Thursday, October 23, 2014

The quack in the grass

A friend recently sent me some photos of the landscape near her home in Missouri. I recognized those photos. I had never been there, to that specific location, but I immediately identified with that Midwestern landscape. I knew the shapes of the trees, I could feel myself walking through the lush grass, and I could smell and feel the damp air. I knew that place and it felt like home. And then I thought about ducks. Baby ducks, to be specific. And, briefly, I thought about the baby duck I had as a pet. But more importantly, I thought about how ducks, and some other birds, will follow and become attached to the first moving object they encounter, usually, but not always, their mother.

I grew up in the Midwest. The shapes, the colors, and the space resonate with me. I know my early visual experiences shaped how I experience the landscape. The fields, rolling hills, lush green trees and moist, humid air are as familiar to me as the faces of my family. I call this the land of foreground and middle ground. The land I live in now is a land of distance only – a land with no beginning and no end. There are never enough visual clues to accurately judge distance or elevation. But this is land of challenge and change. It is continually fascinating, but never comforting.

Visual experience is more than our eyes sending signals of contrast and color to our brains.  What we see in front of us is a combination of what we know and what we expect to see. It is our past and our present, our memories and our sense of space and place. It is time itself. In the book “Basic Vision”, the authors wrote, “We see the world in a particular way, not because that is the way the world is, but because that’s the way we are.”

In a study done on human-computer interaction, it was found there is a tendency for computer users to imprint on the first system they learned and then judge other systems by their similarity to that first system. This is called “baby duck syndrome.”


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is it a door or a doorway?

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you went in there for? Research by Psychology Professor Gabriel Radvansky from the University of Notre Dame suggests that the doorway itself is the cause of these memory lapses.

"Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an 'event boundary' in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away," according to Radvansky. In other words, your brain files away the thoughts you had in one room in preparation for a new locale and new information.

I think we artists can be misled by edges in a similar way. Just as a doorway can trigger an event boundary for information retrieval, too many hard edges prevent us from visually exploring the possibilities of transition and unity. When we paint outlines and hard edges we are creating barriers which are often difficult to overcome. This "stop and start" approach to painting makes it even more difficult to see how all those "pieces" fit together.

"Edges allow us to define spaces, see their boundaries as well as what flows across them, and work with these flows. They are places of transition and translation, where matter and energy change speed or stop, or often, change into something else."
                                          Gaia's Garden, a Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
                                          by Toby Hemenway

Thursday, October 2, 2014

More myths and realities

   The more we paint, the more we see, and the more tools we add to our tool-belt. That should be a positive, but sometimes we don't see enough and sometimes we see too much. As our abilities increase, so should our expectations. I do not view painting as merely a craft - as something to be mastered. Painting is part of a journey of exploration and one of our most powerful tools is intent. Without intent all the skill in the world is merely craft. Intent can be the driving force that moves us forward and allows us to take risks and explore our perceptions of boundaries. If you want to learn to paint, you need to paint - and paint a lot. If you want to create, you need to be able to take risks and accept that not all paintings are created equally. One of our biggest myths is that this is all about skill - a craft to be mastered after long and arduous study - and once you have mastered the skill and learned the tricks, you will paint beautiful paintings forever and ever. The reality is even great artists struggled with their quest for exploration.

Claude Monet once wrote, "I'm hard at it, working stubbornly on a series of different effects (grain stacks), but at this time of the year the sun sets so fast that it's impossible to keep up with it . . . I'm getting so slow at my work it makes me despair, but the further I get, the more I see that a lot of work has to be done in order to render what I'm looking for: instaneity, the envelope, above all, the same light spread over everything, and more than ever I'm disgusted by easy things that come in one go."

Art Chats with Linda Fisler: The Myths and Realities of Creating a Painting with Carolyn Anderson

AMO Art Chat: Mastering Edges with Carolyn Anderson