Keith Lehrer is an artist and professor of philosophy now specializing in the philosophy of art. He seeks to combine his art, painting, mixed media, and ceramics with his theory of art. In 2005 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
As I paint, the sensory experience of what I do is about something. I may not have planned or intended that it be about anything, but the sensory qualities I experience as I paint are about something, even if only about color and form, but usually about thought and feeling. I create a physical object vibrant with sensory qualia and provocative intentionality. The painting is a mentalized physical object.
I wondered what the relationship between mind and matter is like as a philosopher. I experienced what it is like as a painter. As my painting acquires a mental life, qualia and intentionality, my philosopher reflects. Where did the mental life come from? It came from me. It is my mind in the painting, out there, in the paint and canvass. So as I paint and experience what the painting is like, I experience at the same time what the relationship is like between paint and canvass, on one side, and qualia and intentionality, on the other. I experience what it is like for a physical object to be mentalized. I know from the experience what the relationship between mind and body is like as I experience the mentalization of the artwork. I paint over the mind-body problem.
How can I experience the relationship between the mental and the physical and know what it is like? This is a request for description and explanation, the work of a philosopher. How is the physical object mentalized, and how can I know what the mentalization of the physical object is like? There is an experience of the surface of the painting used as an exemplar of experience when I focus my attention on the exemplar in aesthetic attention to what it is like. By a natural kind of magic, the sensory particular becomes conceptual and general, as Hume suggested.
Mixed media, a favorite of mine, calls attention to the exemplar and calls attention to a process of exemplarization. It does not pass through mind unnoticed. So it is a kind of art that calls attention to what art is like. Art reconfigures experience as the mind exemplarizes the sensory phenomenology to obtain the content, the understanding, it seeks. Art reconfigures many things and non-things. It also reconfigures art. The sensory exemplar loops back onto itself and reconfigures art in process of creating art. After seeing a great work of art, experience will never be the same, including the experience of art. Art is that part of experience that reconfigures experience. Painting is that part of art the reconfigures experience in terms of the sensory exemplar that shows us what the reconfiguring of content is like.
Art ties together mind and body, thought and object, me and my world, me in my world and my world in me. I have just published a book, Art, Self and Knowledge, to explain all this, with a website containing the relevant images including those referred to above. You can also visit my painting website. Then you will know what I am like as I mentalize myself in art. In case you don't, here is a new self-portrait.
Keith Lehrer is Regent's Professor emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Arizona and a Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami in Florida, where he spends half of each academic year. Prior to helping build a major program at Arizona in the 1970s, he taught at the University of Rochester.
Lehrer received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University where he studied under Richard Taylor and Roderick Chisholm. His research interests include epistemology, free will, rational consensus, Thomas Reid and, recently, aesthetics.
Lehrer is a former president of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) and also served as the APA executive director for a number of years. He is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.