Archives for the month of: January, 2011

I recently watched a video on Visual Art and Color from The Science of the Arts conference, hosted by the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins.

The panel of speakers, Jeremy Nathans (Biologist, Johns Hopkins?), Margaret Livingstone (Neuroscientist, Harvard), and William Stoehr (Boulder Artist), had many compelling ideas to share, with good scientific background: Color provides information about identity; The yellow from the light wavelength spectrum is not physically the same yellow that comes from combining the red and green wavelengths; We visually process images (and in particular, faces) by how they differ from the average; and more.

At the very end of the panel discussion, a provocative question was raised in the audience: If color is helpful for survival, what is the survival advantage of art? Jeremy Nathans proposed that art is something of an epi-phenomenon – because our brains are so powerful and built to manage so much complexity, art probably arose as a “side effect”, but it’s not essential. However, Margaret Livingstone commented that art comes out of communication, which is a fairly low-level survival skill, implying that there is a possibility that art is a necessary survival skill in some way.

And my thought is, besides storytelling, communication, and other historical reasons, there is something in the undercurrent of art that is necessary for our brain function. The ability to innovate, build, and even survive seems highly dependent on the process of switching back and forth from verbal to non-verbal (see recent post), and there is no way we could have evolved into the society that we are now without that creative process and expression. Perhaps there is a difference between art that is necessary for the individual’s survival vs. art necessary for society’s survival?

In between trying to perfect my process of printing the very large hand, I’m trying to distract myself with another piece.

I grew up around big buildings and construction sites – my dad is in the construction industry. I have a strange love for the smell of sawdust and melted sotter. For me growing up, being around large buildings was natural, so I grew used to tramping around jobsites with an oversized hardhat on, looking at pipe & steel girders, and riding dirty construction elevators. I love the way a building represents so many things in our material and social worlds – shelter, community, work, intricate parts fit together by so many different workers, upholding our society for so many generations now. There is something comforting about the ability to put something so complex down on paper in coded image form and then slowly over time hundreds of people stitch the whole thing together. Kind of like art.

So, I’ve started working with scraps of blueprints that I’ve collected. I began this piece by collaging the scraps onto a piece of plywood:

Tapping into the figure drawing class again, I cut out one of my sketches – the shape of a hand resting on a leg – and attached it in the lower right corner:

Next I pulled out another big scrap bin and cut up pieces of financial outlook statements. I love the blues that are showing in here, and so I also added some other loose long scraps on the left, not shown:

Finally, I printed an image that I created last year of an airplane engine, onto a large sheet of sheer paper, and then pasted the whole thing on top, so that all of the images I describe above were obscured:

Strangely, all of these images came to me separately, but this whole thing weaves a story of 9/11 that I wasn’t expecting. I’m from the east, and I’ve been on the construction sites of several huge buildings in NYC, including the new World Trade Center (expect a future blog post on this). And the WTC resides in the heart of the financial district. Somehow the hand seems to be one at rest, calm yet strong, our people? And then the overlay of the plane, taking down what was once structural and whole and sending it back to the beginning.