The Laws of Nature

Monday, February 15, 2010

Frames and Filters

Wassily Kandinsky

Before I discuss the next section of our book, I must bring attention to the comment that Deborah C. Stearns wrote on yesterday's post. If you haven't yet read it, please do. It sheds a whole new light on the artist's self-analysis that is important to consider. Thank you, Deborah!
Moving on ...

The second section of Chapter 2 in Wendy Richmond's book begins with the sentence: We know the world through frames and filters. She elaborates on the various media, trends, environments, and cultures which are the frames and filters that shape how we think, act, and judge the world around us. Although these influences could become restrictive and inhibiting, Richmond feels that they provide the greatest atmosphere for creativity. How so?

Richmond begins to answer that question by providing a few examples of early influences upon our opinions. She cites the positive connotation we assign to the word "simple" because of Shaker workmanship, or the value given to "Conceptualism" because of Marcel Duschamp's idea, and the importance of "efficiency" because of the Industrial Revolution. She adds that these meanings change with time as new innovations occur and societies change. The author writes: these filters of media, history, and culture are always changing, their influence grows and shrinks depending on time, place, and the person who is looking through them. That's where our own creative freedom lives. Each of us, as individuals, absorbs these filters, and with them we bring our own meaning to a piece of work.

In other words, the artist's job is to bring authenticity to her work by using the frames and filters she has accumulated throughout her life to find her own unique meaning. We've discussed this many times on this blog, and it seems to be emerging in every book I read as a universal truth. Perhaps this is the only way our work can become "original." Repeatedly, I return to Ben Shahn's advice: the artist must first ask, "What kind of person am I?" and then strive to produce art that truly represents "who I am."

And now, your thoughts.


Deborah C. Stearns said...

I like that Richmond acknowledges the contextual nature of the artist's development. We often see artists as influenced by their own personal experience (Frida Kahlo's injury, for example), but the cultural context is obviously influential as well. And art, in turn, becomes one of the frames and filters that influence others.

Thanks for pointing your readers to my comment on yesterday's post. I'm flattered that you considered it a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Stan Kurth said...

It seems to me that the question, "who am I", just might be a little bit introspective? Does anyone else think this way or am I really not understanding that question. Or maybe the answer really is "simple" for everyone else.

The concept of representation is an important frame with constantly changing filters in the progression of my work over 50+ years starting with a small oil painting I completed in 1954 at the age of 5 (I still have it, never sold). As that filter changed, so did my work. I personally have gone through so many changes in life that frames and filters come and go with great frequency. One set of filters, which I won't elaborate on at the moment, almost brought my creativity to a halt. Let's just say it hampered it for almost 2 decades. Cancer brought me out of that period of silly excuses and meanderings. I would still like to know why I'm so driven to paint (create). I really do have to do it. I think only I can answer that question or at least for now, I'm pretty much unwilling to let anyone else answer it. In other words, no one else can paint my picture. On with the quest!

Thank you so much for this blog Kathy! It is the Best!

hw (hallie) farber said...

Frames and filters--sounds restrictive and inhibiting to me. "...they provide the greatest atmosphere for creativity." Perhaps it's a great creative atmosphere because frames and filters sound a bit like cages and censors--we strive to get beyond or around them.

-Don said...

When I read the phrase, "we know the world through frames and filters" my first thought was of television. Not because I used to work in it, but because how I see trends, fads and "news" being forced down our throats from that frame with the filters of those who produce the product. I see the morays of our society shaped and reshaped by this frame and those filters.

Now, if only the frames surrounding the images reflective of my filters could have that sort of an impact!

Hallie, I love your comment - great point.
Stan, I understand your question completely. I'm still learning who I am, but I'm not obsessing it. I got art to create.
Deborah, Yesterday's point was exactly my thoughts, just better voiced than I could have ever written.
Kathy, Thanks for this GREAT BLOG!


Unknown said...

Hi Deborah - I like your observation about the interconnectiveness of art-culture-art. And, I'm still thinking about your comment from yesterday and am thankful that you took the time to construct it. Lots of meat to feast upon.

Hi Stan - Shan's question (What kind of person am I?) is an exercise in introspection, but doesn't require very deep analysis. And, as Deborah pointed out yesterday, we may not be able to provide an accurate answer to it. Perhaps it's more about how we see ourselves, or even who we'd like to be. Finding the answer to the question can be as simple or as complex as we choose to make it, IMHO. It's so very interesting that you own your very first painting! Mine probably ended up in the trash. A health crisis gives us perspective, doesn't it? Our priorities change, and I'm happy that yours enhanced your drive to create art. Your work looks inspired! I can't begin to know where your drive to create comes from, but it's easy to identify the source of my own creativity. I've always thought in pictures, and it's far easier for me to express those thoughts in drawings and paintings than it is in words. Just comes naturally. Thanks so much for adding substance to this blog!

Hi Hallie - I see what you mean, but wonder about how we can get around frames and filters that are part of us. Are they imposed upon us or did they naturally become integrated in our way of thinking as we developed from infancy? It may be impossible to separate the two. Maybe Deborah has some insight into this.

Hi Don - I'm still thinking about this and realize that although the frames and filters are external influences, they act upon us from infancy and become integrated in our way of thinking. Are they an integral part of who we are? Are we really able to fully reject them and exist in a separate world? Personally, I don't think so. For instance, if I moved into a completely foreign culture, say Borneo, I would probably adopt many of their habits and customs. However, I doubt that I would ever stop thinking like a white, middle-aged, female American. If we're imprisoned by these frames and filters, so is everyone else in their own cultures. We are, by nature, social beings.

Nice discussion, everyone!! Thank you.

Celeste Bergin said...

I wonder if these frames and filters are a little about why I notice that mature artists are often good artists! They have lived through so much experience that they know themselves very well and feel more "fully baked" than the younger person. I don't know why I bring age into the mix--except that I really have noticed that artists improve with time. It is a good profession--because people don't have to quit (like basketball players) because they have gotten "too old". Getting old seems to be a plus.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - I like your observation! It's nice to feel like there's a "plus" to getting older (or should I say, more "mature"?) I think that Ben Shahn would agree with you. In his book he wrote that the more life experience an artist has the more informed their work is. And, with time, our technique will improve (hopefully). But, there are always exceptions.

Deborah C. Stearns said...

I think Hallie's point about frames and filters being restricting is true -- our perspective, derived from life experiences and cultural factors, surely does limit our vision somewhat. But without any framework, there is no way of organizing our perceptions, and the world becomes so complex as to be chaotic. If I don't have the construct of "chair", I can't treat this chair as part of a larger category, and must instead approach it as an absolutely new, unique object about which I know nothing. Think how confusing this would be! We have a natural tendency to organize our knowledge and structure the world into categories, in order to simplify our cognitive process. The cost of this simplification is that we may ignore some information and our perception is thus limited. Our assumptions and preconceptions may restrict or even distort our perception of the world. But without structure, the world is simply chaos and we are overwhelmed with a disordered mass of information.

The solution, it seems to me, is twofold. One is to be aware of our preconceptions and assumptions -- in this sense, I come back to Richmond's point about self-knowledge. By being aware of our filters and frames, we can at least be mindful of our biases. Secondly, we should be open-minded. Although we may have certain assumptions about the world, if we are open-minded, we are willing to change our beliefs or overturn our preconceptions when they do not fit. In general, we tend to want to hold onto our beliefs, even when they are not correct, but if we strive to be open-minded, I think we can correct that tendency to some extent.

So I would say that yes, we are limited by our frames and filters, but we are also enriched by them, as they provide a way of structuring our perception. The frames and filters of each artist are part of what give them their unique artist's vision.

Unknown said...

Hi Deborah - again, well stated! I think you're correct. The trick is in becoming fully aware of the frames and filters embedded in our psyche. I think that's an impossible task, but some are obvious and, therefore, easy to identify.

Stan Kurth said...

Yes, what Deborah said! For a long stretch of years I erroneously saw the world with newly found biases that cramped me up creatively. Only when I began seeing the world with a more open mind did my work and work ethic take a positive turn. I'll just say this complex framework and set of filters had to do with a believe system and my ignorance. I still operate under that system but with a better understanding of it and how I contribute to society not take away from it. I'll shut-up now.

Unknown said...

Hi Stan - I like where you're headed with your comment. I think that our general "openess" to all aspects of life is reflected in our art, and informs it. Thanks for adding to this most interesting discussion.