Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Bookmark

Here is this year's bookmark for anyone who wants to print it, cut it out around the image and use it. I preserve and stiffen it between two sheets of clear contact paper then cut it out again with an eighth inch around the edge. This year's is based on Hanuman, the Hindu monkey God. Happy Holidays!

34th Street, Baltimore

Light displays were always a big pleasure in my childhood. Just riding around and seeing the variety in the neighborhood, the transformation of the familar created a sense of festivity. Wonder at the sight of such organized illumination kept me persuing inventive lighting into adulthood. My modern equivalent is finding a place on the web with the “20 awesomist light displays” to scroll through and see from my chair. A beautiful winter poem of a picnic grounds wrapped white lights up vertical tree trunks. Shining in the snow among the picnic tables they seemed to wait for an enchanted party to begin. The site included some imaginative individual house displays, but they were overwhelmed by extravagant commercial and corporate displays with a thoroughness in attention to detail that made them artful and dazzling.

So it was a special pleasure to read about our own 34th Street light display in the Wall Street Journal. There I learned that a Japanese company is filming a documentary about Xmas at W. 34th St. in Hampden, Baltimore. The originality and Baltimore flavor makes it far more fun than the manufactured commercial displays. My personal favorite is the hubcap tree. The display of Mr, Boh proposing to the Utz girl has been the setting for three couples engagement. Free from normal constraints by the general theme of the street, it’s not just illuminated, it's creative collaboration.  What brings people together for a common purpose fills the air with life energy. It brought to mind the line from Eldridge Cleaver, “Competition is the law of the jungle. Cooperation is the law of civilization.” Though in so many areas of life it seems as though the law of the jungle has gotten the upper hand under cover as civilization. But our brains are wired to reward cooperation and connection. The thrill of competition is short and focuses attention on the comparison with others rather than putting skills together to accomplish something neither one could do on their own. It took the whole block to have the creative take on Christmas tradition that evolved in Hampden.

Light is an important metaphor in all religions. It offers relief from darkness in the darkest time of the year. It transforms the night with an order  of its own, a design invisible in the light of day, the presence of thought we were unaware of when distracted by what’s easily perceived. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Colorized Movies

Colorized movies are a good example of something that should not be done just because it’s possible. The violence done to artistic intention neutralizes a film as art. When a photographer frames a scene in black and white the composition flows with the distribution of light and shadow that sets a mood that emphasizes significant relationships within the scene. Colorizing heightens the separation of things. Shifting the attention to the objects distorts the original intention of the scene by removing the powerful emotional influence exerted by that original mood. Before we know what we’re looking at the body has responded to the space it’s confronted with and adjusted to what’s expected of it. Our inner consciousness of this adjustment is what is experienced as a mood or feeling. As neuroscientist Candace Pert says” Our body IS our unconscious mind.”

Color has its own power over emotions by affecting the physical body. Red is known to stimulate and blue to slow the chemical reactions in the body that register as our vital signs. Perhaps the relaxation is necessary to the creativity blue has also fostered while the heightened focus found with red is the expected result of a stimulant. Instead of artful use of this power colorized movies reflect the colors we expect from the world.  As Gregory Bateson said, "Information is the difference that makes a difference.” What gets our attention is what we don’t expect. Movies filmed in color control the way the color affects the body and emotions. Like shadows unify the props in a scene and light can single out something particular for notice, thoughtful use of color can draw attention to relationships within the scene, heightening whatever level of tension builds the appropriate anticipation. The brain is designed to predict and if the messages of the scene are wrong , there’s disharmony. Colorizing a movie created in black and white neutralizes the emotional richness of a film. Younger generations, not realizing a movie’s been colorized might wonder why anyone thought it was such a great movie, never seeing the art that brought the depth of the movie home. Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas my husband and I always watch the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim. Not only is he our favorite Scrooge, the scenes are gorgeous examples of meaning emphasized by use of light and shadow. The way light and darkness is used evokes Dickens’ time and enables each scene to express the psychological transformation of Scrooge with the amount of darkness and how it gives way to light as his understanding grows.

 Even when blurry, the relation of light and dark is all we need to move around in the world. That preverbal relation to spatial features sets a tone that influences us unconsciously and can’t be ignored without sacrificing emotional meaning. So if you're watching a movie that's been colorized this holiday, consider turning the color all the way down to see it the way it was intended

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sky Light

      This image has been reposted in honor of Rhian Elizabeth Williamson, born 11-11-14.

Developing Visual Intelligence

Developing visual intelligence starts with looking at art. Any art. Finding the work that appeals to you begins the process, building sensitivity to the variations in visual form. Just like taste in music is highly individual, resonating with personal life rhythms, the structure in a painting, more than its subject matter, evokes an attitude toward it that corresponds with an individual point-of-view. This feeling of connection with the perspective of the artist is one of the pleasures associated with art that affirms personal meaning. The structure is the essence of an aspect of human feeling and the perception of essences is what visual intelligence is all about.

Just like you might read philosophy to try to structure verbal ideas, the increasing exposure to art that has endured over time clarifies essential visual structures by which we understand the meaning of experience. Near and far, above and below, open and closed, are as basic to us as gravity and light. The nuanced relationships between these and other spatial qualities are accompanied by inner adjustments we understand as the universal feelings we share as human beings. They are universal because we share the same body structure and mechanisms for navigating the world that form the core of our concepts. This is the basis for the growing discipline of  “enactivism” with it’s emphasis on meaning as rooted in experience and developing the American pragmatist emphasis on context, that meaning can’t be divorced from its particular situation. A model of the philosophy,  Jane Addams understood the importance of art in strengthening the universal connecting feelings in the various immigrant communities she served with Hull House. Far from frivolous, the arts spoke a deeper language and educated a larger understanding.

Visual intelligence depends on taking feelings seriously. Looking at art and following personal inclinations is a way of mirroring the inner reality. It opens a realm of self-knowledge and schools perception of essential structure. It's a necessary step for navigating the complexity of the future.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Individuating Consciousness


“Where” is a primary mechanism for sorting episodic memory.  From the beginning of life the rooms of the house are connected to routines of life, particular patterns connected to the physical body and mapped in the brain in relation to it. Beyond the house is a world of locations and everything happened someplace. If you want to remember how many windows were in your childhood home you go back in your mind to walk through the rooms or around the house to count them. In the earliest stages of life a baby feels the distinctions between the safety of the familiar home spaces and what’s unfamiliar with its hazards of unpredictability.

Every experience is staged on a location, a classroom, playing field, the different houses of our friends, so in memory we think of them as somewhere. When I think of a fight with a childhood friend, I see the clearing in the woods where we fought to stand on the crate, the flurry of little girl slaps and pushes just one more descriptive feature in the scene, an oldest child and an only child, each used to being the child on top, unwilling to relinquish position. What I’ve just written changed the memory by adding this angle to it. As we activate the circuits laid down at the time we return not just to the scene but to a memory that’s been adjusted by every remembering. Because the brain grows and develops where it’s used, each remembering reinforces particular features. The interpretive emotional imagery of dreams clarifies the subjective meaning and strengthens that part of the circuitry. This reworking of memory creates the image that best represents the personal meaning in our experience. Ideas of objective right or wrong are irrelevant to the person’s trust in what’s been learned. When I saw her yesterday and asked her what she remembered about the fight, the first thing she said was, “You mean the one in the clearing.” immediately locating through place the right memory. She said it was because I called her fat, then she called me skinny and we started hitting each other. She didn’t remember the crate and she remembers our shared childhood much better than me. Either way right or wrong is not important, the emotional preoccupations were.

In the concrete and metaphoric moving from place to place through life, where we’ve been is behind us, where we’re going is in front and so we have the visual images of past and future. We move through space in time throughout life, the meaning embedded in the way events unfold. In Mark Johnson’s descriptions of “enactivism”, he suggests that meaning is much deeper than concept, being rooted in the actual experience.  He notes that “the arts are exemplary cases of consummated meaning”. Everything is directed at the meaning expressed so that maximum content can be derived from the essential form given. Art trains our ability to understand meaning by strengthening the circuits in the brain that respond to the essence of human experience.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Image and Knowledge

Knowledge depends on seeing the relationships in a body of information. It requires a structure to visualize the whole in order to understand what the information means since meaning depends on relationship. This was much easier when there was less information. The sense of how the information connects is more difficult immersed in the quantities of information that characterize the modern world.  Many identify with the feeling of having a mind full of unconnected islands of facts. The sense of how it all fits together was easier to see when there was less total information. In addition, the structure provided by the prevailing cultural belief system simplified it even more. Global internet culture weakened the power of old belief structures but hasn't provided an alternative outlook on the whole. With so much specific detail a search away, combined with the inability to organize it without a structure of meaning, many young people give up on the personal acquisition of information altogether. This leaves them adrift, without perspective. However the pleasure of discovery is far more familiar than it used to be, and the choices for what to look into offer a brand new individual freedom. So what I offer here is a technique, a tool to navigate the river of information.
Spend life building knowledge in an area besides work day expertise. Something that satisfies personal curiosity or builds up a desired skill. In some cases it happens by itself. If you like working on cars, over time you learn more and understand the big picture of the mechanism. This gives a basis for analogy. For understanding other things where similar relationships apply, where connections might be faulty or the timing off. We use spatial knowledge to reason about other things so having an area of spatial knowledge that gets into the working of a topic sensitizes us to more sophisticated levels of meaningful pattern which enables us to recognize it where these patterns apply Shifting attention from details and parts to interactions and relationships reinforces capacity to see patterns. Obviously the engine analogy doesn't hold for everything, but building  skill in analogy strengthens ability to find connections and understand  systems of interaction. Building knowledge about the body is both useful in practical ways and because it's a harmonic assembly of many systems with many flexible analogies regarding growth and day to day functioning. The nature based dynamic imagery of the I Ching is useful clarifying harmonic action in 64 different active situations. Perhaps the lasting universality of the I Ching is the imagery of moving in a world of natural and human weather and how behave in harmony with it. Lost in the surface information we need skills to find essential patterns. Deep expertise in any area builds a system of relationships that serve as starting point in finding the patterns that matter.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Levels of Motivation

This is the second part of two posts meant to address my process and thoughts on the development of this body of work. This one concentrates primarily on the large painted sculpture, "Stance"

So often during the sabbatical show someone would mention something that was triggered by the work and I’d feel surprised then think about it and realize it was part of another level of motivation that I hadn’t seen before. It’s been like that since I started the drawings. It’s probably the most mysterious body of work I’ve ever done in terms of how little I knew about why I was doing it. The need to do a large figure emerged as I was doing the bowls. I wanted to paint the surface,  create the illusion of decaying external layers to question the preoccupation with the external self. It took a month to hand build the figure, using coils from the bottom up smoothing and shaping and getting a sense of what I would be painting on it as it grew. I knew it would be subject to some cracking because it took so long and it was hard to keep it drying at the same rate, but just like the bowls I was welcoming whatever happened as a way to get me started, by mimicking the things that happened naturally. During the time I was doing it I was driven by the challenge to materialize something I needed to see. It was more exhilarating than anything I’d ever done because it was so hard. That might be why the attitude achieved after balancing the difficulties feels as good as it does. Understanding has been accomplished, a new perspective reached. The title “Stance” comes from something that Viktor Frankl wrote in "Man’s Search for Meaning". He said the meaning of life was in what you took from life, what you gave to life and the stance you took toward what you can’t change. That was the part I’ve been thinking about ever since. Philosophically what I was looking at while I was working on "Stance" was the transitory nature of the physical self. Now in my sixties I think about the limitations of the body and futility of trying to hold on to past selves. I use many layers and try to get the form within to strain against them suggesting that we shed the older skin as we grow like molting. That attachment to the previous skin inhibits inner growth. So my conscious ideas while working had more to do with bringing out the consciousness within.
We live in a world where we breathe the air of marketing constantly. It conditions people to put too much emphasis on the external self which is then shoved into an external category.  I’ve been using genderless gray figure since the 1980s to avoid any categorization other than person. Facial expression and body language show something of the inner life, something true of our experience. Even with the growth and change over many years, something about the internal self  feels constant, and science has given no evidence that consciousness  is  bounded by the body. 
Since "Stance" has been displayed I’ve learned much more about what I was doing that I was completely unconscious of at the time. It’s one of the best things about visual ideas, they can hold so much. In his Ted Talk Adam Savage said,“Things stick around for years before you find out why you’re interested in it” . When someone told me that they were so disturbed by the show they had nightmares, that all the trauma I’d been holdng inside finally burst out, I saw something more going on that I had to acknowledge was true even though I hadn't realized it. Seeing it is an opportunity for personal learning but also reflects how visual structures show the essential character of feeling and offer stimulus to the imaginations of others.. So whatever these long buried imbalance were that were being addressed, the ideas that grow from this particular visual philosophy are wide ranging and now belong to the viewers.

Monday, September 22, 2014


On Process

During the time the sabbatical show was up I was often asked about my process. So I'm hoping to provide some background on the way my work develops in the next two posts. This one will focus on the drawings and the jump into bowls and I'll mainly stick to the techniques and visual goals. Some of the things that were behind the particular imagery  were unknown to me consciously at the time I was doing them. Someone now will talk about their associations with the work and I’ll feel surprised then think about it and realize it was part of another level of motivation that I hadn’t seen before. It’s been like that since I started the drawings. It’s probably the most mysterious body of work I’ve ever done in terms of how little I knew about why I was doing it and where it was heading. The emotional philosophical pastel drawings that dominate this blog have been my inner mirror since the early 80s, but the covered up metaphor of the stitched drawings only let me see the technical and formal goals and not that I’d been fighting to hold something back for years. The challenge of accomplishing what I wanted to see happen, to get people to see a force behind the visible surface pushing out was enough without me knowing what it was. All of my drawings try to defy indentification and draw attention to the feel of behind the scenes forces. The drawings began with watercolor leading the way. Like the big pastel shapes, watercolor is a means to concentrate on the abstract composition and find what I needed to see. Then I attached the duralar. My first works with duralar were two large graphite drawings each of which took over two years. This  broke me of my need to finish and get on with things, so I could stay as long as necessary with the development of beautiful areas of tone. Having a technical preoccupation is my strategy for keeping my conscious mind from interfering with the decisions of my visual mind. Which is not to say I didn’t think about many different ideas that came from the images. Illusionistic work generally opens a window to the world created beyond the picture plane so I was interested in trying to get the drawing to push out at the viewer instead of falling back. It was what I'd begun to think about with the second big drawing, In these drawings I sewed duralar over the paper along the top edge to secure it against slippage, since the graphite work on the duralar reinforced and synchronized with the drawing on the paper. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to include the stitches and something in me immediately saw them as shades of red. I wanted a spontaneous start since my method of drawing on duralar was so time consuming, which is why instead of a graphite drawing underneath I worked with watercolor, feeling for the shapes that best matched what I needed at the time. Stitching the duralar was a way to draw attention to certain areas and then a new graphite challenge was to create the illusion that the surface was pulling at the stitches.  The whole time I was doing them I was conscious of how tormented some of them, maybe all of them looked and when I was showing them to my classes said over and over that I didn’t really understand where these were coming from myself yet. A clue was that when I started working 3d I stopped doing the drawings and went back to my pastel side. On one level the drawings represented what was trying to burst into the physical world, to get out from behind the window into imaginary space and have it exist as an actual entity. They were also preparing me for what I would be painting on 3D surfaces though that was still far in the future.

The real technical leap of course was 3d. It wasn’t as foreign as it seemed to those who knew only the work I’ve shown. Many times over my adulthood I have made a little series of figures or beetles, always emphasizing face and body expression as presents for family and friends. I wanted to learn the wheel and became immediately interested in the bowl's shape. Without planning it I saw that I needed figures in the bowls and that I wanted to paint the world they came from around them. At the time I wasn’t aware of the obvious connection of myself pushing out into the world or my interest in body and facial expression taking over my public work.
The bowls represented the process of emerging from the portal. As a beginner throwing bowls I was dealing with my limitations and how to make use of them. I waxed part of each bowl before glazing so I could mimic and go off on what the glaze and other imperfections did. The illusionistic space exists but the figure emerges from it. The first bowl touched on all the ideas that would unfold in this adventure.It's been a chance to explore the interconnections that bind everything together, to acknowledge what it takes to support human life. An idea I first came across in Gregory Bateson's work probably surfaced here too, that who we are is not just the physical self but self and environment because we couldn’t survive without all of the systems that link with our existence. In all of them I wanted to give more of a feeling of us growing rather than being made, of life as an continuous individuation of a pervasive consciousness.  I’m thinking about the process of manifesting physically, the hopes, difficulties and doubts, but connected at the roots to what energizes and supports growth.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

New Work

On Using Figures

One of the reasons I have rarely used figures in my work has been because I wanted the viewer to have a first person experience, to have the feeling of seeing the relationships, circumstances and qualites expressed for themselves. As visual philosophy all of my images hope to stimulate ideas that build on the vision that poses questions about assumptions. With "Stance" (the figure on the right in the above announcement) I suggest an alternative to the identification with the external. For some reason it feels most natural to use the figure to bring attention to the mind and consciousness looking through the changing physical being. It's understandable that people have been guided into over identification with the external because it suits the goals of marketing. People accumulate physical information in the form of stuff in order to build the outside image. But the reality of the consciousness looking out is unchanged, and the outer image is just a small ftraction of the reality actually experienced. For me this work had to be three dimensional to break through the invisible barrier of the image surface and be in the world with the viewer so as to communicate mind to mind.
And it gives me the pleasure of having my art smile at you like another being in the world and occasionally catching you smiling back.

Monday, August 11, 2014

(Re-Viewing) Consciousness

Imaging Consciousness

Interest in the brain and how it works is ultimately an inquiry into consciousness. One longstanding assumption about where consciousness is may be interfering with visualizing and understanding more about it. In all of my study of the brain I've seen no claim as to where consciousness is located, or even  a theory of how it arises from the substance of the brain. Thinking about consciousness has been limited by the image of it located somewhere in our head, an idea with no scientific support. A cascade of restricting associations grow from this. One artificially confining result comes from imagining consciousness as an aspect of the identification with the external physical self. This leads us to see the body as a container for a limited personal  consciousness. Though the physical body is the image others see, its not really the whole self we experience. As an image it is incompatible with consciousness as we know it, where thoughts soar beyond the physical and witnessing the external drama can be a source of amazement and wonder. The Hindu idea of "moksha" which religious scholar Alan Watts defined as"liberation from the hallucination that you are just 'poor little me'" is freedom from the confining image. The physical being can be thought of as the vehical through which the experience of life is seen. A more approprite analogy for understanding physical participation in consciousness might be the eye. The eye is to the mind as the person is to consciousness, a sensing mechanism for the field of consciousness that is channeled through it, filtered by the frequency created by our personal being. Just like there are wavelengths that the eye doesn't see and thus is not included in our reality, who know what realms are beyond our  mental spectrum. The eye is not the whole of seeing but is an instrument for it, guided by the mind's awareness. The individual is a distinct input with particular sensitivities, a unique character and role to play that provides insight to the encompassing spectrum of flowing awareness that Lao Tzu called the Tao. Enlarging our image of consciousness expands the sense of responsibility that comes with the feeling of connection. The brain encourages operating on this wavelength with endorphins for acts of connection meant to stimulate our evolution co-creating the future. Striving to learn and grow and exceed previous limits is the gift we offer the whole, and is rewarded with the best brain chemistry.
   Understanding more about the brain enables us to draw more sophisticated analogies to help us reinvision consciousness.This can free us from the isolation that comes from thinking of ourselves as separate. Perhaps living with wireless communication in a world of invisible frequencies and bandwidths creates new imagery for envisioning the encompassing connected consciousness within which we inform and  participate.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Organic Intelligence

First posted June 30, 2010. This is the second most popular essay.
Since the sixties, thinkers have been suggesting it’s time to shift our model of reality from the giant machine to the image of the universe as an organism. Fritjof Capra talks about the shift in worldview that came with quantum mechanics in his wonderful book “The Turning Point”. He writes, “The universe is no longer seen as a machine made up of multiple objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible, dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process.” Seeing the whole is essential to understanding the significance in a situation and is the essence of ecological consciousness. We understand the big picture through concrete vision as well as within our spatial embodied imagination.
The heartbreaking pictures of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico can be seen as our body bleeding. The globe that supports us all is pierced and hemorrhaging. All the images taken from space that show the growing damage hurt my heart like damage to my own body. Which it is, given I am absolutely dependent on it. A caller to the Diane Rehm show was the first to express out loud the fear this oil spill could kill the whole planet. The satellite and helicopter pictures are the diagnostic scans of our global body. The compartmentalized, rapacious way of looking at the planet that grows from the machine model avoids seeing the interconnections. It may suit the corporati and greed-driven, but an attitude of seeing the planet as a giant reservoir of resources to be exploited interferes with the balance of the all-inclusive organism. Chief Seattle said, “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.“ Stabbing oneself in the hope of riches expresses reckless self-loathing.
Organic intelligence is alert to the health of the whole. Since everything is part of an intricate network of interrelated systems, we’re happiest (best brain chemistry) when we’re developing our abilities and finding challenging ways to make use of them. This adds our health to the health of the larger organism in which we participate. Moving in harmony with the flow of being around us is natural if the underlying model of the universe has ourselves as part of an organic whole. If we’re disrupting other aspects of the larger being we’re like a cancer, growing without heed of the damage we cause, sucking up vital resources without regard to the host. Much of what divides us and keeps us from acting together is imagery that places us outside of things, casting us as the one that tinkers with the machine. This is the same image as the large scale Maker, which also puts the traditional God outside us.
The Gaia Hypothesis came out decades ago. James Lovelock’s conception was of a consciousness within the earth itself. Just like the adjustments made in our own body, it responds to imbalances. This universal motion of homeostasis exists on every level and in every system, adapting to change to restore equilibrium. Persisting in the belief in man’s dominion over the earth may lead to the earth itself wiping out the source of destruction.
The materialistic world of separate things has resisted seeing our interconnectedness because it’s a threat to a competitive attitude. Accumulating and controlling more of the planet does not serve the good of the whole. But there’s evidence mounting of the grassroots shift to a more responsible way of seeing. Two website groups that have contacted me recently are dedicated to positive change. The Superforest site ( ) sees the essence of problems and solutions in the world as revolving around manners. Treating everyone and everything with respect means being aware of the consequences of our actions. As they say in their Humanifesto, dumping pollutants in a river is bad manners. The narrow sight lines of a competitive stance focus on the end result and miss much of what’s happening now and the consequences of single-mindedness. A cooperative attitude is tuned to the moment because cooperation is all about adjusting to the circumstances and harmonizing with others. The current most popular entry at The Truth Contest site
The Truth Contest ) focuses on the Present and the nature of consciousness. Their site is committed to an ongoing attempt to articulate truth, to search out the universals that bind us. They turn the idea of a contest on its head since there’s no competition, no prizes, just an on-going dialogue that features the entries that generate the most interest. Extending themselves for the good of the whole, these sites are examples of healing forces, the action of Gaia’s immune system. They give me faith in the goodness of human nature and optimism about the future. I’m happy to now be connected to both efforts.

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.