Creative perception; sensory, conceptual and relational ways of seeing

Stuart English

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As the things we buy become more technically advanced and functionally reliable the value we assign to products and services shifts into the realm of human experience, meaning and interconnectedness. In this context the ability to recognise patterns and opportunity out of the ill-defined mist of complex problems may appear to be something of a 'black art' that is hidden within our ways of seeing. By considering the split-second journey we take from our experience, to perception, to understanding, this paper explores the 'fuzzy situations' (Basadur et al 2000) in the 'swampy lowlands' (Schon 1983) of creativity. The author builds on Popper's (1973) 'three worlds of mankind' to establish physical, personal and shared realities. This philosophical representation is used to describe perception as a creative event that is influenced by our awareness, maturity and purpose.
The paper reflects on three distinct but interrelated ways of seeing and explores how they are employed in creative practice.
Sensory seeing: The direct personal and incommunicable experience of sensing the particular objects and environments around us.
Conceptual seeing: The general, universal and communicable shared perception described though language, signs and symbols.
Relational seeing: The contextual relationship of objects, experiences and concepts from which we derive meaning and plan action.
Since we see ourselves as observers passing through an independent and objective reality, we discern little difference between the sensory neural patterns of direct experience and the conceptual neural patterns we create to perceive that experience. This can be considered as a limitation on our creativity since it makes it difficult for us to simultaneously see an object as a ‘cup’, a ‘bottle’ and a ‘bin’. Innovators must tolerate perceptual uncertainty and ambiguity, (Kimbell 2007) holding open potential in order to create possibility.
A case study interior design project, 'Mental spaces for business' aims to model environments free of creatively limiting mental constructs, bringing our attention to the present by challenging the way we see the spaces we work in.
The paper concludes that there may be creative benefits in learning to choose how we see.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSeeing...Vision and Perception in a Digital Culture
EditorsA. Bentkowska-Kafel, T. Cashen, H. Gardiner
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventCHArt Twenty-Fourth Annual Conference - Birbech, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Nov 20087 Nov 2008


ConferenceCHArt Twenty-Fourth Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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