Posts Tagged ‘Picasso’

Aesthetic Aptitude

October 12, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. When early European naturalists found beautiful creations deep in the Australian forest they thought they had stumbled on fanciful dollhouses made by aboriginal children or their mothers. Actually these artistic creations where the product of birds designing their homes and enhancing their beauty with artistic creations.

Birds are visual creatures. They make quick decisions based on visual information from heights at great speed. Pigeons shown a series of landscape photographs taken successively can detect slight visual differences that are hard for humans to pick up. They can also recognize other pigeons by sight alone. So can chickens. Just because the powerful small central nervous systems of these birds are organized very differently from our own does not mean that they are less capable of exceptional visual perception and fine discriminations.

Shigeru Watanabe of Keio Univereity in Japan studies how other creatures may experience aesthetics. He has tested the ability of birds to discriminate between human paintings of different styles. For example, the ability to discriminate cubist paintings from impressionistic paintings. In an early study he trained eight pigeons to distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. The pigeons came from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons. The paintings came from reproductions in an art book. The experimenters trained the pigeons to spot ten different Picassos and ten different Monets by rewarding them when they correctly pecked at the pictures. Then they tested the birds with new paintings by the artists, never seen during training as well as paintings by different artists in the same style. Not only could the pigeons pick out a new Monet or Picasso, they could also tell other impressionists (Renoir, for example) from other cubists (such as Braque).

From Paradox to Awe

June 18, 2019

This is the eighth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the ninth section of this book.

Rushkoff writes, “Team human has the ability to tolerate and even embrace ambiguity. The stuff that makes our thinking and behavior messy, confusing or anomalous is both our greatest strength and our greatest defense agains the deadening certainty of machine logic.”

In our definitive age, definitive answers are readily at hand. All questions seem to be but a web search aware. Computers are definitive because they have to be. We are mistaken to emulate the certainty of our computers. With computers, there is no in-between state. Ambiguity is not permitted.

Rushkoff argues it is precisely this ambiguity, and our ability to embrace it, that characterizes the collectively felt human experience. Mobiles strips and Zen koans (what is the sound of one hand clapping?) can only be engaged from multiple perspectives and sensibilities. We have two brain hemispheres and it takes both to create the multidimensional conceptual picture we think of as reality.

The brain is not like a computer hard drive. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between things we’ve experienced and data points in the brain. Perception is active, not receptive. There are more neural circuits running down to predict what we perceive than neural circuits leading from our receptors. Our eyes take in 2D fragments and the brain renders them as 3D images. We take abstract concepts and assembly them into a perceived thing or situation. Rushkoff writes, “We don’t see ‘fire truck’ so much as gather details and then manufacture a fire truck.”

Rushkoff continues, “Our ability to be conscious—to have that sense of what-is-it-like-to-see-something—depends on our awareness and participation in interpreting them. Confusing moments provide us opportunities to experience our complicity in reality creation.”

Continuing further, “It’s also what allows us to do all those things that computers have been unable to learn: how to contend with paradox, engage with irony, or even interpret a joke. Doing any of this depends on what neuroscientists call relevance theory. We don’t think and communicate in whole pieces, but infer things based on context. We receive fragments of information from one another and then see what we know about the world to re-create the whole message ourselves. It’s how a joke arrives in your head: some assembly is required, That moment of ‘getting it’ putting together together oneself—is the pleasure of active reception. Ha! and Aha! are very close relatives.”

Rushkoff notes that art, at its best, mines the paradoxes that make humans human. Pro-human art produces open-ended stories, without clear victors or well-defined conflicts. The works don’t answer questions. They raise them. The “problem plays” of Shakespeare defied easy plot analysis, as characters take apparently unmotivated actions. They’re the abstract paintings of Kandinsky or Delaunay, which maintain distance from real-work visual references. These images only sort of represent figures. The observing human mind is the real subject of the work, as it tries and fails to identify objects that correspond perfectly with the images. This process itself mirrors the way our brains identify things in the “real” world by perceiving and assembling fragmented details. Rushkoff writes that this art stretches out the process of seeing and identifying, so we can revel in the strange phenomenon of human perception.

Rushkoff writes, “Loose ends distinguish art from commerce. The best, most humanizing art doesn’t depend on spoilers. What is the ‘spoiler’ in a painting by Picasso or a novel by James Joyce. The impact of a classically structured art film like ‘Citizen Kane’ isn’t compromised even if we know the surprise ending. These masterpieces don’t reward us with answers, but with new sorts of question. Any answers are constructed by the audience, provisionally and collaboratively, through the active interpretation of their work.”

Rushkoff writes that the state of awe may be the peak of human experience. He asks if humans’ unique job is to be conscious, what more human thing can we do than blow our observing minds? Beholding the panoramic view from a mountaintop, witnessing the birth of a child, staring into a starry sky, or standing with thousands of others in march or celebration, all dissolve our sense of self as separate and distinct. We experience ourselves as both the observing eye and the whole of which we are part. Although this is an impossible concept, it is still an undeniable experience of power and passivity, awareness and acceptance.

Psychologists inform us that the experience of awe can counteract self-focus, stress, apathy, and detachment, Awe helps people act with an increased sense of meaning and purpose, turning our attention away from the self and toward our collective self-interest. Awe even regulates the cytokine response and reduces inflammation. New research has shown that after just a few moments of awe, people behave with increased altruism, cooperation, and self-sacrifice. This efficiency suggests that awe makes people feel like part of something larger than themselves, which in turn makes then less narcissistic and more attuned to the needs of those around them.

Rushkoff concludes this section by stating, “True awe is timeless, limitless, and without division. It suggest there is a unifying whole to which we all belong—if only we could hold onto that awareness.”

Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Cortex Down, Then Up

August 15, 2012

For many years creativity was thought to be something for a gifted few. Research in cognitive psychology has indicated that we all have creative potential. It is simply a matter of fostering it. It appears that your prefrontal cortex plays a key role in creativity. Hypoactivity (low) activity in your prefrontal cortex is characteristic of people coming up with new ideas. Indeed, novelty is a necessary condition for creativity. However, novelty is not enough. The idea must be useful or have some artistic value for it to be creative. Here is where critical thinking is involved, and this involves increased activity (hyperactivity) in your prefrontal cortex. If your prefrontal cortex remains in a state of hypoactivity, no worthwhile goal will be achieved unless you want to end up in a psychotic state. Typically the way this will be described is that creativity involves two states. The first state involves the hypoactivity of your prefrontal cortex for the generation of novel ideas. The second state involves the hyperactivity of the prefrontal cortex in which you critically assess these new ideas. In reality, this is not an orderly process. In real life effective creative thought involves the switching between these two stages. First to generate ideas, and second to evaluate them. This becomes an iterative process. The Healthymemory Blog Post “Improving Nonjudgmental Awareness” provides a meditation technique inducing hypoactivity of your prefrontal cortes. The Healthymemory Blog Post “Improving Selective Attention” provides a meditation technique to induce hyperactivty in your prefrontal cortex.

An article in Scientific American Mind1 provides the following tips to maximize your creativity (with some enhancements by your blogger).

Become an expert. If your going to be creative you need something in which to be creative. You need to develop a solid knowledge base to connect remote ideas and to see their relevance to a problem.

Observe. When trying to come up with a new product or service, study how people use what is currently available and what problems they face. If this is an artistic endeavor, try to understand why people like what they like.

Know your audience. Walk in the shoes of the intended consumer. How would child use a remote controller? How would an elderly person access a voting booth. How can I make this for a vegan? How can I produce a piece of art appealing to this audience?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. Seek activities outside your field of expertise. Take a class; read a book; travel to a foreign country. The hope is that new experiences will foster novel thoughts.

Be willing to work alone. Although group brainstorming can help you synthesize your ideas, it is more effective if you have started the creative process on your own.

Talk to outsiders about your work. A different perspective help you see alternative solutions or possible faults with your original idea.

Have fun. Good moods forge remote associations. Up beat music might help, but also makes tasks that demand focus more difficult. To concentrate, dampen your demeanor with sad songs.

Take a nap or let your mind wander. Sleep and daydreaming can make yo work your unconscious mind work on a problem that is stumping you. (This is my favorite technique!)

Take a break. Occupying your mind with a different task can unleash novel solutions. (another personal favorite!)

Challenge yourself. Disrupt you daily routine. Abandon your initial idea (even if it works) and look for a new one. Borrow from other people’s answers and try to improve them.

This last item reminds me of a statement that is attributable to Picasso, I believe (again if I err, please comment and correct me). “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”

1Chrysikou, E, G. (2012). Your Creative Brain at Work. July/August, pp. 24-31

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.