“The results reported here offer empirical support for this general hypothesis and specify three particular processes that can be found in imagery, namely Figural, Symbolic and Mimetic. In the Figural Process an image descriptively depicts the scene or object referred to by the stimulus word. In the Symbolic Process an image illustrates (stands for or symbolizes) the concept communicated by the stimulus word. In the Mimetic Process an image is constituted of the envisioning and/or enacting of a human experience or behavior suggested by the stimulus word.” (17)
From “Definition and Measurement of Three Processes of Imagery Representation: Exploratory Studies of Verbally Stimulated Imagery” A study by Mary Marks, Desmond Cartwright, and John Durrett, Jr; 1978, for the Institute For the Study of Intellectual Behavior.
The above quote was the general findings observed in the scientific study conducted by Marks, Cartwright and Durrett, Jr. to determine how mental imagery is stimulated by different words and word sets, and how connotation affects the response. They tested their hypothesis by constructing tests designed to sponsor a resultant human reaction, which they learned how to predict. Their observations helped to push the study of word response, relatable to imagery, forward, and altogether it was an enlightening read.
One thing that their study did not include, that I found myself thereafter pondering, was how actual images (that is, two-dimensional illustrations, photographs, paintings, etc.) effect our individual interpretations of the process of imagery representation as it occurs in the mind. After all, there must be a correlation between how we re-envision things (objects and experiences) and how we actually see them when they are right in front of us. Right? My thinking is that the aforementioned research could help artists and photographers understand why some of the images that they create are lauded with praise while others that they produce are speciously rejected. Particularly, the process of Mimetic Imagery, which the academicians describe as suffused of both envisionment and enactment, is key.
Mimetic Imagery, as the study concludes, is the mental imagery produced after the individual is exposed to a word or word set that is both experienced, empathetically, and envisioned, multi-dimensionally, like as in a dream. The emotions triggered are the individual’s response to a recalled, likewise occurrence, or are the result of a sense of “putting oneself in another’s shoes”. Either way, the individual experiencing the reaction is in fact the prime component of the triggered experience. In the study of Mimetic Imagery as it relates to words, the authors found that certain “personal” words, such as sorrow, joy, or nervous, can help to sponsor imagery of mimetic relationship. I feel that this particular representation of imagery is akin to the emotional reaction most viewers have to a well-choreographed artwork, wherein a story is being told convincingly and there is a residual, empathetic component or the potential for a universal, empathetic response. To illustrate, imagine yourself in any television commercial that you have ever seen; isn’t this the desire of the advertiser, for you to imagine yourself in the position of utilizing their products? If you can imagine yourself racing down the highway in the expensive, red convertible, then they have already half-succeeded in selling it to you.
In truth, art is this way too. Except the sale of art is always more difficult because art does not concede to function the way other objects do. In fact, the occurrence of a mimetic response within the mind and soul of the viewer is the function of art, an intellectual function rather than a practical one. Good art ventures to initiate in the viewer a reaction relative to the purpose of the artwork being created. By understanding how the process of Mimetic Imagery works, I think that we, as artists, can begin to create more compelling works of art, whose coercive spell lasts far beyond the timeframe of its conception.