Thursday, August 30, 2012



Embodiment is the universal starting point. Everything with a body is experiencing being in a particular place with whatever interface is available. Not just among humans, the fact of inhabiting a body is the shared element of all living things. We are consciousness experiencing the material realm and we’re all in it together. The perspective of each enriches the whole. As a portal we have several inputs. It begins in the senses. Our eyes tell us where we are. Smell, sound and the physical touch of things layer on their respective qualities, but the primary consciousness in a human body is not just how we are but where, self as location. This is the basis for the universality of art. Everyone knows how it feels to be in a tight place, understands weight as a physical property and as a metaphor for a heavy situation. We understand above and below in the physical action of stooping or reaching and use both of those words metaphorically all the time. The understanding of vision is based on our relationship to surroundings or situations, so using the language of embodiment in a spatial image communicates directly to our understanding of position and change of direction and the dominant motion within the space. Our eyes move around within the space of a painting and our bodies react to the meaning of the movement. The meaning is what we feel about it, what the relationships show. It grows from an understanding of the whole circumstance. It couldn’t exist without the experiencing body. What we know is a record of what we’ve seen and felt, a map of our experience over time as a body in motion. The way thinking is structured compares and analogizes in relation to the actions of embodiment. With our eyes, we find our way. Sight understanding underlies anticipation and prediction, recognition and navigation. Sight precedes the more cemented understanding when we grasp.

Every point-of-view, every vantage point from which to have experience has a truth. The differences in view are probably molded by the shape of our original location. A person from Maine has a different concept of coastline than a person from Florida or China. How could one idea be thought of as right or wrong? Pooling our views we gain a broader picture of the whole and how particular life circumstances creates a way of seeing. People trust their first person understanding and there are as many ways of understanding as there are of moving around in the particular landscape one travels.
Visual thinking emancipates you from categorization and identification. You are part of the action because whether you’re conscious of it or not your body is always responding to changes in the surroundings.

Visual intelligence is not concerned with right and wrong but with the meaning of the picture, the particular context. External codes may or may not fit a given circumstance.
Wisdom depends on perspective. We build a larger landscape of ideas when begin to see our common starting point. The skill of the future won’t be having the right answer but understanding how to navigate the terrain of an issue and respect the advance in understanding represented by seeing experience through a different window and adding more information to what we already have.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Attention and Illusion

The popularity of illusions has persisted throughout human history because they make people pay attention, and paying attention feels good. Most often the word illusion is connected to magic, the range of stage and parlor tricks that fool people into thinking something has disappeared or appeared in a new place. Amazement stimulates dopamine, which stimulates more interest and alert involved awareness that tries to puzzle out what really happened. In their book “Sleight of Mind”, neurologists Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik write, “Magic tricks work because humans have a hard-wired process of attention and awareness that is hackable.” What this means is that if you understand how to trigger visual processing that occurs on an unconscious level you can get people to believe something about what they’re seeing that’s not actually true. Stages of processing are hierarchical. Something getting bigger really fast on your visual field will instigate a dodging motion before you know what’s going to hit you. EEG’s show a spike when we see a forty-five degree angle even if we know it’s just a streak on the wall. We look at anything that seems to be in motion. We freeze in order to avoid attention. Large-scale motion is just one of the first level signals for immediate action. The smell of smoke will hold attention until the cause is found. Anything signaling a threat to survival sits at the top of perceptual priorities with fast automatic action and attention. From there extends a spectrum of perceptual priorities that find boundaries, separate objects, establish point-of-view and eventually cross into conscious awareness. Understanding these perceptual priorities allows us to intervene at levels of processing that are still unconscious to direct the audience or viewer’s attention without their awareness. Controlling attention is the essence of any kind of illusion and requires skillfulness to actually accomplish. It depends on understanding the unconscious priorities, what is hard wired to draw attention and undercut conscious control. All illusion, whether trompe l’oeil drawing and painting or stage magic, depends on manipulating preconscious attention. The magician has you watch one hand while the other is setting up the result. In the business they call it misdirection. In drawing it’s more a matter of truth to the retinal image. What we see has undergone many levels of processing. Finding and using the signals not consciously noticed stimulates more brain activity guiding expectations in the direction wanted. 

The practice of illusionistic drawing trains attention and ability to focus. They are the necessary skills to keep a viewer under your spell. Watching people looking at work in the gallery, the ones that held attention like magnets were intricately detailed deep space fantasies amazing in the level of skillfulness. The investment of attention reaped an investment in the viewer. Whether a person likes that kind of work or not it has the ability to fascinate. And it can be put to work to draw attention to any subject, idea or feeling an artist wants. Pulling people out of their heads and into a different world is a power that benefits everyone.