Deliberate Confusion

Organizing chaotic territory is a joy of art.  Arranging notes into a pattern packed with surprises sustains the attention of the artist as well as the audience.  Finding a visual field which threatens to dissolve into chaos offers a delicious challenge. Every visual field gives infinite opportunities for organizing using our knowledge foundation.

Neurology professor, Antonio Damasio points out; we begin with a process of knowing born out of wordless story telling (i.e. story telling with pictures). We then ask questions on the basis of our acquired knowledge. We can’t do otherwise.  We feel a breeze on our face and question what we know about breezes and faces. We had to create a knowledge base before we could recognize the touch of a breeze or even recognize our face and its connection to the breeze.

When we drive down a road we know where we must look; ahead.  We don’t let our vision wander and fall out of focus. The result would be as catastrophic as falling asleep at the wheel. And, we know how to question the visual signs lining up ahead of us. For example, we quickly and subconsciously conclude that a small bright rectangle in front is another car.

When unprompted by a specific task like driving or shopping for groceries or looking for our keys we find ourselves responding to unsolicited prompts like noises or anomalous movements.

In the woods or a marshland we categorize the visual environment based on previous our knowledge. If we stop to examine even a macro environment we try to identify and categorize our field of view. It’s difficult to appreciate how much we don’t see or, how artificial and disconnected from nature is our process of categorizing. As an artist I like to select, like Albrecht Durer, a piece of turf  or a small patch of nature’s chaos and then see how I might reorganize it using conventions from my art historical knowledge.  This process of self-observation improves the process of discovery.

My first example demonstrates how the artist Andy Goldsworthy approaches reorganizing nature within his knowledge foundation.  In example one he arranges an elm branch into a traditional serpentine shape and isolates this shape with colored elm leaves found within this environment.  He draws attention to his pictograph residing within the chaos of nature.

Example 1. Andy Goldsworthy, photo.

Daniel Chard organizes his experience of a moving stream into a similar serpentine shape with a conventional horizon (example 2).

Example 2. Daniel Chard silkscreened image based on a painting.

As I wandered across a small woodland stream I placed my camera inches above the water to make the space feel larger and, to allow me to see from an unfamiliar point of view. The stream here is only inches wide (example 3).  My reordering followed the same conventional knowledge as Goldsworthy and Chard.  I also used the serpentine form.  And, like Chard I used a conventional horizon but, placed it higher my composition allowing the dark foreground to consume more of the image area which has the effect of making the distant meadow and sky feel brighter by contrast (example 4). I used organizing principles such as diagonal counterpoint, perspective of diminishing scale, color recession, overlapping, atmospheric occlusion, contoured planes, and common fate.

Example 3. Photo of macro environment.

Example 4. Reorganized macro environment with oil paint on brushed silver dibond aluminum. 

To stimulate my impulse for reordering space I took two different photos of leaves in space and combined (layered) them (example 5). The resulting image was more confused than if I had used an image without layering. This new enriched chaos gave me more opportunities for reorganizing. I looked into this visual chaos and found a cruciform pattern with more lateral than vertical motion. The image also presented the lateral area as nearer (larger scale) than the vertical area. The area of intersection was another delectable confusion for me. The resulting painted image appears in sequential steps from example 6 to example 7.

Example 5. Layered (combined) photo of leaves in air.

Example 6. Step one, of oil painting “Suspended in a Breeze”

Example 7. Step two, of “Suspended in a Breeze”, present state.

I look forward to seeing students of my Tuesday classes tomorrow on March 28th. This is a make-up class for an earlier snow closing.

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