Monday, June 30, 2014


  Honoring the births of Miner and Texas Boyd on June 23rd.

The Modern Hand

When it first became commonplace to see people with cell phones I remember watching a students thumb moving fast over his little keypad and thinking how the space for thumb in his motor cortex must be growing. Like certain fingers on violin players, modern use of the thumb has moved into new territory. And the territory of the whole hand is developing a group of new behavior patterns reflecting how we now use technology. Since getting an iPad Mini there have been all kinds of new ways to caress the screen, most of which I’ve learned by experiment, just trying things, not descriptions in a manual. I’ve learned all the touch screen gestures of google earth by analogy to
actual movement. I’ve been charmed by the actions that are brand new to me, the gestures of magicians, making a screen disappear by pulling it in with spread fingers. The less intuitive gestures I’ve learned by accident, making a movement that causes something unexpected that can then be done on purpose later. As technology engages the whole body in a new repertoire of movements our brain will develop accordingly. We will strengthen the reasoning based on those movements. Those that worry that our machines will eventually out smart us are assuming we stay the same. The machines have changed us as they’ve developed and our foundation for ideas is much more sophisticated when the gestures of controlling technology keep us way ahead. Looking at a news story about the newest robots shows how far they have to go to achieve the sophisticated reasoning we experience based on the highly nuanced physical expression of striving and being. Our reasoning is based on our movements. That is where robots are most primitive.

It would be fascinating to compare brain scans of the motor cortex from the nineties to now. My hunch is that the hand area will have grown. An anthropological article called it the pinnacle of evolution and that in art the hand often represented the whole person. Jungian psychologists call them our wings and it’s agreed that they’re our tools for all creative expression. The development of the hand then is the instrument for transforming our highest powers. The hand can learn
to work as small as the eye can see. Surgeons work with microscopes and the hands can do their bidding even in such a small space. The use of touch screens develops small scale touch and opens a new realm of learning. Figuring out how to move the hands and fingers to accomplish
some goal could bring the challenge of games to the training of reasoning. The hands dance and our mind grows.

Monday, June 16, 2014



The idea that art makes you smarter is not new. Winston Churchill wrote an essay about painting that inspired George W. Bush to take it up. In his essay Churchill notes that besides being enjoyable, art develops the “highest properties of mind”. Our sense of proportion and balance underlies reasoning in many areas. His primary subject matter, landscape, is probably best allied with structures of reasoning since it begins with finding a correspondence between the scene and the inner feelings seeking expression. This reinforces the relationship between emotion and visual structure, image and psyche. A panorama of choices surrounds every point in a location and that first choice is the initial creative act of the painting. Choosing what view to paint clarifies what’s important to the individual perceiver. It reinforces visual wisdom and the brain areas that inform it.

We understand meaning in the space around us from our earliest experience of moving in our surroundings. The distance between here and there is a primary visual concept that starts with crawling across the floor, feeling gravity when we fall and all of the early experiences of moving in space that later provide the foundation for mature reasoning. As adults we might describe differences in points-of-view in terms of the distance between them. Seeing something as inside or outside is the structure for our sense of categories. A painting of a landscape is the experience of a point-of-view that contains a feeling about what’s being seen. It includes the sense of here and there, the press of congestion or expanse of space. The feeling represents the meaning of the whole and guides conscious nonverbal observations. Developing receptive attention to scenes and situations as wholes strengthens understanding of the big picture and how the structure of one situation relates to the structure of another. The larger the frame, the more comprehensive the understanding.
The findings of modern neuroscience show that the parts of the brain we use the most grow the biggest. It’s the essence of building skills and knowledge. Looking at art educates the part of the mind attuned to the gestalt, building sensitivity to expressive structure. The relationship of feeling to thinking is now better understood; the feeling of the whole directing the analytical rational thought. Insight is led by structure.

Today taking pictures is not just keeping a record, it’s a means of communication. Being more mindful of the act would weave an artistic attitude through day-to-day life. It could start with zooming in. A recent study reported on NPR showed that most picture taking interfered with how much about a subject was taken in and remembered. But it had one qualifying circumstance. When the subjects were asked to zoom in as they took the picture they remembered more. Zooming in requires looking longer and making a choice about what is most important. This is the first step in artful attention. Once something is singled out as significant then expression moves beyond the general. Something of particular interest has been uncovered which often stimulates more interest. Curiosity leads to purposeful attention, to investigating a particular aspect of the world of information. Discovering an area of fascination opens the realm of peak experience whenever it’s wanted, an individual portal to the larger world.  Cultivating visual attunement is one way to think like an artist.