Painting and Sensation

July 31, 2011

Sensation is that which is transmitted directly[1]. It is experienced within diverse levels and different orders that allow for a truly felt experience upon the flesh and the nervous system – that of the Figure which Delueze refers to within his essay Painting and Sensation.

Deleuze offers a critique on the notion of sensation, guided by the comparative art of Paul Cézanne and Francis Bacon. Whilst Cézanne paints a world of landscapes and still life, Bacon approaches the artefact, portraits and the being, and yet both artists convey a felt sensation through the Figure, as opposed to abstract form which is addressed to the head, the brain.

Sensation is a subjective response felt through the entire Figure, abandoned of its organs and liberated from representation. It is what determines instinct at a particular moment [2]. Deleuze continues to explain of the different levels of sensation acting in different orders; that they are not of different hierarchies as such, but exist as different orders of one and the same sensation [3].These levels of sensation are described as arrests or snapshots of motion [4] that continue to recompose the movement [5] that is being felt as another level is introduced. However, it is important to understand that it is not movement that explains the levels of sensation, it is the levels of sensation that explain what remains of movement. [6]

This leads to the discussion of invisible forces that are received and translated through an art piece.

It is interesting to note that different means of art initiate a different transmittal of sensation, whether it be visual art primarily through the eye or music through the ear. This primary means of experiencing sensation may not only vibrate the experience on different levels, but further carries the sensation to a secondary sense organ. For example, one who views an artwork will first experience the awareness through the eye which may then be carried to the ear to produce music in response, or the nose that recalls a smell, or a taste, a weight.

Deleuze explains that the different levels of sensation may also coexist with one another. They may also share the same primary sensory experience through the eye. A musician may see musical notes on a sheet of paper and read a most beautiful composition which then translates to sing inside their body, whereas a lay person may see the notes purely as shapes, circles and lines on a page as abstract form and disassemble them to create a subjective aesthetic.

This coexistence of levels can further be explained through invisible forces such as rhythm which touches the Figure first; the flesh, the nervous system. It is this invisible force that the artist must capture and offer to the viewer.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, 2003, The Logic of Sensation, “Painting and Sensation”, London: Continuum, p. 36

[2] Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation,  p. 39

[3] Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation,  p. 37

[4] Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation,  p. 40

[5] Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation,  p. 40

[6] Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation,  p. 41





-Naomi Brennan

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