Sunday, September 30, 2012



Expectation is part of every perception and its reason for being. The
meaning of things is in what we expect to happen in conjunction with
what we’re seeing. We’ve seen it before and know what it does or what
it can be used for. When we ask “What’s wrong with this picture?”
something in the whole doesn’t match our expectations and has
triggered a state of unease that leads us to search for a cause. Our
sense of reality is an image in our head that can anticipate events in
a pattern and discern a missing element. We generally don’t recognize
what we’ve never seen before and if we do it’s often because it’s been
described so vividly that we see it in the mind’s eye. When we do
creative work we’re guided by what will best fit the pattern as we see
it. We’ve been building this inner model since the beginning of life
and the focus of our understanding is how things move. Modeling our
environment, we know where things are and what to expect from them.
Neurophilosopher, Patricia Churchland says it’s why we evolved brains
to begin with. To move around in the world requires an interior
representation. All knowledge overlays our model of the functional
relationships between ourselves and the things in the world. Where the
function is different, the meaning is different. A tree means
something different to a bird than to a dog. Constants in our models
create understanding between those who share them. Gravity, force, and
trajectory are assumptions built into the right-brain perception of
the whole picture. As we gain more experience moving around in our
environment, more templates of expectations are constructed that we
apply to similar relationships. We make mistakes and get into trouble
when we apply our expectations to those with different values and life
experience. Too much reliance on left-brain categories ignores the
more important role of movement. Any heavy object could be a weapon
regardless of its intended use. And we’d be surprised and caught off
guard because it didn’t match our expectations. We’ve lost the thread
of meaning because by focusing on identities and definitions, we’re
looking in the wrong place. Labels give the illusion of control, of
keeping things within neat borders. Boundaries are a fact of any
living thing and our expectations in relation to having a boundary
shape how we apply the concept to other areas. When our boundaries are
broken we are exposed and vulnerable. But to grow, old skin must be
shed to make room for the new. Boundaries are expanded by letting them
go. Writer Thomas West in his book “The Mind’s Eye” said the ability
to revise and change our model of reality will be one of the most
important abilities in a future where amounts of information are
growing dramatically. Understanding the implications of the new
discoveries and adapting our model of reality and expectations
accordingly will be more useful than clinging to any fixed idea of

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Acrobats and Mirror Neurons

What I loved best, at the DNA Theatre this past weekend, was watching their focus. In an aerial show, mistakes can be serious, so their focus was complete and beautiful to watch. I came home and had a wonderful couple hours drawing. Inspiration is often stimulated by excellence in other spheres. Just like when I’m watching tennis, I appreciate what spurs me to push my boundaries and the great brain chemistry that goes with it. My mirror neurons have had a trip like they haven’t had since Cirque du Soliel. And again like with tennis where I end up actually twitching and leaning, it went beyond my mirror neurons and into some odd physical positions of my neck and shoulders. My more cerebral capacities have been improved as well, my concepts refined in relation to twisting, bending and synchronizing motion in relation to gravity, because they were all doing things that I can’t do, but in witnessing it becomes part of my model of possibilities. In the firing of mirror neurons I grew circuits for understanding new kinds of expressive movement. Maybe this was part of the heavy blast of dopamine I got from the performance, such a novel experience waking up new mental territory. I heard recently that high dopamine lowers skepticism and increases the urge to explore, a definite plus for making art. Ideas shouldn’t be filtered by anxieties about judgment. Whatever comes up can be refined and edited later. Armed with my burst of dopamine I invented a new effect in my drawing and opened new choices in my own work. Uncertain about what I’m doing, my concentration increases. Involved more deeply, the pleasure increases. There was much to admire in the production. Their use of the full theatrical experience, lights, sound, and projections was imaginative, surely benefiting from the different arts in the backgrounds of the performers. Use of shadows and silhouettes showed an understanding of perceptual illusions that added magical and dramatic effects. To perform an aerial show requires years of training the body in order to make difficult and strenuous moves with control and grace. And the excitement grows when there’s that tinge of danger.
I’m grateful to the performers and creators of DNA Theatre for providing an inspiring and enjoyable theatre experience. Each performance was sculptural, a cross between dance and circus. But it was seeing their complete immersion, absolutely necessary to swinging around on ropes in a small space, that I found uplifting. When people give their all we are all improved by it. Artistry and acrobatics is a fabulous combination, with the wow factor in the service of beauty. Admiration of the physical mastery and the discipline it requires reinforce positive qualities in the viewers. Maybe it’s part our appetite for the arts, to feel that quickening and urge to improvement.