Artist reflections on perspective maps and mirror drawing on the “right side of the brain”

I would like to take a moment to draw a few threads together. Firstly however, I’ll relate a personal experience:

Many years ago a little boy was drawing the most beautiful, elaborate birds. They had wings, eyes, tails, legs, feathers in a range of colours. They were very detailed and considered images that involved the act of looking at birds and recording their features. Then one day the drawings stopped. Instead the boy was drawing an icon of a bird: a big letter ‘M’ for wings with a triangle for a beak. His mother was devastated. What had happened? It turns out someone at school had told him that his (original) birds did not look like birds, and showed him how to draw them the “right” way. It was a tragedy! The bird drawings were reduced to symbols, a means of communicating the concept of a bird rather than rich, creative explorations that involved looking and learning from was observed. I don’t know if she (the mother) ever got that door open again…

I feel very strongly that people – children especially – should be encouraged towards creative exploration. And I think that acknowledging there are many ways of seeing plays a role in this (such as our different points of view when taking the photos that make up our collaborative perspective maps). Another very tangible aspect to this position is the way the brain works, theory which informed our earlier mirror-symmetry drawing exercises. These ideas relate to one-another as follows:

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Artist reflections on Gestalt discussions

Explaining the concept of Gestalt or a composition to 6-10 year olds has challenged (and improved! 🙂 my ability to communicate it.

When I talk about Gestalt I mean ”visual composition” or where ”the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Art theorist, author and perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim is very articulate on the subject: he describes Gestalt Perception as a foundation of visual perception and draws on an 1890 essay by Christian von Ehrenfels to explain it with evidence from an example: “if each of 12 observers listened to 1 of 12 tones of a melody, the sum of their experiences would not correspond to what would be perceived if someone listened to the whole melody.” (“Gestaltqualitäten.” Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 1890, vol. 14, pp.249-292.) For Arnheim, “all perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.” Furthermore, Gestalt psychology’s position ‘’that vision is creative and not just a ‘mechanical recording of sensory elements’” asserts that the experience of seeing is not just “an entirely subjective imposition of shape and meaning upon reality” but rather “the process of looking at the world [is] an interplay between properties supplied by the object and the nature of the observing subject.” (See Arnheim, R., Introduction, in Art and Visual Perception A Psychology of the Creative Eye. 1954, University of California Press: Berkeley. pp. i-ix.)

While Gestalt, composition, the role of interpretation and the subjectivity of seeing are difficult concepts to convey to people who are only just learning to think abstractly; I am finding that these children are getting there. Remarkably quickly, in fact. Even by the end of Thursday I  had seen an improvement in their comprehension of these ideas. (Their open-ness and flexibility in learning has impressed me, along with how good the teaching staff are with facilitating this development and student absorption and exploration of ideas).

In attempting to convey the concepts we have been talking about Recipes as opposed to a mish mash of ingredients; of the balance, perseverance and ‘heart’ or spiritual aspects involved in Andy Goldsworthy‘s landscape artworks as opposed to them being simply a pile of stones. We have also talked about the face composition that emerges from what otherwise could be simply a collection of food scraps or utensils in Jan Svankmajer’s “Dimensions of Dialogue” stop motion animation or Arcimboldo’s Summer oil on canvas.

So now when I point to a picture of a spoon in an artwork to ask ‘what is this?’ the answers I get include spoon but also ‘nose’; acknowledging the role of the composition and their understanding in what they see. Thus we also reinforce their understanding that perception is constructed, that interpretation plays a role in what we see, and that there are many different “ways of seeing“.

Day 8: Typologies, Perspective maps and Composites

One of the exercises I had prepared for the students, and a primary reason for acquiring the digital cameras, was the creation of what I term “Perspective Maps”. These draw on the Typologies of the Bechers, mentioned earlier. However, instead of comparing different instances of the same object type (watertower or gas tank, for example), the perspective maps compare different perspectives of the same object. They are intended to reveal the different ways we see the same thing; our different perspectives. This is, in a sense, an inversion of how the Bechers’ typologies function. That is, in their work the ideal form of the object – the idea of what a water tower is, for example – is being compared. On the other hand in the Perspective maps it is the subjectivity of the observer that is being compared.

In our perspective maps we are studying the different ways we – people – see the forest. So we are photographing trees. The children’s differences in perspective include looking up, looking down, standing far away to take the whole tree in, photographing it up close to focus on the texture, etc. All of these are different perspectives of the same object.

The perspective maps investigate the different ways we all see the same thing. They are group efforts at making a composition. Like the Bechers, the approach taken is quite clinical:

  1. Divide into groups of 10-15 students
  2. Each group to choose a tree. This was done during the walk on our excursion to Walkabout Creek in The Gap on 28 July.
  3. Take turns photographing this tree. Thus each person takes one photograph of it. This choice of vantage point and composition is a personal, private step.
  4. Consolidate all the photographs into a matrix. Study and compare these to understand and discuss this tree, our understandings of this tree and of nature. Discussions of composition within the frame, such as decisions made by the photographer, are also facilitated by this process.

During our excursion we broke into 3 groups. The 3 Perspective maps are shown below.

      

Composites

During the process of assembling the perspective maps I also had the idea of compositing, or layering them on top of one-another. The resulting 3 images are, I think quite successful aesthetically. They are shown below.

We discussed all of these in class on Thursday 4th August. Our discussion reviewed how each of these composite images reveals something about the perspective maps – whether its pulling out distinct features such as the sillhoutte of the trunk and strangler fig vine in group 3 or the fan palm fronds as a texture in group 2 or a combination of these in group 1’s maps.

 

Perhaps it was inevitable, but I didn’t see it coming: during this class discussion one of the students said she wondered what would happen if we were to combine ALL the images (i.e. all the children’s photos of all 3 different trees)?? I quickly combined them there and then, and we discussed the result. It is also shown below. The students commented on how it was ‘blurry’ and I agreed that often things can turn ‘muddy’ when you mix too many elements, or colours… Some other students however asserted that they could still see all of the individual elements of sillhouetted trunks and the textures made by contrasting leaves and sunlight. Upon reflection now it occurs to me that colour palette is another aspect of these different compositions that prevailed and provided visual unity – the same could not be said if some of the maps were of urban images or taken at sunrise or in the moonlight.

Day 5: Excursion No. 2 to Walkabout Creek, The Gap

Our full day excursion to walkabout creek involved doing rubbings of found objects, doing tai-chi and studying the wildlife. It also involved a visit to the wildlife centre.

Our excursion also involved going for a walk in the forest. We went part-way along the Aracuria track. Many different things were observed during this walk and we reflected on these and our wildlife centre experiences in our visual diaries.

Some of the animals encountered, things we saw or experienced are shown below. Many more images are on page 2.

Child reflections on the day Along the track we see Enogerra reservoir in the distance

Child working on Perspective Map 1  (Left) Child working on Perspective Map 1.

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