I once sat beside a mathematically oriented professional investor. When I mentioned my interests revolved around making arresting images he confessed he just was not interested in pictures and couldn’t see their value in his world. I wagered that he could change. He was doubtful. I suggested he bring his way of looking at the world to pictures. His world was all about quantifying value in subjects. If he could find a reliable method for quantifying value in pictures then they could be interesting. We considered how galleries, auctions, museums, and others went about assessing and generating values in pictures. He confessed, he was now interested in pictures but, he was not seeing them in the way I was seeing them. His visual system, like mine, depended on his training, personal proclivities, his livelihood, and his own sense of present and future reward. We only see what we have learned to see. We see what we need and want to see. We look where we expect to look; where we expect to find interest. We fail to see most of what’s in front of us. We also fail to hear but a bit, smell but a bit, feel but a small bit of it all. We couldn’t take it all in if we wanted to, just as Ernst Gombrich, perceptual psychologists like Eric Kandel, Neuroscientists like Richard Gregory and popular authors like Alexandra Horowitz with her new book, “On Looking” have all explained. When we first wake in the morning and momentarily find ourselves looking at blurry world it’s because our brain is rapidly restoring our capacity to see and organize what we see. We translate sounds rapidly into words and, we translate our field of vision rapidly into meaningful categories. We categorize on the basis of our training, our interests. We always categorize and, what we see depends upon how we categorize, whether we are structural engineers or painters. I have turned to perceptual psychology and neuroscience discoveries to help me understand how we attend to visual surprises. I know we all respond to interruptions in continuities. In information theory this is the definition of meaning: where change happens. If the interruption is not large enough to attract our selective attention then we fail to notice, we fail to see. A big explosion will attract us all. Our survival depends upon it. The hum of a bee or the sound of pigeons flapping in a city park may not make it the threshold of change information unless we are looking for that. As an artist I know I see textures and colors more comprehensively because I am looking there. I see differently. How can I deliver my visual discoveries to others? My quest is: how to get the attention of people who are already inclined to look for an aesthetic charge on a two dimensional square field? I want arresting images. If they are just nice, good, or competent then, I am going to start over. I want exciting images however that comes. And, it comes through visual narrative, visual juxtapositions of design, color, texture, values, shapes, orientations, elevations, and other visual modes. Here is a trail of examples of my frustrations and, how, desperately seeking excitement I started over.
In my first example, I have a landscape of mine, conventionally designed with a serpentine meander, red/green complementary harmonies, deep blue to lighter values for recessive space, a use of scale shifts and atmospheric perspective for a sense of depth and, a variety of other conventions employed to create a serene and inviting landscape. It struck me as boring. In example two , I overlaid this landscape with a pattern of split adjacent complementary colors (cerulean blue and a ochre like yellow) which was divided in to rhythmic twisting patterns revealing parts of the old landscape underneath. Still, It was not exciting for me. In example 3, recovered the image again this time using a violet and yellow complementary harmony and slower color and value transitions for a greater sense of space. In example four, I turned the painting to exploit the light to dark progression. I again removed paint to reveal parts of the older painting but, this time I wanted a receding flat plane moving against a vertical plane of curving forms. I thought this was more exciting. I used more perceptual psychology and , information theory in designing this image.
In my next set of examples I revisit a painting which I showed in an earlier blogpost but, have since deconstructed and refit into a new image. Watch the progression as I desperately seek an exciting image. In example 6, I have a complementary color arrangement of an aerial perspective with a tilted viewing angle of landing at New York’s LaGuardia airport. In example 7, I tried to boost the color and value contrast hoping to make a more arresting image. In example 8, I further boosted the contrast. In example 9, I overlaid a perspective grid of even higher contrast. In example 10, I turned example 9 on its side to exploit the linear perspective grid in preparation for example 11 which is a view of Times Square. I exploited the underlaying colors of example 10 and its perspective system.