Monday, April 14, 2014
In the construction of two-dimensional imagery there are two basic figure-ground strategies that visual artists have at their disposal. The first strategy is referred to by its namesake as a figure-ground image, which refers to certain objects, points or spaces that are emphasized and easily distinguished from the rest of the image. The rest of the image is then a supporting visual element, and a viewer perceives a separate figure within the ground of the image. The second strategy, known as a field image, refers to the opposite visual effect, in that each part of the image is just as important as every other part. No object, point, or space is emphasized or dominates perception, so viewers perceive the image as a whole: figure enmeshed and intertwined within the ground of the environment itself.
But here's something to make all that come undone. The aforementioned definitions are based on the idea that all humans see the exact same way, but the fact is, we don't. The sequence in which one perceives figure & ground is clearly dependent upon the cultural and economic structures a person was raised in. Comparing specifically, far-eastern cultures to western-european cultures, University of Michigan social psychologists [Hannah-Faye Chua & Richard Nisbett] have done years of research to reveal this phenomenon. Here's a hyper-abridged version of their research, which is extracted from a newspaper article I found in 2005 that conveys the essence of their work.
When shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene. Nisbett illustrated this with a test asking Japanese and Americans to look at pictures of underwater scenes and report what they saw. The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on the bottom and then mention the fish. [View the entire 2005 Associated Press article].
Reading about this research by means of the article I've quoted arrested me, and it has ever since served as a reminder that the worst thing one can do is assume that the person next to you is seeing the same thing you are.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Originally inspired and constructed to illustrate the post I made in December 2013 about interdisciplinary skills, I re-titled and re-contextualized this quatrain here, and then inserted a new image in that post because it's simply a better fit here in the larger scheme of things. The intention is to bring the idea front and center that images have tremendous agility to change meaning and metaphor based on their respective viewing context, and that sometimes they simply offer stronger visual impact when they are viewed in a specific order or sequence.
Each quatrain has syzygy, and for certain some more so than others, like this one, but the project as a whole offers the viewer syzygy, too. Perhaps a better term to describe some of the connective tissue of the project is syncopation, which more commonly defines how music sometimes uses irregularities to make all or part of a composition unified. The placement of irregular notes, beats, or rhythms [visual threads or accents] are critical components that help tie the whole thing together. My intent here is to overlay the concept because it functions very similarly with visual art.
Take a closer look at how not only this assembly fits into the continuum, but how they visually flow from start to finish thus far, and you might see what I mean. One of the intriguing aspects of this process is that the "project's score" just keeps moving forward to wander, wonder, and find the common, the unusual, and the unexpected confluence of language, visual flow and unification.