South Asian Aesthetics

University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2014

Post: Experiencing the synthesis of Edward Hopper and Lauryn Hill, cognitively and viscerally

Gisella Velasco and Toni Potenciano: “Not even if my boss would call.”

Reviewed by Yvonne HC.

Gisella Velasco and Toni Potenciano: "Even if my boss would call."  2014.  Digital media featuring "Office at night"  (1940) by Edward Hopper and "Nothing Even Matters" by Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo.

Gisella Velasco and Toni Potenciano: “Not even if my boss would call.” 2014. Digital media featuring “Office at night” (1940) by Edward Hopper and “Nothing Even Matters” by Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo.

While it is not South Asian art, when I saw “Not even if my boss would call,” it sparked a lot of thinking on the readings that we’ve covered over the past few weeks in class. This piece is a juxtaposition of Edward Hopper’s painting “Office at Night” and a Lauryn Hill song, “Nothing Even Matters.” When I originally saw this piece I thought of our reading from Aristotle, the Poetics. This piece indeed lends itself to an argument for the theory of “pleasure through understanding/cognition.” First, I found primary enjoyment in recognizing both distinct pieces of art, as one of my favorite paintings and one of my favorite songs. Second, I found grand pleasure in determining the meaning derived from the overlapping of these two pieces. The text gives context to what exists within the painting itself. I then gained pleasure from understanding the intention of the artist– showing the connection between music and art, even despite the historical disconnect (the painting dating from 1940 and the song from 1998). It suggests that there are a consistent set of emotions that we seek to experience and convey in art, that have existed over time.

This painting very much relates to the idea of Erotic sentiment (śṛṅgāra), which Bharata also discusses. My cognitive reaction was then succeeded by a more sensory/visceral reaction, in which I felt excitement, sensuality, love, etc. from the message that I derived from the art. While I certainly experienced a visceral reaction, I think it was minimized due to my cognitive experience, which was lead by my background knowledge and understanding of the material. I think this art speaks to the important role that background knowledge plays in affecting what your reaction to a work of art will be. And then of course, therein lies this question– is this even art? In my opinion it is, not just because it joins two distinct pieces of art, but because it sparked a reaction that was both cognitive and sensory. Yet, even if it had just been a visceral experience, I think it would still be art just as long as it sparked something!

— Yvonne HC

[For more on the visceral versus cognitive reaction to art, see Levinson’s article on “Emotion in Response to Art.” Does the cognitive understanding occasion the visceral response, or does the visceral response occasion cognitive reflection?  We’ll hear more on this as we get into alaṃkāra śāstra and poetic theory next week! –TWW]

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