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Posts Tagged ‘focus’

Jan2015StripesBalls
There was only one ball in the still life setup. The artist invented the other two. The background consisted of studio clutter: easels, sink, shelves with stuff. The artist invented that vertically textured dark wall. In other words, all she actually saw was a crumpled up cloth with stripes and one spherical object. Cloth-and-sphere can make an interesting composition in itself, granted. But the artist pushed the composition to greater dramatic heights.

Jan2015StripesBallsNumbers
Notice how the  compulsion to focus on the spheres (2) is offset by the maze-like graphic of the stripes (1). Your eye is attracted to both and your attention moves between 1 and 2. But the dominant direction of your attention will be up, left-right, towards the spheres. Up is very satisfying. You are encouraged to land on the sphere at 2 by the sloping of the dark background towards 2 and the upward edge of the cloth, which also leads to 2. Brilliant. Hey, it’s art.
Drawing by Maggy Shell, charcoal, ~14 x 18.

(As happens so often, I neglected to take a shot of the actual still life set up. Maggy had a bigger pile of objects to look at but found only the striped cloth and the ball interesting. Selecting what to draw is a big part of the work.)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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ThisIsNotABrush
It looks hap-hazard, doesn’t it, at first glance. There’s a frame within a frame within what might be another frame and things get a bit uncertain there, not at all like what you expect from a frame. The job of a frame is to separate the illusion created by the artwork from the banal, certain reality of the wall. But this frame is not only blurry but it seems to be sliding off into the lower left. Or is it emerging from the lower left? So you ponder this. Then you notice a small white rectangle in the upper left and, oh, another one in the lower right. Now your eye goes back and forth between the two, crossing the painting diagonally. There’s another white rectangle attached to the “frame” in the middle, a bigger one, and you pause there as you go diagonally upper-left-lower-right. Then there’s that brush. This may actually have been the first thing you noticed in the whole painting. What happened there? What’s it doing there? Did the artist drop it accidentally? Well, no, that wouldn’t be accidental, because she had taken one of her brushes and painted one side blue. Then what. She must have deliberately placed it on her canvas painted side down. This is indeed what she did, quite deliberately, carefully and quickly, on the spur of the moment and as the last act in making this work of art. It’s witty and it’s profound. The imprint of the brush brings the “frame issue” even more into focus. Ha, what focus? This painting has us coming and going on this question of what’s illusion, what’s reality. And that’s a  good thing.
Painting by Maria Palacios. Oil on canvas, 24×30.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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If the heart-shaped leaves of the philodendron were outlined more clearly, we might be moved to pat the artist gently on the back and congratulate her on having such good dexterity and a love of botany and in general being a good girl.  But we wouldn’t spend any time really enjoying the drawing.

This drawing by Alejanda holds our attention because it takes us in and out of clarity.  Now you see the leaf, now you don’t.  Now you’re rational, now you’re free-associating.  Here you know where you are, here you don’t.   It’s a trip, as people used to say.  But instead of feeling fooled, oddly enough, you feel that the work is truthful:  this is how it is with the mind, it goes in and out of focus.

It takes courage to work like this, with the wisdom of ambiguity.

The artist/student used the Schwan Aquarellable pencil on gloss paper and a plain old damp paper towel for the smudging effects.

A second drawing from the same motif followed, this one done in china marker.  Even though this medium was used without any smudging technique, the artist again  plays on forms with a love of ambiguity.

Two fine drawings in one class period.

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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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Once again, a student has made a donation to the Evanston Art Center in my honor.  I feel indeed honored and grateful.  Turns out, this is a student who studied with me a while ago and then didn’t sign up for the more recent term because of a time conflict, but has become an avid reader of this blog.  That’s good, too. I do hope these posts are of some use.

Let me add something from the classroom here.

During our last drawing class in December, we had a model. I often draw along with individual students, and I stroll through the room and quietly point out problems with their drawings, but I also have some quiet time for my own little meditations.  I like to look  out at the lake, for example.  It’s a major presence, always interesting.  That day the water was calm and slightly bluer than the pale gray sky that was brushed with a pink haze.  Outside, bare trees on one side of the window and on the other, inside, the skeleton.  I framed a shot.  Nice, I thought, the death of winter is upon us and here we have the skeleton to underline the metaphor.  That thought didn’t last long.  I caught myself in this cliché.  How trite: bare trees, skeleton.  So, I zoomed in a little, noticing how the radiator echoed the bone shapes.  That’s better, now we’re playing with forms. The forms create a correspondence within the picture frame.  This creates a centripetal force in the image and keeps the attention from wandering to verbal references, as in the first frame.   So now I’m getting warm.  One more frame.  I really zoom in. Now the skeleton is barely there (sorry) and the radiator is more rhythmic than functional and it really relates to the bones now.  On the top we have a couple of color dashes and in the middle we have—what?—nothing, a black mystery. There’s not enough information to tell us where we are.  That’s good.  Your mind does not wonder. No narrative, just these peripheral shapes holding your focus.

Seems to me, this last frame gets to the point better than the first frame.

All this took no more than two minutes.

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

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