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Posts Tagged ‘brain’

13RetinalEnhancedIpad

Recently, while I was browsing among the tablet options in my local tech emporium, the sales person directed me to the new ipad with Retinal Enhancement.  Oh, yeah! The word “retinal” gets my attention.  When you add “enhancement,” I light up, of course.

The immediate response was, wow, total seduction.  Everything is sharp and clear. My enchantment lasted as long as it took you to read that last five-word sentence.

Aw, what happened?

I was hoping to store art works on my tablet and have them at my fingertips when I wanted to refer to an artist in class.  The tablet would be so much more convenient than those heavy art books. Instead I learned what the tablet is really for:  it’s for playing games, not just any games, but those in which the fastest response wins.  Therefore, the outlines on the screen—monsters,  cliffs, buttons of all sorts—should be as sharp as possible.  The sharper, the better.  The games consist of stimulus-response, no subtle considerations.  The advantage goes to the player who functions most like an automaton.  Therefore, if your seeing is retinal, nothing more, you’re it, dude!

Seeing is actually not retinal.  It’s a complicated process that involves your whole mind, which links all sorts of nuances in a web that I don’t claim to understand.  If your seeing stops at the retina, you’re good for target practice and boot camp and we know how sad that is.

In five or six years we’ll probably have studies on how retinal enhancement has affected the brains of players.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/money/review-new-ipad-enhanced-retina-display-screen-worth-upgrade-article-1.1040786

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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If you want to learn how to draw, you have to spend time drawing.  Well, duh.

What makes the learning process tricky is that your progress will not be obvious from one week to the next.  Tricky?  How about frustrating.  You can go for weeks doing, apparently, the same thing and you just want to throw your #5 across the room and pout because you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, repeating yourself in your scratchy little pencil marks.  That’s because you can’t pick up a reading on how furiously your neurons and synapses are trying to catch up with your hand. All those weeks, when you just want to cry, your brain is working it out for you.  Then suddenly, one day–whamo!— it all comes together and you look at the drawing you just made wondering who this genius is that produced this amazing piece of work.

My drawing class is called Multi-Level Drawing because it welcomes new students who have never tried to draw before and it also challenges students who have worked with me for a few years (the self-described “lifers”).   So naturally, I present basic demos for the

newcomers, like this topic on how to think about eyes and curved shapes. (The brown paper is 3 ft high and I use markers for the demos.) The lifers have heard it all before and start drawing on their own, selecting magazine photos of faces that I have spread out on a long table.

One of the lifers suddenly decided to switch from graphite pencil to charcoal pencil, which deposits much more black stuff on the paper with much less effort. Charcoal allows for a more assertive line and more accidentals, like smudging.   The drawing (top) was unlike anything Maggy had ever done before.  It’s animated and daring in execution. And it was fast.  Then, with plenty of time left in the class, she drew another face, with equal daring.

I can’t predict how the process will work for you.  But that bit about the neurons slugging it out in your brain, that part is sure.

At right, Maggy’s drawing from just five weeks earlier.  With hindsight, we can see the potential: it’s loose and suggestive, and at the same time anatomically correct. But still, there was no gradual progression from this to the masterful drawing she produced in charcoal.

It’s not a linear process.

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The National Geographic article (May 2012) called “The Common Hand,” starts like this:  “The hand is where the mind meets the world.  We humans use our hands to build fires and sew quilts, to steer airplanes, to write, dig, remove tumors, pull a rabbit out of a hat.  The human brain, with its open-ended creativity, may be the thing that makes our species unique.  But without hands, all the grand ideas we concoct would come to nothing but a very long to-do list.”

Hey, what about drawing!!!

I attended a lecture at the Fermi Lab in Batavia last Friday, called “Sleights of Mind.”  The researchers, Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde,  talked about how and why we are taken in by magic.  The brain, it turns out, cannot multi-task.  It can only focus on one thing at a time, which is why misdirection, the fundamental trick in sleight of hand, works.  Visual information is so complex for the brain to process that it takes 18% of the cerebral cortex to do the work, in the lump at the back called the Occipital Lobe.  Your eyes can only focus on one thing at a time, which is why we keep shifting our gaze if we want to take in a larger scene.  If we didn’t have to shift, i.e. if we could put our peripheral vision also into focus, the brain would have to be 500 times bigger than it is.

Seeing is a big deal:  hasn’t that been the thread through what I’m saying here!?

Just think, almost one fifth of your brain is about seeing.  And you’re telling me you don’t have time to refine your seeing…to practice drawing!!???

Master magician, Apollo Robbins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjPVx4MNXoQ&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LBbmvXM0WY&feature=related

Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde,  “Sleights of Mind,”  2010

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My painting class is called “Impressions of Landscape.”   The recurring question is:  what is a landscape?  To make a landscape do you need a tree, a house, a mountain, clouds, a path leading somewhere? What?

You need a horizon line.  That’s not an aesthetic decision.  It’s not a matter of taste or personal preference.  It’s what your brain demands.  The horizon line is how it orients itself and it’s how it knows that the body it’s in charge of is standing up.

Once you accept that bare essential, you are free to play and goof off and be whimsical and testy.   I mentioned the work of John Baldessari in class and how his work subverts assumptions about language and frames of reference.

Sometimes goofing off, being whimsical and testy involves a lot of work.  One of my students, an architect, took up the dual challenge of paring down a landscape to the horizon line and subverting assumptions about frames.  His piece, measuring over one hundred horizontal inches, consists of three canvases of equal size, precisely spaced, and arranged in a descending arc.

The viewer is likely to question whether this is a landscape and feel, vaguely at first, that something is moving and then feel that he is moving.  He will go back and forth between the disorienting, sinking feeling and the assurance of the horizon line.  Creating this effect is a major accomplishment.  The photo at the top of this text does not do justice to the work because of the studio clutter around it.  This highly original triptych by Peter Brinckerhoff deserves to be shown on a white gallery wall all by itself.  It requires space and time for contemplation.  John Baldessari and fans of conceptual art would like this, I think.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Baldessari

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On August 1, 1979 the Chicago Tribune printed a drawing by Picasso.  It filled more than half the page.  Picasso fans immediately identified it as representing Stravinsky, but they would have been in the minority and that’s not what matters.  What matters is that the drawing was upside down.

The caption read:  “Can’t draw? Try copying this upside-down drawing.  It’s one trick art teacher Betty Edwards uses to get students into the right-side brain mode.  Because the left hemisphere cannot process inverted information, the student is forced to draw what he sees, not what he thinks should be there.”

As she was doing a demo in her drawing class one day, Betty Edward, a fifty-one year old art teacher in California, had to admit that she couldn’t talk and draw at the same time.  Her dilemma had a physiological explanation:  the left hemisphere of the brain controls verbal skills and the right side of the brain does the visual work.  Since one has to dominate at any time, the two get into a conflict if you try to draw and verbalize what you’re doing at the same time.  In order to subdue the verbal side, she made her students practice upside-down drawing.  Within three months they could draw with astonishing skill and complexity.  The before and after examples she prints in her books are breathtaking.

Three months!! !  Upside-down drawing is the most valuable exercise you can do if you want to learn to draw.  Practice!   Practice daily.

See previous post for how to set up your drawing exercise.  Save your early work in a folder somewhere.  Three months later, pull it out, place it next to your accomplished drawing and remind yourself that learning to draw was easy.  Granted, it takes a rescheduling of your time, but an hour a day and two hours on Saturday or Sunday will do it.  Congratulations!  As Edwards says, if you can write your name and ride a bicycle (not at the same time) you have the necessary motor skills and hand-eye coordination it takes to draw.

In 1986, Edwards published “Drawing on the Artist Within.”  Both books are recommended for their insights and instructions.  But it’s not about quoting artists, dropping names and technical term, or knowing theory.  It don’t mean a thing unless you set time aside to practice.  Astonish yourself!  Get into the buzz of drawing.

To quote Edwards from the Tribune article:  “It can be a life-changing process in the sense that it’s not just learning to draw but learning to look at things differently, to see more.  Many of my students say that life seems richer, that they look at people differently, not  in the verbal way of naming—old, young, ugly, pretty—and dismissing, but that they stop and look at people’s faces and trees and plants.”

(I could not find the Tribune article by Connie Lauerman online.  More on Betty Edwares at    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Edwards)

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I went to the mall.

Last Sunday I drew twelve people at Maggianos at Old Orchard. We were celebrating the first birthday  of the first born son of a couple that had flown in from Florida to be with the rest of the family who still lives in the Chicago area.  When the gig was done, I packed up, pulled on my self-made hat, wheeled my drawing supplies back to the car and headed for Nordstrom.  One of the women at the party had told me, in English instead of the ambient Bosnian,  that she worked at Nordstrom’s in Schaumburg, in a department called Narrative.  “Narrative” is a word I sometimes use in my drawing class, apprehensively scanning my students’ faces for signs that this literary reference might snatch their minds out of the visual state and plunk them back into the quotidian verbal.  (My students are all over-educated readers.)  What, I was eager to learn, has the word “narrative” got to do with shopping?

There it was, a whole section of women’s clothing with the word “Narrative” on the wall over the alcove with the three manikins.  The urgency to make sense of the word in this context faded at the sight of the manikins’ faces that reminded me of André Carrillo’s caricatures.  I made a mental note that I needed to write about this comparison in a future blog and immediately got distracted by another display in an adjacent department, though the sartorial subtleties that justified the expense of putting different names on the walls in such close proximity did not catch my eye.

What caught my eye was the skull.  Where am I?  What’s the meaning of this skull in the context of shopping for clothes? My mind goes into free-association.

The skull became the central prop in still lifes painted by Dutch artists around 1600.  This genre of still life was called “momento mori.”   The skull would be surrounded by symbols of cultural achievement, such as books, silver, violins, and other luxurious or pleasurable goods and fragile things like soap bubbles and glassware,  to make the statement that none of these will matter at the inevitable moment of death.  There are yards and yards of these paintings, all exquisitely executed as if in self-contradiction:  making a fine painting really did matter even though you knew it was all ephemeral.  Doing something well really does give one pleasure in existing and a baker or brewer might possibly use his money-scheming mind to decipher the meta-text of his life’s narrative  at the sight of such a fine work of art, momento mori be damned.

This is what goes through my mind as I’m trying to understand that skull hovering over the clothes rack.  What could possibly go through the mind of a marketing expert at Nordstrom as she looks for ways to entice shoppers into buying this merchandise?  A light bulb goes off in her brain, “aha, we need a skull there, that’s what we need.”   Actually, there were two skulls.   So, this was a deliberate statement, a motif for this line of clothing.  Could that be?  Yes, it could.  I moved in closer to examine the craftsmanship in this pricy merchandise and discovered that the “momento mori” was all over this stuff.  The seams were raggedy, the fabric was raggedy, the cut was clearly intended to say “I just pulled this out from under my bed, what’re you lookin’ at, go get a life, I have more important things to think about.”  Here I’m tempted to add, “like, totally, dude” except these were large sizes.

At this point you’re expecting some insight.  Sorry, not yet.

I walked around some more and looked at more banal, poorly crafted artifacts and hyper-illuminated grotesqueries.  The skull, the skull.  Where else have we seen the skull?

The words “banal, hyper-illuminated and grotesque” just came to me now as I’m writing, but during my puzzled, non-verbal wanderings through the depressed looking crowds of Holiday shoppers, these associations must have been forming in my visual brain because the image that came to my mind was the diamond studded skull that brought Damien Hirst yet another burst of fame and a fist-full of banknotes.  I recall, something like a hundred million dollars.  Damien Hirst, he of the pickled shark and the decaying cow’s head fame, had hired craftsmen and jewelers to produce a skull cast out of platinum and covered with diamonds.

It will be at the Tate in London next year.  Art critics and curators are linking it to the “momento mori” genre.

Here, again, you’re expecting some insight.  Not yet, sorry.  I’ll keep working on this.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to give those French guys another reading, you know, Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard, those unreadable books you threw across the room a few years ago.  Even Richard Dawkins has admitted that he can’t make heads or tails of their writings and I suspect it’s not a problem of translations.  But I am currently reading “The Moment of Complexity” by Mark C. Taylor and that’s got me thinking, again,  about semiotics and the desperate state of images in our time.

One thing is clear.  There’s some major messing with our brains going on.  And we’re doing the messing.   If you spend $68 for a shapeless, tattered t-shirt, you’ve had your brain messed with. If you hold the title of Curator at a major museum and you promote Damien Hirst as an artist, then you are messing with our brains.

Oh, please, everybody, send me your thoughts on this.  A tattered scrap of insight will be welcome.

Still life with skull by Peter Claesz, 1597-1660

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/nov/21/damien-hirst-tate-modern

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Your brain loves a straight line.  It’s quick, leads you from one end to the other in an instant.  It divides one side from another and no ifs or buts about it.  Then the brain dusts off its hands, congratulates itself on a job well done and moves on to something else.

When you put a clean crisp line into your painting you tickle that part of the brain that wants to know what’s what and therefore your attention will go to that line and you will be pleased.

Let’s look at a recent painting by Ellen G.  Here on the right you see it in the almost-finished stage.  We get the sense that this is a construction (it was derived from a collage, measuring less than 2 inches) and that directs us to see is as an abstraction, an invitation to engage in interpretation, that necessary pastime of us moderns.  What am I looking at here, the eye says.  Well, I see a reddish trapezoid, a bit of green on the right, an L shaped yellow thing, a fuzzy dip (#3) into a lead gray rectangle and then, oh look, there this thing on the lower right that looks like a landscape(#1).  Thank you, artist!  You gave me something to identify and latch on to because it relates to the real world.  Once you see this picture within a picture, it will dominate your attention.  This hilly vista with a suggestion of something like telephone wires just came out like that. In the original collage it was a bit of torn paper.  No matter, here it’s incarnated as a landscape and it takes over and you keep going back to it.  The rest of the painting then will look irrelevant, if you can even get yourself to pay attention to the yellow and the red.

Now, look what happens when the edge at #2 is made absolutely clean and straight.  Your eye zooms to it.  The “landscape” at #1 still demands your attention, but now it has competition.  The clean line at #2 compels your eye up.  Then what?  There’s a synaptic jump and you land at #4.  What’s #4?  Nothing.  It’s pure shape and color.  It’s an angle, the intersection of two lines, not as compelling as a clean line would be, but, hey,   it’s red.  So there you are at this angle, which forms an arrow.  And where does the arrow lead? Down to #1.  So, the artist has us coming and going, moving through this painting and wanting to stay with it.  When this happens, your brain becomes mind and you love puzzlement. There you are, looking at this thing, feeling entranced.

What about the yellow-orange L shape?  That’s texture.  Texture engages you with its emotional power.  See next post.

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