ARTisSpectrum Vol.27, May 2012

126 ARTisSpectrum N onverbal communication preceded the evolution of human language. That seems obvious, but it is worth noting because people often forget its primacy and therefore its continuing importance in our development and experience. Man is the only animal whose communication is based on a combination of verbal and nonverbal or preverbal signals, and our visual and acoustic perception senses are located in different parts of the brain. In the simplest expression of this distinction, one might say that the verbal mode is assigned more to thinking, while the nonverbal is nearer to feeling, perception and intuition. The predominance of one component causes a diffuse chaos, and equally the predominance of the other leads to endless arguments about right or wrong. Only the successful integration of the two allows us to “read between lines” because only engaging both will allow the individual to engage on a holistic basis. However, the role of nonverbal signals in everyday com- munication is different than in artistic fields. On a quotidian basis it takes place mainly unconsciously, simply one of the things that inform our understanding, but on the artistic level it can contribute to an enlargement of consciousness. If com- munication is to be understood as multi-sided process, then we must assume active participation on the part of both the transmitter and the receiver. When the viewer of an artwork is ready to open himself to it communicatively, he can become a co-creator. This is done by deliberately postponing judgments and waiting, as attentively and patiently as possible, until the resolution of the initial superficial, instantaneous, spontane- ous reactions – and then allowing the perception of a deeper personal resonance to awake. This is something I deliberately leave open in my own works such as the one included in this article; it is my hope that the viewer will pay attention to his own perceptions and associations when looking at it. Once this contact is established, the artwork – not the artist (we will leave aside discussion of the artist’s role here to avoid confusion) – can begin to “talk” non-verbally to the viewer. Of course they do not impart new or additional information, but rather they inspire impulses in the sense of new thoughts, perceptions and feelings. The result is not one single correct interpretation, but theoretically an infinite number of potential meanings – the awe-inspiring, almost magical power of art. The considerable power and impact of art in the realm of non- verbal communication can be appreciated even more when you consider it in contrast to music, where the situation is more complicated. On the one hand, since the baroque pe- riod the original model of musical communication has by so- cial consensus been replaced by a division between producer and audience. Communication doesn’t take place anymore, but rather presentation and consumption, as distinct from what happens with visual art. On the other hand, the majority of recipients prefer to hear familiar sounds, constantly repeat- ed in an endless loop – again, not something that lends itself to communication. Because of this, communication is unlikely to happen in a standard setting of performed music. However, in the case of free musical improvisation, created by several people, the result is a piece of music which has never been heard before. In this case you might have a situation where communication comes into play, with each player listening attentively to himself and the others, and responding as he does so. And, because in music the different responses are not contradictory but rather complementary, a ‘hearing adventure’ of this kind can lead to an entirely new communication experience, one which has no need for words. Nonverbal communication is inevitably an intrinsic part of our lives and the way we approach and appreciate the world. But being aware of it on a conscious level allows us to enrich our daily experiences and, importantly, to gain a new and marvelous level of understanding in our relationship to visual art. Brigitte Halewitsch is an artist, writer and music therapist. She lives in Germany. Nonverbal communication – its role in modern art and music By Brigitte Halewitsch Eisbergspitze Photography on Canvas 31.5” x 23.5”