Perception, an Art?!

On April 17th 2018, professor Andries Baart (NL) gave a lecture about how the Arts can contribute to a better perception of care (practices).

On the 17th of April 2018, professor Andries Baart gave a lecture entitled Perception, An Art!? The art of perceiving and perceiving by the Arts (Original title: Waarneming, een kunst!? De kunst van het waarnemen en het waarnemen van kunst) in Zeist (NL). This lecture was part of a symposion, organised by the Presence Foundation, a Dutch platform for research and practice innovation in the professional healthcare and well-being sector. This event also marked the beginning of professor Andries Baart’s retirement and the evening took the form of a retrospective examining the 17 years that have passed since the presentation of A theory of presence (2001).

You can listen to the full lecture (in Dutch) here.

To perceive by the Arts

In theory and practices of presence, ‘to perceive’ is considered to be of central importance when regarding the quality of care. Baart posited in his lecture, that the Arts not only contribute to an improved perception of the Other in practices of care, but in fact, to perceive is an art in itself. Professor Andries Baart proceeded to illustrate his argument, presenting many examples of artwork from diverse disciplines within the field including: fine arts, dance, illustration, and film. Some examples of the various artists whose work was highlighted include: Ron Mueck (Australia), Judith Vanistendael (Belgium), Berlinde de Bruyckere (Belgium), Willem Ritstier (Netherlands), Maartje Blans (Netherlands), and KUNSTrePUBLIK (Germany).

The embodied knowledge of the Arts

Baart’s interpretation of each respective work illuminated and informed the audience. He expressed his interpretation of how the embodied knowledge of the Arts can be unpacked and seen. For example, the narrative of the lived experience of society’s most vulnerable is shown metaphorically and becomes explicit in: the use or absence of colour, tempo of movement, or choice of material. One can draw distinctions between four modes of perceiving care through the medium of the Arts: perceiving by, perceiving with, perceiving through the Arts, and the forth distinction being perceiving as an artist. To elaborate further, Art can illustrate a narrative, can present an alternative paradigm, can perceive and unlock solutions through emotional intercourse, and can contribute to a better and broader understanding of concepts such as vulnerability.

The artist’s perception

‘But what is the artist’s perception?’ Professor Baart declares, ‘The autonomous craftmanship of the artist is open-minded and examined, it is based on a receptive, tentative, alternating, imagining and harmonious way of perceiving.’ Baart continued to further ground his argument theoretically in sources of philosophy: Martin Heidegger, art as a form of truth (it makes the unseen visible), Walter Benjamin (art as a form of salvation), Theodor Adorno, as a form of pureness and Michel Foucault, art as freedom (pushing beyond the lines of normality).

The Arts can contribute to good care

For the most part, Baart’s lecture could be received as a critique on the present way of understanding care. He states: ‘Good care is defined by how we perceive the other.’ In present western society, the care and well-being sector is dominated by a categorising template, we are confined by an uncompromising neo-liberalistic ideology leaving us little elbow room or flexibility. The Arts can offer a better understanding of care practices, it can effortlessly sidestep these imposed limitations and it can contribute to good care, bottom-up and in care relations, which is so valuable for care-givers.


About the author: Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg (1987) graduated as a master in Ethics of Care and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL) in 2015. She currently holds the double position of ethical consultant, and policy advisor in the Centre on the Quality of Life and Survivorship, at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam (NL). This centre accommodates the physical/psychosocial, supportive and survivorship care for cancer patients. As a sociotherapist she worked in direct contact with patients in psychiatric clinics. Her previous experience at TAAK brought her in contact with visual artists and care institutions to whom she provided an ethics of care perspective during research and project development for the programme “Art & Care”.

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