Monthly Archives: August 2017

New Perception in Art, Through Neural Sciences Research

THE PERCEPTION OF ART

If we go to an art gallery, we react to the artwork in many ways. We may feel mildly interested, quite interested, entranced, inspired. Or we might feel bored, disinterested, mildly disturbed, upset, aggravated or even, enraged. Without knowing about how to look at art, its history, or what is behind the meaning of what we are looking at, our reactions are subject to our own personal feelings. If we had taken an art appreciation class or studied about art history, we would have a different perception; a knowledge of how the art developed and where we could place it in the timeline of art development today.

Art education– knowing art movements, timelines, developments, what motivated artists of the past personally and sociologically, will alter our perspectives and change the way we see art. For example, if we know nothing of Picasso, looking at one of his Cubist paintings may cause us shake our heads and walk away, perplexed. How could that chopped up vision of a human being be attractive and meaningful? But if we had read about Picasso during his Cubist period and knew that the colors he used were monochromatic and architectural for a reason, that Picasso was dealing with translating natural rounded forms to geometrical, flattened forms and that these images would inspire a new era of contemporary painting-then would we see Picasso’s Cubist paintings differently?

Yes. For many of my Art Appreciation students, a paradigm shift and expansion of their skills of perception occurred. And in most cases, they learned how to enjoy art within a new context of understanding: a broader visual and historical, information-rich understanding.

But now, there is additional knowledge in neuroscience that has shaken the foundation of these studies of Art Appreciation and Art History.

A NEW ART APPRECIATION

Very recently, within the last decade, the perception of art has been studied by scientists and, especially, neuroscientists, that look at how neurons in our brains respond to various stimuli, including the visual, and especially, art.

These studies are just surfacing to the public through various publications, and altering our ideas of how we perceive art. Those of use who were linked to their own personal perceptions of art, as well as those (like me) who have studied and taught the subjects of Art History and Art Appreciation, have been altered indelibly by these new neuroscience studies.

Is this research making Art Appreciation and Art History so very different? Yes. From a neuroscientist’s point of view, we are, indeed, hard wired in our brains for seeing things in a certain way and the art we have manufactured for thousands of years, has been gauged to our neural response to the images we have created.

The ultimate realization of this new neuroscience research is that the global art market has its roots in this understanding-not that anyone selling art since the Jurassic has gauged their sales on neuroscience, but has been inadvertently in line with the knowledge that some visual images appeal more than others. How many other global markets can begin to equate and calculate their sales according to this new technology?

WHAT IS NEUROAESTHETICS?

A new and interesting science is developing in the perception of art why we like what we see, and how the art market responds to our visual desires. Neuroaesthetics, is a new definition of perception which V.S. Ramachandran, a noted neuroscientist, writes about in his recent book, “The Tell-Tale Brain,” As a scientist researching many areas of neuroscience, he says, “Science tells us we are merely beasts, but we don’t feel like that. We feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence.” And he adds, this is the human predicament in a nutshell. He responds to our need for a higher being and sees that our ancient profile as human beings gives evidence to this.

Ramachandran offers a new perception on what makes art, why we like what we see and what the art market uses to develop the value of artistic work. He establishes a premise that looks at how we see art in a new way. Through his research in brain-response situations, he has developed a profile of how and why art is attractive to us.

WHAT ARE MIRROR NEURONS?

Mirror neurons in our human brains are unique in that we can empathsize (feel the way they do) with our fellow humans in a way that animals or any other species can’t. In the development of our brains over thousands of years, we have become aware of not only ourselves as an image we keep in our brains (the knowledge and image of self) but also how we can manufacture a trail of history, make our own personal data album and autobiography that we can play back for our reference to relive tender memories, anxious moments, challenging situations, and terrible, sad events. Because we are knowing our own selves, we can record our personal histories in great detail in our brains and use these historical memories as resources for our development (or demise, if we get depressed or chronically affected by our negative past.)

A NEW PERCEPTION OF ART

V.S. Ramachandran’s research and creation of neuroaesthetics has entered the world of Art History and Art Appreciation and is changing the perspective of art history.. Prior to his studies, art historical research, which became the study and research of Art History, was established in the early 19th century. A profile and timeline of art development was developed which gave credible history to the development of painting, and sculpture basically in the Western world.

These studies gave a picture to the academic community of the development of art from the cave paintings to contemporary art in Europe and America. In the American academic world, Art History 101, the child of Art History development and has been the prime educational subject on the history of art until the present.

THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY

This Art History outline presently taught in most academic environments, rich with documentation, often has a narrow view of historical creative endeavor in that it is not global and so to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding world, the study of Art History has to be updated to include many the creative cultures of many other civilizations including Africa, Indonesia, Asia, China, Russia and beyond.

The view from the science community echoes an interest and need for many areas of study to go ahead into the future. What studies in neuroscience define for us is our global link as humans hard wired to see our creative development in a new and different way. For all of our accumulated wealth in the sciences, the link to other cultural resources has been a detriment to our development as a nation and a global linking with other cultures. Science has always had its strengths in objectivity, observation and empirical judgment. Within an ever-expanding world of knowledge, it is necessary for every source of research to spread unrestricted into other sources so that the total spectrum of knowledge will be enriched and therefore, benefit the global community.

Clip Art Includes Royalty Background

Clip Art has been used in various forms since the middle of the last century. “Spot Illustrators” were hired by print publications, ad agencies, and so forth in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s and into the 1980’s to create quick, black and white visuals to accompany advertisements, articles, forums, short stories and other literary works that needed a graphic element to help draw the reader in.

The earliest and most popular medium used to create clip art was pen and ink. Pen and ink or “Line Art” drawings, were created just as the name implies, with a dip or “nib” pen and an inkwell filled with black ink. The Artist, let’s call him “Art Guy”, would dip his pen into the inkwell, tap the surplus of ink on the rim of the bottle and using a steady hand, begin to draw his or her illustration. A high quality stock paper with a smooth finish, which included sometimes vellum, was and still is the choice of most artists. Some artists preferred to draw their subject matter with a pencil first to create a “template” in which to apply the ink on top of.

Once the illustration was complete, it was left to dry on its own. To dry the ink more quickly, some artists used “Pounce” which is a fine powder sprinkled sparingly over the wet illustration. Pounce powder can be created using a variety of materials including sand, soapstone, talc and even finely ground salt. Pounce is also used by calligraphers.

Once the illustration was dry, it was given to the Stat Camera operator and photographed in a darkroom to create film from the camera-ready artwork. Shaded or “half tone” black and white images could be created from the all-black art using various dot pattern filters and then transferred to paper. Using this process, endless copies of the original artwork could be created, much like the electronic copy machines invented many decades later. The paper copies were then trimmed and “cut to size” in preparation for the publication process and then “Art Guy” headed to the production room to do his cool “layout” thing!

“Layouts” were created by combining text and images in a pleasing manner and adhering the various objects to ruled paper. The rules helped the production artist align the images both horizontally and vertically. Printed using blue ink, the rules could not be photographed, thereby rendering the rules invisible in the final printed publication. Adhering the text and images to the ruled paper was accomplished by using a variety of methods. Household glues were a common choice, but in the 1940’s bees wax became popular. Electronic wax machines were plugged in to an outlet and allowed to warm up. Blocks of bees wax were inserted into a warming tank inside the machine and the heat of the tank melted the wax into liquid. A mechanism on top of the machine allowed the user to feed the paper clip art into one end “dry” and then retrieve the art from the other end “waxed”. The machine only waxed one side of the paper, allowing the user to fix the image onto the layout paper using a burnishing tool and rubber roller. Text was applied using the same process. The completed layout was then taken to the darkroom where it was shot with a camera and a film negative created. A short process later and the film negative became a plate “positive” ready for offset printing.

As the publication industry progressed, Graphic Artists and Graphic Designers were finding that it was easier to reuse the preexisting images they had already shot and prepped for the previous week’s publication. So, rather than drawing the same illustrations over and over again, they recycled the old Line Art… and voila! Production Clip Art was born and sadly “Art Guy” was out of a job!

Quickly, Publication House libraries became overflowing with thousands and thousands of clipped images. Over the next few decades, stockpiles of images began to overrun art departments everywhere. Then, thankfully in the early 1980’s, personal computers and the “digital age” saved the industry. Now, using a futuristic invention called a “scanner”, a printed clip image could be placed on a scanning tray and converted to digital X’s and O’s and stored on a computer’s hard drive for easy reference! To someone who isn’t familiar with the industry, this doesn’t sound like an exciting historical advancement, but speaking personally from both the dark room Camera Operator side and as a seasoned illustrator or “Art Guy” who cut his teeth in the advertising industry in the early 80’s, scanners were a gift from God! Scanning images actually became a full time job at some companies, and pow! Just like that, “Art Guy” became “Scanner Man!”

Soon everyone was using clip art and unfortunately Spot Illustrators and Freelance Artists (like myself), who previously enjoyed a huge niche market, became obsolete. Hundreds of publication houses and digital service companies jumped on the digital (and printed) clip art bandwagons. With luck, many of those unemployed spot illustrators that I just referred to, found a new niche, provided they took the new computer medium under their wing. If you were willing to give up your pen and inkwell and trade them in for a personal computer, you had a good chance of saving your livelihood. Otherwise, you went the way of the dinosaurs.

As years progressed, the entire process became less “hands on” and more production-oriented. Let me explain. The first stage of creating digital art would go something like this. An Artist would draw an image using black ink only. He (or she) would then take the image and lay it face down on a scanner. Using scanning software, the artist would choose specific settings including Resolution, Scale and so forth and then “scan” the image, thereby creating a digitally formatted file. The Artist could choose which file format best met their needs to produce the end product. The most common file formats for Line Art at the time were.bmp (bitmap), or.pic (short for PICtor format). As scanned photos became more popular as clip art, file formats such as.tiff (Tagged Image File Format) and.jpg (or.jpeg) became more popular. Soon the world wide web came into being thereby creating a huge need for smaller resolution files that downloaded more quickly and hence the.gif (Graphics Interface Format) and.jpg files became the norm for that medium. Both file formats were considered raster files, or rather files based on a dot matrix data structure, and the resolution could be reduced to 72 dpi (Dots Per Inch) and still appear clean and crisp by the web user. And yes, now “Scanner Man” is given a new job title and now becomes “Production Guy!”

As the years progressed, Vector files (or files based on mathematical expressions) of which the popular file format.eps (short for Encapsulated PostScript) became the most widely used format by Printers and Publication Houses due to the fact that.eps files could be enlarged or decreased in scale without losing resolution or the “crispness” of the image. The entire industry took a left turn. To this day,.eps files are still the industry-standard clip art format.

Let’s discuss for a moment how an.eps file is created. Much like creating a.jpg or.tiff file as described previously, the “hard copy” line art is scanned using scanning software, but instead of creating a file with “medium” resolution of perhaps 150 dpi, the artist chooses the most optimum resolution possible. The trick is to create a high resolution raster file that doesn’t take up all of the remaining space on your hard drive! The larger the file, the more data information, the better the quality. Here’s why more information is key. Once the raster file is created, the artist then imports that raster (dot matrix) file, created with dots, and imports it into a vector file conversion program that turns that file into clean, crisp vectors. Bam! Another “not so creative” job given to “Production Guy!” Soon at the larger Ad Agencies and Publications Houses, artists who were once hired to draw original images, spent the bulk of their day converting hard copy, printed clip art catalogs into digital vector files for the computer geeks in the art department! In the beginning, the process to convert a few scanned images into vectors could take up to several hours. Now, most industry-standard graphic software programs have vector conversion tools “built in” and the entire process can be executed in minutes or even seconds. So much for “Production Guy’s” job. With the advent of new Graphic Design software, his position became obsolete as well.

But, don’t feel bad for “Production Guy”, over the past few years those in creative fields have become tired of seeing the “same old, same old” and “Production Guy” has come full circle. Having played all of the roles we’ve discussed previously, old “Art Guy” (me) and other Freelance Artists are enjoying a Renaissance of sort and larger companies looking for hip and trendy, cutting edge spot illustrations are putting us back to work! But don’t worry, the old “tried and true” clip art images have their place secured in the “royalty free” clip art market. Let’s discuss the term “royalty free” next.

As stock clip art companies and font houses grew and grew, they found that some images and fonts consistently sold better than others. Of course the first thought that comes to any true businessman or entrepreneur is, “How do I make money on these “premium” images?” The answer of course, charge a “premium” price for those images that sell better than others. The rest of the “stock clip art” images became stepping boards to up-sell the premium gallery files. Premiums were placed on clip art images that had more detail, consisted of a more interesting subject matter or were just more unique and stood out from the rest of the pack. Large Background, Frame or Border files with more detail were priced higher than the smaller spot illustrations. Holiday-specific stock illustrations with themes such as Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter along with illustrations generating a higher demand or interest, were priced above more common everyday images. In a nutshell, stock illustration companies created their own “market demand” for literally any image or image set they chose. For a time, this “scheme” worked, and to this day on a smaller level, it still does. Those with money will always be able to afford to pay a premium. But, what about the “little guy” who couldn’t afford the premiums? The smell of “revolution” was in the air!

With the crash of the U.S. economy soon after 9/11, large clip art houses who relied on the costly premiums that had taken advantage of their loyal customer base for years previously, took a beating in the market and as a result, smaller clip art companies started to sprout up. Old Spot Illustrators like myself, who had saved their galleries upon galleries of dusty old clip art images got the idea of giving the larger clip art companies some competition by offering “Royalty Free” images, or images with NO PREMIUMS! Guess what? It worked! Royalty Free images and collections became the norm (again). Art Directors and Graphic Designers who once bowed down before the huge stock clip art agencies woke up and smelled the coffee a brewin’! It was time for a change in the industry and the change had come. No longer were you tied to using the same “boiler plate” images offered by perhaps five or six giant stock art companies.

Virtual Tour of the World’s Great Art Museum

Would you like to take a tour of the major art museums of the world for free (except for the cost of your internet service)? To discover, in the words of art historian Andre Malraux, a “museum without walls,” from New York to Seoul, Paris to Moscow, Amsterdam to Buenos Aires, where you can explore countless paintings, sculptures, photography, decorative arts, and other media guided by art experts?

For today art museums, from the oldest institutions to 21st century art collections, are increasingly investing their time and creativity in developing websites for virtual visitors like you.

Here is a summary of the variety of art museum websites available to you.

THE GOOGLE ART PROJECT. Since February 2011, the Google Art Project has been providing access online to art museums across the globe, expanding from 17 to more than 180 (and counting) sites. The Art Gallery of South Australia, Istanbul Museum of Art, and the Phillips Collection are just a few of the recent additions.

SUPER MUSEUMS. The Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Prado and the State Hermitage Museum represent just a few of the “mega” museums. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds thousands of works of art in a variety of media, spanning centuries of art history, from ancient Egypt to the modern period. Its galleries display European, American, African, Asian, and Oceanic art. In addition, the museum exhibits special collections of costumes, furniture, armor, and musical instruments.

Super museum websites often offer extensive online collections with colorful images and detailed descriptions. Current exhibitions are also highlighted with information on past and upcoming shows. In addition, educational and interactive opportunities are available with special features such as videos, podcasts, blogs, social media, and virtual tours.

Google “list of most visited art museums in the world” to find more super museums.

A MUSEUM OF ONE’S OWN. Are you a fan of Van Gogh? The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of his works in the world. Its website is an excellent resource for Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings, and letters as well as providing a chronicle of the major periods of his career. Or you might check out the websites of other museums dedicated to one artist such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edvard Munch, Auguste Rodin, Marc Chagall, and Norman Rockwell.

SPECIALTY MUSEUMS. Some museums focus mainly on one style or period of art. You might investigate the websites of the three unique museums below.

Impressionist Treasures. The Musee d’Orsay, located in a remodeled Beaux Arts train station in Paris, is THE museum for Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, unrivaled in the number and quality of its works. Its unique website showcases more than 800 masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rodin, and a long list of other leading artists of this period.

The Genius of Italy. Florence was one of the birthplaces of the Renaissance and its Uffizi Gallery holds the most comprehensive collection of that artistic movement (including Botticelli’s famed Birth of Venus and Primavera). And you can browse through almost every gallery on the Google Art Project.

Inside the Acropolis. The new Acropolis Museum (just opened in 2009) displays probably the most beautiful sculptures in Western art; experience them in virtual reality through both the museum website and the Google Art Project.

MASTER COLLECTORS. Discover the best of the great collectors and their visions of art on the websites of the following art museums: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a palace of art built by American heiress Gardner in her hometown of Boston; the J. Paul Getty Museum that introduces you to the priceless collections of the oil billionaire at two sites, the Los Angeles center and the Getty Villa decorated with ancient Greek and Roman art in Malibu; and The Frick Collection, the elegant Fifth Avenue mansion of 19th century mogul, Henry Clay Frick, with galleries of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and other famed European artists.

MUSEUMS, MUSEUMS, AND MORE MUSEUMS. When the first Guggenheim Museum, designed by architectural pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright, finally opened in New York City in 1959, its founder Solomon R. Guggenheim had been dead a decade. Could he have envisioned that four more art museums with his family name would someday be in Venice (1980), Berlin (1997), Bilbao, Spain (1997), and Abu Dhabi (planned completion 2017)? Take a look at the New York, Venice and Bilbao Guggenheim museum websites; each one provides an overview of its collection plus images of the distinctive architecture of its building.

Make Art By Loving It

I have been recently thinking about the idea of art as being defined by the conveyance of strong or specific emotion as opposed to being created with simple “loving care.” Are these ideas in opposition or in agreement?

There has been the argument that true art should convey or inspire emotion. After all, it was Cezanne, the father of Modern art, who once famously stated, “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” Tolstoy took up this refrain with his book “What is Art.” In it he states, “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.”1 Tolstoy attempted to broaden the idea of what art is. He felt that the concept of art covered a range of human experiences that directly transmits an emotion from the artist to the audience. Tolstoy’s example was the story of a boy who has a frightening experience with a wolf and then relates the story to an audience, filling the audience with the same fear that he felt. For Tolstoy, this is the essence of art. The message is clear and expresses a specific emotion. This would then seem to imply that art which does not evoke feelings/emotions is not art. Can this be true?

I am thinking of the Greeks who chose to imitate nature with their sculptures. If you look at early Greek sculpture from the Archaic era, you notice the works are not full of emotion. The expressions are flat and the stances are stiff. Is this then not art? Is it simply to be categorized as craft or artifact? What of a well constructed hand thrown burl bowl? Is it so hard to imagine and describe this work as a piece of art? The same could be said of a fine handmade chair or a blown glass vase or even a pleasant landscape painting. None of these things seem to convey or express great emotion, but neither are they simply pretty objects. There is more to them than that. When done well, they call to us and beckon us towards a greater beauty that resides within them. I may not feel passion or rage, jealousy, love, or any other definable emotion when viewing such works, but my eyes do linger on the curves, textures, and other visual elements in order to experience their beauty. Often, in doing so, I am able to connect with the creator of the work and experience a sense of humanity in a way that I don’t when viewing other, more mundane things. Despite a certain lack of emotion within the work, I feel certain I am nonetheless experiencing art.

I submit that for an object or thing to be called art, it need not express a specific strong emotion, as Tolstoy would have us believe. Rather, objects or things that are to be considered art may exhibit two qualities to earn that title. That is, the quality of conveying a sense of being done “with loving care” and the quality of having been completed with the intent to create art. If the work follows such criteria, a more subtle form of emotion is transmitted to the work.

We are all familiar with the term, “done with loving care.” It conveys a sense of having completed an action with deliberation or concentration beyond the ordinary. It denotes a level of presence, concern and craftsmanship by the person performing the operation that is beyond simply that of attempting to finish a task. A parent may prepare a soup for the family dinner. A gardener may tend to a bed, or a sculptor may carve a piece of stone, all with loving care. In doing so, the human spirit is transmitted through the action and into the thing being acted upon. The fact of that transmission is that it can be witnessed and experienced by those who come upon the finished work. The soup contains a flavorful quality and beauty that is savored by the family. The garden acquires a peaceful aspect to it, and the vegetables grow well. The sculpture holds within it a sense of form, texture, and line that the gaze lingers upon and calls to the viewer to engage it.

Of course, cooking a soup or gardening is not the same as creating a piece of art. One may say the soup tastes wonderful or the garden is very pretty, but one would not, generally, say that either are works of art (although I do not rule out that either could be considered art under the proper circumstances). This is where intent comes into play. Intent is the desire and purpose in making a work of art, or rather to make something that can stand alone as a beautiful creation. It is the deliberate actions taken to make art. For example, a wood carver when creating a bowl intends to create a beautiful bowl and to create it with as much beauty as he is able. The carver shapes the bowl and decorates it with loving care along with the intent of creating a work that can stand alone as a beautiful object. Thus, when we see the finished work, our eyes linger on it, and we feel a sense of wellbeing in doing so. We relate to the bowl beyond its utilitarian purpose and see it as art. We are able to sense the artist’s loving care and his intent.

This leads back to Cezanne’s statement, “A work of art that does not begin in emotion is not art.” What does it mean to both create a work with loving care as well as with the intent to create art? Is that not the expression of emotion? The term, “with loving care,” assumes that love is part of the activity, and love, after all, is certainly an emotion among other things. An artist may have love for his materials or his subject. He may find that, in working with his hands, he becomes more aware of himself or his humanity. This type of emotion, however, is subtle, and the word “love” in this sense is not so easily classified. Love in this instance is not the same as the love we have for a spouse, nor is it the love we have for a child. Neither is it the all-fulfilling love one feels from a religious perspective. This love is a quieter emotion. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as the quiet joy of creating. The making of art often requires repetitive movements and is an absorbing experience. It generally requires a calm and thoughtful mind. I myself feel at peace when making art. It becomes a quiet and meditative moment in an otherwise busy day. That quiet joy, however, is emotion, and, as stated above, the act of creating with this sense of loving care transmits itself into the thing being created. One could then say that the Greek Kouros, the wooden bowl, the handmade chair, the vase, and the painting did all begin with emotion. In being present while working and investing the work with loving care, one is working with emotion, and perhaps, after all, it is that aspect which we are responding to when a work calls to us as art.