A pervasive notion in contemporary aesthetics asserts that vision is superior to the other senses due to its inherent capacity for detachment from objects. This perspective holds that vision establishes a purely theoretical relationship with the external world, which is facilitated by light’s ethereal essence. In his seminal work, “Lectures on Aesthetics,” Hegel enlightens us by explicating the notion that light, as an immaterial entity, confers autonomy and freedom upon objects, simultaneously illuminating and permeating them without causing their consumption. This unwavering emphasis on sight, to the detriment of the other senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing, has resulted in a profound impoverishment of our bodily connections with the surrounding world within our cultural framework. As the act of gazing becomes predominant, the corporeal form loses its substance and transforms into a mere appearance.
The predominance of sight in our cultural milieu, to the exclusion of the other senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing, has precipitated a profound degeneration of our embodied relationships. As the gaze rises, the corporeal realm gradually loses its material essence and transforms into a mere imitation. This change is brought about by the prominence given to visual stimuli, which tends to obscure the richness and depth of sensory encounters offered by the remaining faculties.
Numerous factors contribute to the elevated status of vision within the aesthetic framework of the contemporary era. Vision is inherently objective because it interacts with the world via the medium of light. Light’s ethereal nature allows objects to exist independently while simultaneously permeating and illuminating them. This unique relationship with light gives vision a certain detachment from the corporeal nature of objects, allowing for a more reflective and speculative engagement.
Vision provides a significant advantage in terms of spatial perception. The eye’s capacity to perceive depth, distance, and perspective enables a thorough comprehension of the world. One can comprehend the arrangement of objects in space, their spatial relationships, and the interaction of forms and shapes through visual observation. These perceptual insights grant vision a sense of superiority and a privileged place in the sensory hierarchy.
However, this enhanced vision has not been without repercussions. The overemphasis on vision has led to a detachment from the corporeal realm, severing the intimate connections between the body and its surroundings. In a society dominated by the visual sense, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and auditory experiences are marginalized and undervalued. The body, as the primary site of sensory engagement, disengages from its immediate surroundings and assumes the role of a passive observer of the world.
This dematerialization of the body has significant effects on our lived experiences. Once an active participant in the world, the corporeal self is now a passive recipient of visual data. The tactile pleasures of caressing a textured fabric, the olfactory pleasures of inhaling the aroma of freshly baked bread, the sonorous resonance of a melody coursing through one’s veins, and the gustatory ecstasy of savoring a delectable dish are all subordinate to the dominant visual realm.
I am keenly aware of the consequences of this visual hegemony. Despite my deep admiration for the capacity of visual art to provoke intellectual stimulation and elicit reflection, I recognize the pressing need to restore equilibrium and reintegrate a more holistic engagement with our senses. Only by integrating multiple sensory modalities can we truly comprehend the depth and complexity of the human experience.
By acknowledging and embracing the multisensory nature of our perceptual apparatus, we are able to transcend the limitations of a vision-centric aesthetic. This paradigm shift allows art to engage more of our senses. Artists can create immersive installations that stimulate multiple senses simultaneously, inviting us to transcend the visual and foster a more integrated experience with their work.
Moreover, our daily lives can greatly benefit from a reappreciation of senses other than sight. By actively engaging with the world through all of our senses, we can cultivate heightened awareness and forge stronger ties to our surroundings. We can savor the aromas of nature, appreciate the intricate textures of the physical world, tune our ears to the symphony of sounds that surround us, and savor the various flavors that enrich our culinary experiences. In doing so, we rediscover the profound joy and opulence of the sensory realm and reclaim our embodied existence.
I recognize the significance and effectiveness of visual art in conveying ideas, emotions, and stories. Despite this, the study of this topic compels me to advocate for a conception of aesthetics that encompasses the entire range of sensory experiences. Art is capable of transcending the limitations of a single sense and evolving into a multisensory experience that resonates with our entire being.
Modern aesthetics, which prioritize vision as superior to the other senses, have led to a decline in bodily relations and a loss of substance. By recognizing the distinct qualities and contributions of each sense, however, we can restore equilibrium and adopt a more holistic approach to aesthetics. We can reestablish our connection to the world, reignite our bodily engagement, and reawaken the fullness of the human experience by integrating sensory experiences. Let us embrace a sensory renaissance in which the visual is woven harmoniously with the olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and auditory realms, allowing art and life to flourish in their multidimensional splendor.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Lectures on Aesthetics” (Germany)
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Phenomenology of Perception” (France)
David Howes, “The Empire of the Senses: A Cultural History of Perception” (Canada)
Don Ihde, “Sensory Experience and the Metropolis: On the Jacobean Sense of Sight” (United States)
Mark Paterson, “The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects, and Technologies” (United Kingdom)
Laura U. Marks, “The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses” (Canada)
David Michael Levin, “The Philosopher’s Gaze: Modernity in the Shadows of Enlightenment” (United States)
Elizabeth Grosz, “Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism” (Australia)
Jean-Luc Nancy, “Listening” (France)
Alva Noë, “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain. Biology of Consciousness” (United States)
David Abram, “The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World” (United States)