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Posts by Steve Durbin

Cubism creation myths

My hazy recollection is that I  first heard cubism explained as a style that showed multiple points of view in a single painting. That may be fairly typical of the popular conception of what cubism is. But since one often has difficulty even telling what the subject is, it’s pretty clear that maximizing information conveyed was not the main motivation for Picasso, Braque, and company. I’ve long felt that I didn’t really have much grasp of what cubism really was, of what the artists cared about and thought about. Following are some snippets I’ve encountered, in no particular order.

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Dark blue snow

I just visited the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where I saw, among other things, a couple of Rothko paintings and a Barnett Newman. Maybe that’s why this installment of the continuing Yellowstone day is more colorful than previous ones (see parts one and two).

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Texture of time

Continuing my recent Yellowstone visit after leaving the geyser basin, I headed for for the Canyon area. In the past I’ve tended to focus on the magnificent falls there. This year, extra deep snow made access to the best locations difficult (not to mention forbidden, though that’s of lesser concern). I spent my time instead looking at the steeply sloping walls of the V-shaped canyon carved by the river.


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What You See Is What You Feel

Frank Stella famously said “what you see is what you see.” He wanted to stay close to perception and not stray too far into literary or personal interpretations. My title, cribbed from an article in Science, refers not to the invasion of personal emotion, but about the recently experimentally observed influence of literal, tactile touch sensations on visual experience.

Stare at a waterfall long enough, and nearby stationary objects such as rocks and trees will seem to drift up. The optical illusion is called motion aftereffect, and it may trick more than just your eyes, according to a new study. When subjects watched a stationary stripe on a computer screen after a machine stroked their fingertips, the motion of the stroking created the illusion that the stripe was moving. The discovery demonstrates for the first time a two-way crosstalk between touch and vision, challenging long-held notions of how the brain organizes the senses.

I guess the neuroscience of what’s involved here may similar to the sight-sound synaesthesia we’ve discussed before (see comments discussions here and especially here). But this is the first I’ve heard of a tactile version of it. Has anybody out there had experiences along those lines? Other than seeing stars when you bump your head?

Devastations dark and bright

I drove through parts of Yellowstone a week ago, just a day after the Park (as it’s known locally) opened to automobiles. (I had been hoping to bike in the car-free weeks before that, as I normally do, but the weather was uncooperative.) Despite my regular visits, and posts to this blog, I realized I’ve never shown any photographs of the thermal features for which Yellowstone is justly famous. I have made a few before—surprisingly few—but somehow they never appealed much to me. For some reason I can’t put my finger on, this time felt different, and there are several images I’m willing to publish.

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Here’s conceptual art you gotta love. Or maybe it’s sociology with an artist’s flair. This is the concept from art student Kacie Kinzer:

In New York, we are very occupied with getting from one place to another. I wondered: could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it? More importantly, how could our actions be seen within a larger context of human connection that emerges from the complexity of the city itself? To answer these questions, I built robots.

Her “robots” are simple wind-up toys with a sign on a pole. They don’t fit the usual definition of being able to respond to their environment. But their environment—particularly the human environment—can surely respond to them. New Yorkers defied all the unfair stereotypes by helping the tweenbot on its mission to cross Washington Park:

See the web site for a number of still images, and future plans. YouTube already has a video clip of the first art of juxtaposition based on tweenbots. Leslie, maybe your show needs a bot.

Art (criticism) and perception

One of our shticks at A&P (in a good way) has been our interest in learning about perception through findings in neuroscience, psychophysics, and related fields, as well as through introspective observation of our own seeing and art-making. Though this interest is not unique to A&P, it certainly isn’t very common, either. So I was delighted to come across two examples in a day of cognitive science finding mention in current art criticism at a rather higher level of visibility. It was especially nice that these references truly illuminated the discussion of the art viewer, in one case, and the artist, in the second.

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