For today’s Poetics prompt, Sarah invites us to verb animals and use those verbs or verb phrases—like “horsing around” or “pigging out” or our own inventions like “eagle over” or “ant the whole hill”—in our poem.
This Animal Kingdom
He is always sharking— dead-eyed stare, open mouth full of sharpness always moving—prowling for the next morsel to come too close
Me, I emu Unable to fly, I present a feathery girth over questionably designed legs with a deadly kick primed if he gets too close.
In the rare moments he’s not sharking, he squirrels—all his pouches full of nuts and seeds (mostly mine and the morsels’ he sharks)— but he squirrels lazily: I’ll find his burrow
When I don’t emu, I hornbill I spread my striking wingspan, and my caw, generated in my bulbous head, carries elation under the thick canopy, then using my curved, sharp beak I crack the nuts from his hollow.
Inspired by today’s poetics prompt, I thought it would be fun to use some animal filters with my new light-wrapped forms in the mirrorworld, to see if I could make them verb. I really enjoyed searching through my filters and picking out all the different animals I’ve created filters of over the years. The shark and the emu filters pictured above, I created to use with the fireworks last Fourth of July.
Arnheim says, “Walking downhill, dropping, or falling is experienced kinesthetically as acceding to one’s own weight. One is being pushed downward by a force situated in the center of one’s own body. . . .The dominant pull of gravity makes the space we live in asymmetrical. . . .Human beings experience the dynamic asymmetry, or anisotropy, of space by means of two senses, kinesthesis and vision. The physical effect of gravity is perceived as tension in the muscles, tendons, and joints of the body. Visually, the world is pervaded by a similar downward pull, whose influence on the dynamic character of the things we see may be illustrated by the difference between what goes on visually in horizontal and vertical surfaces.”
He continues to state that the horizontal orientation is centric composition, since all points have the same relation to the ground, but because of our physical interactions with gravity, vertical orientation is strengthened by a gravitational vector and is thus interacting with an outside center and an eccentric composition. He states that since we must put effort into upward movement, but not into downward movement, we perceive an element in the upper part of the vertical image as having more weight than an element in the lower part. Thus the element in the upper part should be smaller to counterbalance an element below.
I liked the new compositions I was making with the wrapped ring in the mirrorworld, but wanted to see if a smaller ring that actually fit inside the frame of the mirror would have better results. While looking for materials to make the form, I noticed some old wire hat stands I had and decided to try wrapping them with lights. I had three, so I stacked two of them, and wrapped them with colored lights, and left one as is and wrapped it with white lights. This idea has so much potential because they stand freely and I can move them around in relation to each other.
Inspired by Arnheim’s discussion of horizontal and vertical weight, I made a clear plastic filter and drew a symmetrical cross in black sharpie, and I cut out a paper filter with a symmetrical cross in the middle of a circle. The plastic filter creates texture, and I can layer the two filters and move the paper one over the plastic one to cross the crosses at different angles. These images show the paper filter.
What do you think? Do you feel a gravitational pull in the vertical image, but not the horizontal?
For today’s Poetics prompt, Lillian provided some portraits by Thorvald Hellesen (1888 – 1937) as inspiration. I chose “Portrait of Eivind Eckbo” painted in 1914 for today’s poem.
The Man in Motion
He is a whirl of spring air spinning, spinning always turning but with one eye holding my stare like a ballerina in an eternal pirouette one leg steady—in the shadow under there under his billowing cloak rising and falling, a dangerous snare— the other continuing the momentum pointing in, pointing out, so beware
He is fluttering soft petals on a fragrant breeze whirling, whirling, but that eye on me stares the head almost appears to have a plan to stay still as the body turns, but then all hair it snaps around and is back and then it does it again—SNAP! the head has come around, never losing that stare
And the spinning never stops as with each turn he becomes more aware that he’s a pastel shimmer in motion more breezy, more one with the spring air and forgets he has a leg on the ground in the shadows under that cloak that has flown off somewhere.
Arnheim proposes that there are two compositional systems: the centric and the eccentric. The centric is the self-centered attitude. The eccentric is the recognition that one’s own center is not the only center, and stands for any action directed toward an outer center, and is in turn affected by the outer center.
Arnheim states, “The tension between the two antagonistic tendencies trying to achieve equilibrium is the very spice of human experience, and any artistic statement failing to meet the challenge will strike us as insufficient. Neither total self-centeredness nor total surrender to outer powers can make for an acceptable image of human motivation.”
So Arnheim has set up a dialectic of composition: The centric system gives rise to the eccentric system which is in conflict with it, and the two create tension while trying to come to equilibrium. As he talked more about centric and eccentric systems they seemed to correlate with my ideas of inner and outer control.
Though I’m just beginning to read the book and think about centric and eccentric composition, I was inspired to try something new in the mirrorworld to change my compositions. In December of 2021, I tried making “wreaths of light” by wrapping lights around a metal ring. Today, I wrapped the metal ring in lights and put it in the mirrorworld. I tied it to a bar overhead so it would stand up. I’ve always draped the string-lights between the mirrors, so this changes many aspects of the compositions. The most interesting change is that the wires between the lights are no longer part of the composition.
That explains a lot, really— It’s the waves (in the dip between the crests) that lull us into believing the fluffy clouds are harmless the crows cawing as they chase past the steeple carry no omen the open barn doors only invite the cattle home not to slaughter, not to ruin It’s so easy to forget the bottle will soon be tossed the upheaval will arrive
Outside the glass, the eccentric, the other center pushes and pulls, cycles and swirls, always
But in that lull, when the sun hits just right the water splashed and dripping could be a refreshing rain, not the evidence that I am only in a bigger bottle.
This week I finished reading Point and Line to Plane by Wassily Kandinsky. Though it’s a confusing read at times, he has many interesting ideas about how the elements of abstract art interact with the world to express and create emotion.
Last week I gave his great example of the point as silence. Moving the point from its logical, practical position reveals its inner tensions:
Today I am going to the movies. Today I am going. To the movies Today I. Am going to the movies
This week, I’m looking at how the point is forced from its position to become a line.
The Point and the Line
Here is how Kandinsky defines the line:
The geometric line is an invisible thing. It is the track made by the moving point; that is, its product. It is created by movement—specifically through the destruction of the intense self-contained repose of the point. Here, the leap out of the static into the dynamic occurs. The line is, therefore, the greatest antithesis to the pictorial protoelement—the point. Viewed in the strictest sense, it can be designated as a secondary element.
I really love this—the line being antithetical to the point, but also created by the movement and destruction of the repose of the point. Such a dramatic and complicated relationship. Then Kandinsky brings in another topic I love, “forces”:
There exists still another force which develops not within the point, but outside of it. This force hurls itself upon the point which is digging its way into the surface, tears it out and pushes it about the surface in one direction or another. The concentric tension of the point is thereby immediately destroyed and, as a result, it perishes and a new being arises out of it which leads a new, independent life in accordance with its own laws. This is the Line.
The forces coming from without which transform the point into a line, can be very diverse. The variation in lines depends upon the number of these forces and upon their combinations. In the final analysis, all line forms can be reduced to two cases: 1. application of one force and 2. application of two forces: a) single or repeated, alternate action of both forces, b) simultaneous action of both forces.
So an outside force tears a point out of a surface and pushes it in a certain direction which defines what kind of line it is. It’s the action-drama of line’s origin story. The point and its offspring-turned-adversary living together in constant tension. I had no idea point and line had such a difficult home-life.
Point and Line to Plane also has a wonderful discussion of the temperatures and sounds of different lines, and diagrams of the forces that act on the line. I highly recommend spending some time enjoying Kandinsky’s unique view on the elements of art.
Point, Line, and Code
The Meeting the Bar prompt at dVerse Poets Pub last Thursday was to create a poem with different kinds of wordplay. Though I didn’t write a poem, I created some visual poetry. Thinking about imagery to go with “wordplay” using points and lines, I thought of Morse Code.
Samuel Morse was an American artist. He worked with physicist Joseph Henry and mechanical engineer Alfred Vail to develop an electrical telegraph system to transmit language using electrical pulses and the silence between them. It began as graphic indentations on paper strips, but the telegraph operators learned the sound of the clicking noise of the receiver making the paper tape unnecessary. When Morse Code was adapted for radio communication these clicks became tone pulses.
What’s really fun about this idea is it connects visual patterns to words and sounds. Connecting to Kandinsky’s synesthesia in my own way.
I started my Morse Code wordplay with the word “WORD.” Interestingly each letter in WORD has three symbols. I created a filter with the Morse Code for WORD and played with it in my mirrorworld.
Then I played with the word “PLAY”:
The two images at the top of this post play with two different filters of my initials.
I’m not sure where I’ll take this idea, but it opens up a whole new area of visual poetry, visual communication, and is my first step toward exploring synesthesia in my images. I look forward to hearing what sonification programs do with these images.
I’ve reached an interesting and complicated point in my study. I want to create images that express contradictory abstract nouns and evoke emotion. But how will I photograph those images if everyone has different definitions for abstract nouns and everyone perceives images differently? How do points, lines, and colors on a two-dimensional surface evoke emotion at all?
This exploration will be ongoing, probably for a long time. I’ve been reading widely and while re-reading Abstract Art by Anna Moszynska noticed a reference to a text called Point and Line to Plane written by Wassily Kandinsky. I had recently looked at a picture book called The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock which talks about Kandinsky having synesthesia. I’m glad I read that before Point and Line to Plane because it helps make sense of how Kandinsky talks about visual elements making sounds.
The Science of Art
In Point and Line to Plane which was first published in German in 1926, Kandinsky is attempting to create and explain a science of art. He sees every experience as a duality of external and internal.
Every phenomenon can be experienced in two ways. These two ways are not arbitrary, but are bound up with the phenomenon—developing out of its nature and characteristics: Externally—or—inwardly. . . . Aside from its scientific value, which depends upon an exact examination of the individual art elements, the analysis of the art elements forms a bridge to the inner pulsation of a work of art.
When explaining his idea of an outer experience he titles the section “Shock.”
Sometimes an unusual shock is able to jolt us out of such a lifeless state into vigorous feeling. Frequently, however, the most thorough shaking fails to revitalize the deadly condition. The shocks which come from without (sickness, accident, sorrow, war, revolution) wrench us violently out of the circle of our customary habits for a shorter or a longer time, but such shocks are, as a rule, looked upon as a more or less violent “injustice.” Therefore, the desire to re-establish as soon as possible the traditional habits, temporarily abandoned, outweighs all other feelings.
And here’s his explanation of Inner experience:
Disturbances originating from within are of a different character; they are brought about by the human being himself and, therefore, find in him their appropriate foundation. . . . There, the receptive eye and the receptive ear transform the slightest vibrations into impressive experiences. Voices arise from all sides, and the world rings.
Kandinsky’s ideas of inner and outer experiences make me think of the emotions of the artist while making art and the emotions of the observer when experiencing the art. No matter how precisely an artist has used different elements in an attempt to evoke a specific emotion, or experience, the viewer may see something completely different.
I shall mention in passing that the theory of empathy has afflicted generations of aestheticians with a host of pseudoproblems. One asked : Are the feelings expressed in sights and sounds those of the artist who created them or those of the recipient? Does one have to be in a melancholy mood in order to produce, perform, or apprehend a melancholy composition? Can “emotions” be expressed in a Bach fugue or a painting by Mondrian? These and other similar questions become incomprehensible once one has understood that expression resides in perceptual qualities of the stimulus pattern.
He alone can appreciate the art, who could comprehend the conversation of the painter, and share in his emotion, in moments of his most fiery passion and most original thought. And whereas the true meaning and end of his art must thus be sealed to thousands, or misunderstood by them; so also, as he is sometimes obliged, in working out his own peculiar end, to set at defiance those constant laws which have arisen out of our lower and changeless desires, that whose purpose is unseen, is frequently in its means and parts displeasing.
So what is the relationship between the emotions of the artist and the emotions of the observer?
“Riegl emphasized an obvious but previously ignored psychological aspect of art: that art is incomplete without the perceptual and emotional involvement of the viewer. Not only do we collaborate with the artist in transforming a two-dimensional figurative image on a canvas into a three-dimensional depiction of the visual world, we interpret what we see on the canvas in personal terms, thereby adding meaning to the picture. Riegl called this phenomenon the “beholder’s involvement.” Based on ideas derived from Rigl’s work and on insights that began to emerge from cognitive psychology, the biology of visual perception, and psychoanalysis, Kris and Gombrich went on to develop a new view of this concept, which Gombrich referred to as the beholder’s share.
Kris, who later became a psychoanalyst, started things off by studying ambiguity in visual perception. He argued that every powerful image is inherently ambiguous because it arises from experiences and conflicts in the artist’s life. The viewer responds to this ambiguity in terms of his or her own experiences and conflicts, recapitulating in a modest way the experience of the artist in creating the image. For the artist, the creative process is also interpretative, and for the beholder the interpretative process is also creative. Because the extent of the viewer’s contribution depends on the degree of ambiguity in the image, a work of abstract art, with its lack off reference to identifiable forms, arguably puts greater demands on the beholder’s imagination than a figurative work does. Perhaps it is these demands that make abstract works seem difficult to some viewers, yet rewarding to those who find in them an expansive, transcendent experience.”
The How-tos of Evoking Emotion
Searching for the actual how-to of evoking emotion with art, I found a couple of paragraphs in The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum:
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the ramifications of lines, forms, and contrasts on the emotional content of an image. This is of the utmost importance because even the most technically perfect print is meaningless without emotion.
. . . jagged lines are far more active than curved lines, which themselves are more relaxed. High contrast is far more active than low contrast. Middle gray tonalities impart the quietest, most relaxed mood of all. So jagged, sharp lines or even tightly curving, twisted lines combined with high contrast will be intensely active and highly charged. Gently curved lines along with softly modulating tonalities will impart a quiet, relaxed mood.
Any thinking photographer will use this universal language to his or her advantage. If you want a quiet, reverential mood, you’ll do well to work with curved lines, rounded forms, and subdued contrast. Soft light, gray tones, and pastel colors on rounded hills impart the feeling of a gentle, pleasant, livable landscape, whereas strong sidelight on sharp, craggy rock spires imparts excitement and adventure, perhaps even a feeling of foreboding.
So certain lines and colors, tones of color and lighting can evoke calm or excitement. That’s a start.
Kandinsky begins his scientific study with the geometric point. But he quickly moves from the idea of a mark of a pen or a brush to a surface to the written word. He says the geometric point is “the ultimate and most singular union of silence and speech.”
The geometric point has, therefore, been given its material form, in the first instance, in writing. It belongs to language and signifies silence.
In the flow of speech, the point symbolizes interruption, non-existence (negative element), and at the same time it forms a bridge from one existence to another (positive element). In writing, this constitutes its inner significance.
Externally, it is merely a sign serving a useful end and carries with it the element of the “practical-useful,” with which we have been acquainted since childhood. The external sign becomes a thing of habit and veils the inner sound of the symbol.
The inner becomes walled-up through the outer.
As you can see, even a point, the smallest visual (and written language and speech) element is itself a contradiction with both negative and positive elements of both inner and outer significance.
He says that by moving the point from where one would expect to see it, once can reveal its “inner tensions.” I absolutely love his examples and think it may be something to think about in the coming month of poetry:
Let the point be moved out of its practical-useful situation into an impractical, that is, an illogical, position.
Today I am going to the movies. Today I am going. To the movies Today I. Am going to the movies
It is apparent that it is possible to view the transposition of the point in the second sentence still as a useful one—emphasis upon the destination, stress upon the intention, loud fanfare. In the third sentence the illogical, in pure form, is at work. This may be explained as a typographical error—the inner value of the point flashes forth for a moment and is immediately extinguished.
So how does this help me with my images? Kandinsky got me thinking about focusing on basic elements. I haven’t contemplated the point’s inner tensions before; its sounds and silences, its illogical positions.
I looked at expression as an abstract noun back at the beginning of my study in April of 2022, and created a facial expression out of wire for my images. But today, I’m exploring “a manifestation of an emotion, feeling, etc., without words” and communication of emotion through art.
In Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson, he says, “Once you have abstracted the visual elements most essential to a scene or event, you have to select. Selecting is choosing those parts of the subject matter that will best express the character of the scene or the meaning of the event.”
If I’m trying to express happiness, I need to select lines, shapes, colors, tones, and textures, then combine them in a composition that is my expression of happiness. And then select the ones that most express happiness and despair together? So if I go with yellow, orange, in the brightest tones, and the most harmoniously balanced composition, is that happiness? It’s like my Ship of Theseus question about story. What are the elements that can’t be replaced for it to still express happiness?
Patterson thinks I should be looking at this the other way around. “Once we have determined what the subject matter expresses (that is, its subject or theme), we may notice how that expression was achieved—by means of particular shapes, textures, and colours. . . .When you make pictures, take advantage of the natural sequence in which your senses provide information. First, ask “What does the subject matter express?” (Possible answer: joy.) Then ask “How does the subject matter express it?” (Possible answer: the joy is expressed through soaring vertical and oblique lines, light tones, and bright colours.)”
So today, instead of having an intention and attempting to capture an image, I’m going to look at some of my images and take advantage of that natural sequence. When I look at “Conflict” (top of page), I see forward motion being blocked, opposing forces. I see disappointment, and frustration. How is that expressed? Through the direction of the shape, the change of color from cool to warm, the dominant size of the reversed shape on the right , the brightness of the reversed shape, and composition putting the shapes in opposition with a zig-zag space between them.
When I look at “Generation” (above) I see calm, happiness, the lightness of Spring. How is that expressed? Through the light pastel colors, the two forms connecting through their overlapping lines, the overall swoop of the design moving up and to the right, the pink haziness joining the two forms like a warm feeling.
Though “Interruption” (below) is similar to “Generation” (above) it expresses a very different emotion. When I look at “Interruption” I see irritation, ugliness in the beauty; the chain of connection is broken. How is that expressed? The pastel color is overpowered by the brighter intruding shape in the foreground. The flow of the lines is interrupted creating a jagged line just left of center. The overall direction is down to the right, but also horizontal across the center.
Through this exercise, I noticed a zig-zag line of space creates a break in flow in both of the images with more negative emotions. This may be something I try as an expressive technique in the future.
“We respond with different emotions to different shapes, textures, lines, and colours on the basis of qualities we perceive in them,” said Patterson, and then quoted Rudolf Arnheim from Art and Visual Perception.
I put Art and Visual Perception in my kindle and searched for “expression” and then “abstract”. While reading the sixty-five matches for abstract, I found, “The surprisingly strong expression of geometrical figures in movement has been demonstrated in the more elaborate “abstract” films of Oskar Fischinger, Norman MacLaren, Walt Disney, and others.”
I had already watched Fischinger and Disney, so I looked up MacLaren and found this interesting film about drawing sounds on film.
This got me wondering if there were programs that would turn my images into sounds, and then I spent the rest of the morning playing with sonification.
PIXELSYNTH is an online program. It instantly turns your photos black and white when you upload them and then has knobs you can turn to adjust the brightness and contrast which will change the sounds. You can choose the key and types of scale used.
Photosounder has a free downloadable demo. At first it turned my image into fluctuating noise, but then I found “Group to Nearest Semitone” at the bottom of the Operations menu and it turned the noise into tones.
I’m just getting started experimenting with the possibilities, but I love how it brings music into my abstractions study in a new way.
This week I read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It was our third novel in a row in omniscient POV, and yet it was very different from John Irving’s distant omniscient narrator of A Widow for One Year. Woolf’s narrator was so close inside the character’s heads and hearts, she was like a telepath with no control.
The novel was assigned as part of the online course “The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 2)” and in the lectures he talked about how the novel was the study of relational distance which I thought was interesting. And I’ll talk more about that on Thursday.
Today’s Surprising Connection
I got my copy of the poetry collection Waves by PJ Thomas to review for Library Thing Early Reviewers program, and started thinking about how I want to approach Reading Poetry Collections as a Poet. I looked at a great book on writing poetry In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit, and in the section “Getting Your Poems into the World” he said, “The best places to learn about publishers and book contests are in the bimonthly magazine Poets and Writers and the bimonthly Writers Chronicle.”
I hadn’t heard of The Writer’s Chronicle, so I looked it up. It turns out it is the magazine of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and in the February issue there is an article called, “In Working Order, or Proxemics & the Poetry Book” by Anna Leahy. Sadly, I couldn’t read it without being a member or subscriber, but it got me curious about Proxemics.
Proxemics is the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others. It is the study of how people unconsciously structure the space around them. It also has a Linguistic definition which is the study of the symbolic and communicative role in a culture of spatial arrangements and variations in distance, as in how far apart individuals engaged in conversation stand depending on the degree of intimacy between them.
Though my professor didn’t mention it, it seems to me that Virginia Woolf’s novel is a study of proxemics.
This last week my images were inspired by some things I read in Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. He says, “The expressive quality of a photograph depends on the photographer’s ability to abstract, that is, to separate the parts from the whole. Abstracting is recognizing both the basic from of something and the elements that make up that form.”
“Abstracting is not something you have to learn; you do it all the time without being aware of it. . . . Improving your ability to abstract takes practice. . . .Once you have abstracted the visual elements most essential to a scene or event, you have to select. Selecting is choosing those parts of the subject matter that will best express the character of the scene or the meaning of the event.”
“Abstracting and selecting are important to all types of photography.”
This got me thinking about abstract as a verb, so I looked it up in the dictionary. abstract v 1. to make an abstract of; summarize 2. to draw or take away; remove 3. to divert or draw away the attention of 4. to steal 5. to consider as a general quality of characteristic apart from specific objects or instances: to abstract the notions of time, space, and matter.
The definition of abstract meaning to remove inspired my new filters removing shapes from the filter and slicing them then opening them to add space. In the first series I trimmed them, sliced them, and curved them open then put them back inside the opening. In the second series I cut out the shapes sliced them, removed every other section and wove them back in, waffling the shapes. I really enjoy how the light bends around the paper shapes and how the colors blend and move through the spaces.
Abstracting these basic shapes into line, shape, and color are creating more dimension and movement than the attempts at creating abstract designs within the filters themselves.
When speaking of exercising your imagination, Mr. Patterson wrote, “Indulging in fantasy helps us to discover new ideas. Try looking at things in crazy ways.” He talked about a student who took a picture of his dog. He said, “A student of mine made a photograph of my German shepherd by panning while the dog was running over very rough ground. The panning of the camera, along with both the forward and up-and-down movements of the dog’s legs, made her hind legs look like wheels in rapid motion.
This got me thinking about the panoramic function in my camera. I had never tried it with my light-forming photography and wondered if it would work at all. The camera’s programming definitely didn’t like it, and it took many attempts before it would recognize that I was moving slowly enough and moving in the direction of the arrow, but the results were very exciting.
The camera, not able to sew the multiple abstract images together smoothly, created vertical striped and off-sets in the images. This surprise glitch creates its own abstract dimension within the photograph. Since I got it to work outside with the reflection balls in the grass and leftover snow, the next step was to see if it would work in the mirrorwold. As I expected, the camera made me really work for it. It didn’t believe that I was moving in a smooth line across a panorama, but through some serious patience, I made some very interesting photos.
Reading a novel like a novelist is abstracting a novel while reading, breaking it down into its parts, recognizing both the basic from of something (the story) and the elements that make up that form (writing techniques).
I finally read all the way through A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I now understand why I had such a hard time getting into it: it has a distant omniscient narrator and if ADHD (attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder) was a novel, this was it. However, it also had elements of every novel I’ve talked about in this series which I look forward to talking about on Thursday.
A Widow for One Year is a lot like one of my panoramic abstract photographs, constantly looking forward, trying to stitch many pieces together, and yet showing the seams, the glitches, as part of the art.
Today’s Surprising Connection
Among the many stories told within A Widow for One Year was the story of the hangman Arthur Ellis. Arthur Ellis was the pseudonym for Arthur B. English who was the official hangman of Canada between 1912 and 1935. I knew I had heard the story recently, but wasn’t sure where. Turns out it was used in the Three Pines series based on Louise Penny novels, Episode 7 (about a half hour in) “The Hangman,” which I watched and talked about when I read The Madness of Crowds.
This morning I read, in Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee, “Every consequential moment in life pivots around a dynamic of action/reaction. In the physical realm, reactions are equal, opposite, and predictable in obedience to Newton’s third law of motion; in the human sphere, the unforeseen rules. Whenever we take an important step, our world reacts—but almost never in the way we expect. From within us or around us come reactions we cannot and do not see coming. For no matter how much we rehearse life’s big moments, when they finally arrive, they never seem to work out quite the way we thought, hoped, or planned. The drama of life is an endless improvisation.”
If I relate this to dialectic thought, an action (thesis) gives rise to reaction (antithesis) which does not live up to expectation (conflict) which leads to a different action (thesis) which gives rise to reaction (antithesis) which does not meet expectation (conflict), and so it goes never to find synthesis (until the end of the novel that is, but not in real life). So is McKee unknowingly proposing and antithesis to Hegelian dialectics? And how can I fit the idea that every consequential moment, the moment I’m trying to capture, pivots around action/reaction?
Let’s move on from beauty and ugliness to the third call for action, “To find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness; dismay the happy, or delight the miserable.” The action would be finding happiness in misery and a reaction could be finding the misery in happiness, thus finding both. Or, the action could be dismaying the happy and the reaction being delighting the miserable. There is a lot of action and reaction going on in my call to action for my art. Let’s look at the many possible combinations:
action: find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness – reaction: dismay the happy, or delight the miserable
action: dismay the happy, or delight the miserable – reaction: find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness
action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: find the misery in happiness
action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: find the happiness in misery
action: dismay the happy – reaction: delight the miserable
action: delight the miserable – reaction: dismay the happy
action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: dismay the happy
action: dismay the happy – reaction: find the happiness in misery
action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: delight the miserable
action: delight the miserable – reaction: find the happiness in misery
action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: dismay the happy
action: dismay the happy – reaction: find the misery in happiness
action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: delight the miserable
action: delight the miserable – reaction: find the misery in happiness
I think that covers it. So what am I looking at? Are each of those an image I want to create? Are they all aspects of one image? Are they all different consequential moments in the life of the continuum of happiness and misery? I like the idea that they are fourteen different ways to approach finding my photograph that captures the essence of happiness and misery at the same time.
Action / Reaction as an aspect of contradictory abstractions made me think of Dynamic simplicity, an aspect of visual design that is emphasized in Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson.
Mr. Patterson says, “Simplicity brings order and stability to compositions . . . However, if everything were as simple as possible, life would be very boring. We need to balance order with tension, which brings movement, activity, and a sense of the dynamic both to our pictures and to our lives. . . . So pictorial composition, like living, always involves balancing tension against order.”
So is this dynamic of tension (action) and order (reaction? or synthesis?) the physical dialectic of my art?
Today’s images were inspired by the work of Arthur Dove and Francis Picabia. Specifically Arthur Dove’s “Nature Symbolized No. 2″ (1911) reminded me of something I did back in April with Foolish, Ambition, and Cleave. I sliced up the printed photograph and spread it out like a fan. Today, I cut the center circle from my filter and cut it in curves then spread them out and taped the shape back in the open circle. Then, inspired by Francis Picabia’s orange and white ‘Dance” paintings (1912), I added my orange string lights, expecting them to not really take the shape but add a soft blurred edge in an attempt to replicate the interesting softness Picabia brought to his cubist surfaces. However, the orange lights replicated this shape clearly to nice effect.
Today’s Surprising Connection
This morning I started reading Complete Poems by Marianne Moore and came across a poem called “The Animals Sick of the Plague.” I recognized the title instantly as the play the kids put on for the New Year’s party in The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. I had never heard of that fable before I read Penny’s novel. Now here it is in the section of Marianne Moore’s poems called “Selections from The Fables of La Fontaine (1954).”
It’s the last day of the first month of the new year, and I woke up early, tore apart my mirrorworld, and started fresh. Though conceptually I feel like my ideas are coming together, the images aren’t yet what I’ve been hoping for. How about you? How did your month go?
This week I’m exploring my second call to action: “To find the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness; uglify the beautiful, or beautify the ugly.” Last week I was excited by Hegel’s dialectic thinking. This morning I found another correlation in neuroscience in Eric R. Kandel’s The Age of Insight.
Coming to Synthesis
Nobel prize winning neuroscientist, Kandel, writes, “Beauty does not occupy a different area of the brain than ugliness. Both are part of a continuum representing the values the brain attributes to them, and both are encoded by relative changes in activity in the same areas of the brain. This is consistent with the idea that positive and negative emotions lie on a continuum and call on the same neural circuitry. Thus, the amygdala, commonly associated with fear, is also a regulator of happiness.”
I love how my goal of creating images that show how contradictory abstract nouns converge works with the physiology of the brain.
While thinking about today’s photo-shoot and my call to action, I contemplated if capturing synthesis would actually make great art. Isn’t it the extremes that people find exciting? Not the negation, the accomplished stasis?
Kandel says, “Our response to art stems from an irrepressible urge to re-create in our own brains the creative process—cognitive, emotional, and empathic—through which the artist produced the work. This creative urge of the artist and the beholder presumably explains why essentially every group of human beings in every age and in every place throughout the world has created images, despite the fact that art is not a physical necessity for survival. Art is an inherently pleasurable and instructive attempt by the artist and the beholder to communicate and share with each other the creative process that characterizes every human brain—a process that leads to an Aha! moment, the sudden recognition that we have seen into another person’s mind, and that allows us to see the truth underlying both the beauty and the ugliness depicted by the artist.”
Thus, each of these images I share with you whether beautiful, or ugly, or somewhere along the continuum, is a peek into my mind. Welcome. It’s busy, and often cluttered, but there’s a lot of fun creating going on.
To make today’s images, using only white string-lights, I used printed transparencies of sections of my images that showed the shape both right-side-up and upside-down. I then created new images showing the filter both right-side-up and upside-down. Is it the synthesis? The negation? I’m not sure, but I had fun with my new terminology in my titles.
I’m going to continue to explore beauty and ugliness for a while. Kant keeps coming up as I study abstract art, so I want to read through his works that I downloaded from Project Gutenberg.
Using my new kindle skills I searched for beauty and ugly in Kant’s Critique of Judgement and beauty had 500 matches, ugly had 4. I find that fascinating. Why the crazy imbalance? Is it because people seek out beauty and not ugliness?
In the section called “Dialectic of the Aesthetical Judgement,” Kant says, “. . . the conflict between judgements of Taste, so far as each man depends merely on his own taste, forms no Dialectic of taste; because no one proposes to make his own judgement a universal rule. There remains therefore no other concept of a Dialectic which has to do with taste than that of a Dialectic of the Critique of taste (not of taste itself) in respect of its principles; for here concepts that contradict one another (as to the ground of the possibility of judgements of taste in general) naturally and unavoidably present themselves.”
As I read it, there is no conflict between beauty and ugliness when it has to do with one’s own ideas and feelings, the conflict arises when people’s aesthetics are different. Something to think about.
Last week, while thinking about the first of my new calls to action “To find the truth in deceit and the deceit in truth; either deceive the truth, or unveil the deceit” (I now think reveal works better than unveil), the idea of deceiving truth, along with the blues songs I’ve been studying, got me thinking about cheaters and love triangles. I started thinking of imagery that represents a union of two wholes which made me think of the yin yang (itself a joining of opposites), and then an invisible triangle, the secret third party: the opposite of truth and the bringer of conflict.
Modernist Dialectic Thought
As I’ve mentioned I’m taking a course I found on coursera.org through Wesleyan University taught by Michael Roth called “The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)”. Last week, in the section called “From Enlightenment to Revolution,” we were assigned a bunch of Karl Marx to read, but for me the most interesting part of the week was the lectures on Karl Marx’s teacher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Though Wikipedia disagrees with itself whether Hegel actually used the terminology of Hegelian dialectic thought, I’m going to go ahead and talk about what excited me and how it inspired me this week.
Here’s how I understand Hegelian dialectics: every thought or idea (thesis) gives rise to its opposite (antithesis) and through conflict comes to synthesis. The whole process he called negation.
[Wikipedia says “For Hegel, the concrete, the synthesis, the absolute, must always pass through the phase of the negative, in the journey to completion, that is, mediation.” Seems similar enough to me.]
For Hegel this concept of an idea and its opposite coming to synthesis isn’t a fun thought experiment or art project (like me), it is his explanation of how the world works, and how the present reality interacts with history.
How does Hegelian philosophy change anything I’m doing? It brought up the idea that the image I’m searching for is the Synthesis, the end result of Negation. And when I find that, do I get to make up a new term: a word that means both truth and deceit for instance, and what would my process be for finding that term, making up that word, making a new term that means both and neither? That should be fun, and make for good image titles.
Does it really change how I think about my study of contradictory abstract nouns? A little. As I take my photographs, I may be seeing how the world works, actually documenting a more real reality than if I were taking photos of the mountain, lake, birds, and kitty. I’m getting close to photographing truth and reason, or at least seeing a path to documenting images of truth and reason.
How might this affect my process? If I am finding the truth in deceit and the deceit in truth, I come up with a shape or symbol that I think can embody both somehow. I can create it and it’s opposite (not exactly opposite, but the form upside down and backwards) at the same time. I can even make those two shapes or symbols interact, but is that an image of synthesis? Has my image gone through negation? How would I study that?
There is no simple symbol of truth and deceit, however, I was playing with the idea of two joined shapes=the yin yang and the secret triangle for the deceit. So if I take that symbol and its opposite (upside-down and backwards) will it make a synthesis of truth and deceit?
In the pictures I put in this post, I think the one with the shape upside down and backwards (the antithesis) creates the conflict Hegel talks about, and I think the one without the antithesis (top of post) creates a new form through synthesis. What do you think?
Talk About Synthesis:
The craziest thing happened last night. After free-writing about what I wanted to say about dialectic thinking. I went to bed and opened up Abstract Art: A Global History by Pepe Karmel, and right there in the introduction, right after saying “Critics argued that the abstract art made between 1915 and 1970 mattered deeply because its development unfolded according to laws of historical necessity. In contrast, even if individual painters and sculptors chose to go on making abstract art after 1970, their work did not—could not—belong to a meaningful historical narrative.” he says:
“The modernist theory of abstraction, with its reductive narrative explaining both the birth of abstraction and its ineluctable death, derived from Hegel, who tried to uncover an inner logic to history, replacing a chronicle of random events with a coherent narrative of significant actions. . . . modernists thought that, since abstraction had arrived at its essence, there was nothing meaningful left for modern artists to do. Painters might not have hung up their brushes, but ‘post-historical abstract painting’ was condemned to insignificance.”
So is Pepe saying that the process of Negation: thesis-antithesis-synthesis leads to the end of abstract painting? Or that “modernists” thought that? I don’t think that’s a reasonable conclusion. As I see it, the synthesis, that residual after the conflict lives on, or as the circles within circles of history, the process repeats and repeats.
What I’m finding inspirational for creating abstract art, Pepe Karmel sees as the end of abstract art. Though we obviously are in thesis and antithesis with no synthesis in sight, it’s still fun to see the connection.
I’m going to continue to dive into the philosophy of dialectic thought while I move to my second call to action “To find the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness; uglify the beautiful, or beautify the ugly.”
Another statement that came up in The Modern and the Postmodern class, “beauty hides the truth” is in stark contrast to Keat’s statement in Ode on a Grecian Urn “Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . .” so there’s a lot to explore there.