Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Hybrid Culture

For Christmas my very thoughtful brother gave me a framed photograph of one of my missionary great-grandfathers at the Hiroshima Methodist mission. Both sets of my father’s grandparents as well as his own parents were missionaries in the Far East. For me that meant my grandparents’ house was full of beautiful Japanese art, so my love and affinity for that way of seeing began before I could talk. So it’s probably not surprising that I seized on Taoism the minute I discovered it through the Tao Te Ching. And I’ve continued consulting the I Ching once a week for the last thirty-some years. The emphasis on the meaning of situations not concepts accorded well with the ideas of American pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey, who I was discovering around the same time.

 There’s something about the perspective that I present in this blog that seems to appeal to what I think of as the land-in-between. With a readership of over 60 countries, I find it interesting that a disproportionate number are from the bands of countries between what history has treated as the major cultures. With people coming together from both sides the idea of hybrid vigor occurs on a cultural level. Here’s where people realize first hand how enriching it is to have different ways of seeing available. Creativity is stimulated by the meaningful web of new ideas that can be integrated with a previous perspective. The fusion stimulates growth at a new level. It’s the job of artists to then communicate the broader way of seeing. The larger perspective is fertile ground for new ideas. I had never seen a building projection before when a past student sent me this link to the “Ukrainian Spectacle”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KrFanNOmwM

All the imagination in the illusions of part of the building warping or disappearing or crumbling was truly spectacular, but the thing I wasn’t expecting was the helium like feeling in my heart as people cheered spontaneously for certain illusions and the excitement that the pieces created that grew throughout the show. Illusionism has always had the power to capture the popular imagination with the impossible and unexpected.
The illusionistic spell is partly due to how much more visual processing is going on than with the same imagery more simply represented or symbolized. It felt like grand opera and it happened in five minutes. The success of the medium can be seen in building projections since then created by advertising, spending more money but lacking the heart of the one posted in 2010.

 I’ve begun to feel a connection in my heart with people from Ukraine, Latvia, Romania and Bangladesh and the entire Far East as well as many other small countries because though the major powers read in larger numbers, it’s not that much in proportion to the size of the country. Being the product of hybrid culture myself, the essence of my point-of-view is that meaning is most clearly seen in relationship to a particular situation, that what is new and different invigorates. The inclusion of everything that is part of the picture is essential to act in harmony with it. The students from so many different places that come to MICA reinforce my feeling of global citizenship. Each offers expanded perspective and alternative ways of seeing. Preserving and celebrating difference is especially important today as the homogenizing commercial values colonize and suppress traditions with fast food and mindless consumption. Art is the antidote and artists across the world express the cultural hybrid vigor that can transform the way we see.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two Worlds

Correlating Structures

In Mark Johnson’s book “The Meaning of the Body” he described studies investigating how babies develop meanings from the beginning of lifebased on their physical relationship to the world. When a baby sucks on a nubbed pacifier it can then visually distinguish the nubbed onefrom the smooth. It’s a corresponding pattern of feeling recognizedand extracted from the continuous flood of sensory experience. These patterns are created by interacting with the world, led by the priorities of perception as it explores the surroundings. Tongue, lips and gums feel the variation on the surface of the nubbed pacifier. Passing through limbic structures like the thalamus where senses are combined, the similar mapping with other senses allows the nubbed pacifier to be distinguished from the smooth. The flow of life has rhythms that are first felt and recognized. That this is thefoundation of meaning shows when we use an expression like ‘getting the sense of’ something to refer to its overall meaning. Though the
pattern or structure may turn up in different modalities, the patternstays constant so is instantly translated from one sense to another. Subtle discriminations amidst the ebb and flow of sensory experience
are correlated with other kinds of rhythms and structures that are understood by the feeling they give us.

The unknown world resonates with structures that provide a starting point for understanding, a behavioral stance reflecting our previousphysical relationship with that pattern. In the spectrum of nuanced qualities and characteristics that sensory experience can have, the pinnacle, according to Johnson (and many others who are focused on the science) is the arts, where the essential constant is distilled. The rising excitement in a passage by Beethoven is understood through that feeling of rising excitement. Beethoven’s skill and sensitivity create a highly refined experience so those patterns are emphasized. In the act of listening our own powers of discernment are developed. Human sensory understanding is highly sophisticated and neuroscience is showing that it directs conscious awareness. As Alfred Adler advised at the beginning of the twentieth century, the best education from the
beginning of life is to be surrounded by beautiful things. This develops the guidance provided by our sense of beauty at a deep level and brings out the best in us.

 Twins might have a head start in their knowledge about being because there’s so much more to explore in the womb. Seeds for the process of mirroring by which we understand others would already be sown.  It could well be developing an increase in self- awareness in addition tothe ability to read others’ feelings.

Dedicated to Juliana and Nathan Moyer, born December 11, 2013.