Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vanishing Point (detail) Nov 2007 to June 2009

Currently showing in the Meyerhoff Gallery at Maryland Institute College of Art until mid October

Evolving Intelligence

Intelligence is evolving because it has to. Better minds will be required to solve the complex problems to come. Scientists note that the brain size of our ancestors jumped dramatically when they started using tools. Tools extended the range of our capacities and the neural territory to handle them. Neurologists point to stimulation as another key to developing intelligence. In studies with rats, those with the most stimulation (toys, and climbing things in their cages) became the smartest rats. The brain grew in weight and density as the connections proliferated. The level of stimulation from our modern tool, the computer, should have some pretty astounding effects on human beings. A whole new virtual world of various kinds of stimulation is the environment in which humans now develop.
Thirty years of teaching has convinced me young people are getting smarter. A freshman drawing class sits in front of me and I’m happily impressed, and know I will learn from them. Growing up with the Internet, they have a global awareness. The connections they’ve already gotten to make span a wider realm. It’s easier for them to see our state of “interbeing”, the word that Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses for the interconnectedness of the biosphere. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin in his book Beyond Conflict wrote that wisdom grows with the size of the group with which you identify. To put it in visual terms, wisdom grows with the size and scope of your view of reality, the bigger the picture the wiser the insight. More variables and their relationships are taken into account. Wisdom is the deeper level of intelligence we need to evolve as a species. Increasing young people’s awareness of interbeing, the computer has contributed to the growth of the human mind.
It won’t stop there. We’re at the threshold of another big step in cognitive evolution because we now have an even more powerful tool – information about how the brain works. The more we know about how the brain works, the better we’ll be able to use it. Making better use of visual intelligence will be part of this growth. Winston Churchill painted on weekends, not so much for the paintings, but because he said it educated the highest properties of mind, understanding balance and proportion. What we see and are made aware of in a painting can sensitize us to key relationships that underlie thought in many realms. Math uses the word “ratios” to talk about proportions. There’s a new book out called “Ratio”, and it’s about cooking. Rather than give recipes, the author, Michael Ruhlman, has things like bread or custard broken down into ratios of ingredients to each other- 1 part water, 1 part flour and so on.
An evolution in intelligence that has as a fundamental feature the awareness of ecological interconnectedness should bring with it a sense of responsibility. Nathaniel Branden felt that morality meant taking responsibility for what enters our field of awareness. Once aware we have the choice to give it our attention or not.
Visual art increases our awareness. By expressing with imagery what it’s like to be a human being alive in this time and place, artists increase the scope of our perception. Every point of view is valuable because it enlarges our picture of reality. Art tunes our perception of the underlying structures necessary for a more comprehensive understanding based on the whole, and stimulates the creativity of the viewer. In a “Manifesto on Planetary Consciousness”, The Dalai Lama and Ervin Laszlo write, “Cultivating [creativity] is a precondition of finding our way toward a globally interconnected society.” The capacities we train by looking at art are essential for the necessary evolution of our minds.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009



The only time a color made me cry, it was a green. Tears welled up at the sight of a bright yellow green. Acres of it, a brand new spring green, in rural Delaware. The late afternoon light was hitting it so that the field itself seemed to glow with it’s own light.
Yet, if there were a color I’ve used the least in my drawings, it would be green. It’s not generally a color I’ve liked very much. My work has drawn more from the far ends of the visible spectrum, the violets of the high energy side and the longer wavelengths at the red end. Maybe it’s connected to my focus on less visible realities, the enormous range of frequencies of which we’re not consciously aware but are influential components of reality. Green is the most visible band in the spectrum, situated right in the middle. We have more receptors for green than any other and perhaps because of this, green is a soothing color, conveying a sense of the known. I’ve read that green glasses have been used to help with facial tics. Perhaps seeing more green exerts a calming influence on our physiology. I can’t help but wonder if the reason I felt so laid back in France might have related to spending my days amidst so much green.
There was a study done in Munich in the early seventies where whole rooms were painted a single color and then people lived in them. Light blue actually stimulated intelligence raising scores on IQ tests.
We don’t have to see the color. Just like we don’t need to see the sun when it burns our skin. Colored wavelengths are absorbed by the skin and produce hormonal changes that affect our chemical reactions.
These studies haunt me when I’m watching tennis. Some sports, like wrestling, are aware of the effects and flip a coin to see who wears red and who wears blue since statistics show red wins more often. It’s a stimulant that raises blood pressure, pulse and respiration, and operating at a faster speed is an advantage. The fact that it can affect balance may not matter so much in wrestling, but when I see it on Roger Federer I worry that he might fall, though if anyone can properly channel the extra momentum, he can. When Rafael Nadal wore pink at the French Open and he was struggling, I kept yelling at the TV screen for him to change his shirt. I don’t really know if the particular shade of pink had any role in the different attitude he seemed to present, but I knew certain shades of pink have a tranquilizing effect. Pink has been studied and actively used to calm people in some prisons and mental hospitals. I felt like it took the edge off his normal warrior focus. The scrubs in Shock trauma are pink for a reason. I’m glad he’s wearing yellow now though I still think he played best in green.
The topiary gardens have reunited me with green. As I finish the drawings I started there, it’s a pleasure to feel those sensations again. I can’t help but wonder whether everyone should do a green picture (drawing, collage, finger painting…) from time to time, not for the result, but for the sensation.