The Power of Perception

I have to say, I debated a while over posting this talk. Ad man Rory Sutherland talks about the value of “spin,” that is to say, what advertising can offer reality.

Sutherland supports the idea of “intangible value.” If you want to live in a sustainable economy, you will have to learn to live with less. He says that creates two choices for society: to either be poorer according to current standards, or to develop into a world in which more value is placed on “intangibles,” i.e. non-material goods.

If I follow the logic correctly, the idea is not to be so focused on the next big thing, but instead work on appreciating what’s already here. Creating “intangible value” is not about reducing hunger, or increasing jobs, but simply making everyday experiences richer.

Sutherland delivers his earnest message with a lot of humor, and some delightful examples. It’s a hilarious talk, well worth the watch, but is it about art?

Here’s the thing… Sutherland is keenly aware of the importance of perception, and to my mind art is all about perception. Some art work challenges how we perceive reality, while others (say, a beautiful landscape painting) help us to appreciate what is right in front of us.

Sutherland ends with two quotes:

“Poetry is when you make new things familiar, and familiar things new.” (unattributed)

“We are perishing not for want of wonders, but for want of wonder.” – G. K. Chesterton

My guess (and I’d love to debate this one with you), is that in a society more conscious of the wonders that abound, art would attain a much higher status.

But would it? What role would the television play? Or a book? In a world of “intangible value” are we more or less likely to daydream? In what way does art help us to get in touch with the hear and now, and in what ways does it help us to escape?

Lots of questions – and I welcome your answers.

  • Rene Meyer-Grimberg

    Art is only a tiny bit of what we perceive – he is referring to anything we can perceive. We can wonder at anything. I wonder at toilets in Germany, for example. The experience of walking into a space that is a Gesamtkunstwerk – every element designed, inspires wonder. I think his talk is about valuing wonder – an intangible, not an object – a feeling – art can be the perceived object that inspires wonder, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be a toilet.

    A society that values wonder might design beautiful toilets, I would argue.

  • Marianne Combs

    I love your comment, Rene. But does this mean art would have no place in such a culture, because *everything* would be art?

  • Joanna

    To get at your question from another angle, as I have voluntarily reduced consumption and tried to be more mindful of how my buying choices have an impact, I have seen how I am willing to pay more for something that will last longer and has a story with it, or has passed through other hands and been modified in some way. The experience of searching for the object takes on more of the characteristics of seeking out an artistic experience: is it beautiful? does its form enhance its function? do I know the person who made it or how it is related to a place? Many of these factors are the same things that I pay attention to when I look at a piece of art or appreciate a performance: relationship, aesthetics, an evolving relationship.