Monday, April 21, 2014

Quatrain #32: Nailed It

Not many ways to express this sort of experience other than shouting, "YES, nailed it!" It was like this after working for weeks on a new website design that took me into the deep, dark, depths of Javascript. It never ceases to amaze me how long it might take to learn something new. In my case it was something as simple as creating a thumbnail rollover to produce a caption under an image. Sounds simple enough, right? Why yes, it only took me about five days to get a handle on, and then perfect the code so it would operate as envisioned. Perseverance is the key to success in so many things. Regardless of the sometimes down-and-out, can't-see-the-forest-through-the-trees, I'm-going-to-try-this-one-more-time state of being, the commitment to finish a job and obtain results after such a long time, is incredibly satisfying.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Quatrain #31: Figure & Ground

Figure is the object of attention; ground is everything else in the perceptual field. The relationship between figure & ground is always bound together because it is quite simply one of the most fundamental aspects of human perception that enables us to identify, order, and group information, process it, and ultimately make sense or meaning from it. We just can't help it. It's just what the brain does with visual information. So as far as the visual arts goes, if there is a strong figure-ground relationship, then the perception of an image is strengthened and offers greater clarity to convey ideas to a viewer. It seems as if no matter how hard one works at it, figure cannot exist without ground.

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

Quatrain #30: Syzygy & Syncopation

Syzygy is a term used in poetry to define rhythmic structure [meter] of a verse, but it is also a term used to define the perception of a linear configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system. Let's say for example that one evening you saw the planets Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury in proximity to one another — it's a syzygy.

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.