He perceives the world by watching the
shadows on the wall. He sits in darkness
with the false light of the fire and does not
realize that this existence is wrong or
lacking. It merely is his existence — he
knows no other nor offers any complaint.
Plato next imagines in the Allegory of the
Cave what would occur if the chained man
were suddenly released from his bondage
and let out into the world. Plato describes
how some people would immediately be frightened and want to return to the cave and the familiar
dark existence. Others would look at the sun and finally see the world as it truly is.
How this can support the argument is that on the surface, an artwork may look ordinary, however, if
you look more into it, it will starts to take shape and make sense as you get to understand more
about the artist within the artwork; this applies to optical illusions in some way. This can also be
linked to Freud’s theory of Id, Ego and Superego as the man – if he can accept the truth – is shown
as the healthy person whereas if he was afraid then either his Id or Superego would be in control;
same principle as to making an artwork with a specific meaning or going out of your comfort zone
when using different types of medium.
To summarize this argument, it would seem that relationship between the mind and body is that they
both are required to make any form of art successful. Without including a meaning or feelings in an
artwork would make it lifeless and meaningless. The artists I looked at as well as the philosophers’
theories which support my argument show that the mind and body do make a big impact on the
artwork. You can see this by the amount of success it had on their audience.