'Western man may be said to have been undergoing a massive sensory anaesthesia...with modern art functioning as a kind of shock therapy for both confounding and unclosing our senses.' - Susan Sontag
Sontag claims that pop art, which conceals sensuality with its illogical, bland, reduced and deindividuated qualities, acts to both conceal and to revive the senses through sensationalism. I say, it mostly just handicaps them, and that is why artists need to consider the senses.
Pop art, soaring to ever dizzying heights of sensationalism, is different from sensuality in that sensuality is the inward enjoyment of a single experience, specifically something that evokes tactile and olfactory response, such as a fauvist red or even a voluptuous, beflowered figurations of Alphonse Mucha.
Yet Pop art's sensationalism is buzzing, quivering fear or thrill, which seeks, in Borough’s case according to Sontag, to disorient and silence the critic. Sensationalism is distinct from sensory feeling in three ways: it is not intended to cause enjoyment. Secondly, sensational art is not private, because it is confrontational to the point that it obligates us to give an opinion on it. This implicit engagement of mass opinion is also intrinsic in pop art it often makes the mass media or masses a direct or implied subject. Finally, the pleasure that sensationalist art produces comes from thrill, which is as closely linked to fear as it is to pleasure, and fear can only produce numbness.
As an extension of the mass media, pop art has removed privacy and sensuality from the human environment, and therefore redefined human senses. As Marshall McLuhan says, electronic media alters sensory ratios, and ‘When these ratios change, men change.’
The redefinition of the senses is thus strengthening our response to fear, to public engagement and violence and causing us to become as bored with mundane private sensory experience as a skydiver would be with everyday life. To be removed from the circumstance where we are given the illusion of constant publicity and shunted, by sensual art, into the private world of the senses is so jarring a dislocation that it reverberates through everyday experience like the sound of artillery fire for a shell-shocked veteran, unable to experience private enjoyment of the senses.
The redefinition of the senses by art increases in proportion to the amount of art we experience. Our exposure to art has increased if we define art to include all artificial objects, including digital technology, which are increasingly prevalent in an increasingly manmade, pre-fabricated, bureaucratized and processed post-industrial society. We are living in a collective artwork.
This world of art-cum-technology makes artistic creation equivalent to the formation, or birth or a new mankind. Artists are new social engineers, eugenicists, and mothers of mankind, as they have more opportunity to, as Harold Rosenberg said, 'Make something themselves and therefore make their own selves.' Sontag is correct when she claims that this gives the task of making art the character of a spilgrimage. 'The uncertainty of art's situation, the breadth of its occupations...invested in it a ceaseless redefining of its aims and remapping of consciousness ranking it among the most vital symbols of the spiritual venture in the modern period.'