Thursday, November 19, 2009
Shape and simplification
OK ... no more math! I'll get back to more of Arnheim's ideas about shape and perception. Apparently, it's the natural tendency of humans to simplify complex shapes when they see them. As Arnheim puts it: "According to the basic law of visual perception, any stimulus pattern tends to be seen in such a way that the resulting structure is as simple as the given conditions permit." That's a fancy way of saying that our minds try to organize what we see in order to simplify it so we can recognize, or make sense, of it. I'll extend beyond Arheim's concept and apply this to painting. When I first look at a stack of eggshells I see chaos. I know they're eggshells, but the jumble of edges and randomness doesn't make much sense to me. At first glance I couldn't tell you how many eggshells are in the stack, how many are right-side up or upside down, or any other number of details that might reveal order or pattern. I realize that if I painted the eggshells just as I see them, I would cause the same type of confusion in the viewer of my painting. So, I look for a way to impose simple order on the eggshell shapes. This is where artistry comes in! We artists must find creative ways to alter what we see so it has meaning and makes sense. The painting I've attached to this blog is called "All Cracked Up VIII." Can you see why I called it that??
But, let's move beyond my work to that of a true genius: Jackson Pollock. At first glance, it's hard to make sense of his drip paintings. But, when I stand before one so that it fully engulfs my entire field of vision, there's a powerful rhythm - a symmetry that you can see and feel. It makes sense!
Or, we can look at a bunch of dots on a Seurat painting and see them as parts of larger shapes. Our brains fuse the dots together in order to simplify the painting so we can understand it. We're always looking for something recognizable and in order to do that, our minds must simplify.
Does this mean that we have to create simple paintings? Not at all. Complexity can be just as effective as simplicity. BUT, complexity must be managed so it can make sense at some level.
I guess this ties in with what I mentioned in my last post. The Renaissance artists wanted to continue the elaborate style of their predecessors, the medieval artists, but they needed to simplify. To do that, they had to impose order. So, I guess I've come full circle back to mathematics! Once a nerd, always a nerd :)