Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Stimulation of Sight

“The human brain is a cultural artifact.” - Timothy Taylor

Have you ever been standing at the baggage claim watching the luggage go around and you swear that every piece of luggage that comes around looks like yours?

Well, it happens to me and I end up checking the tags of four or five bags that vaguely match the qualities of my bag.
I once spotted and correctly identified someone I had gone to kindergarten with 20 years ago across a crowded subway out of the corner of my eye, but for the life of me, I’m never really sure what my own baggage looks like.

It turns out that the phenomenon of not being able to identify one’s own luggage, but having an exceptional ability to visualize and remember faces is completely normal. When our brains are presented images of faces, very different and larger sections of our brains activate then when we are presented with images of other objects. The way our brains are designed to process different visual stimulation makes logical sense because being able to differentiate between human faces is a much more important survival skill than the ability to identify luggage.

Image courtesy of NSF based on Georgetown’s Computational Neuroscience Lab

Understanding this fact is extremely important to me as an artist because it means one simple thing: when people are exposed to various visual stimuli, their brains are affected in significantly different ways.

This fact partially explains why some people do not enjoy looking at new things, but prefer seeing the same things over and over again. When the brain receives visual stimulation that it has previously processed, it simulates the same sections again, but when faced with new stimulation, the brain has to work hard and activate new sections in order to determine how to process the stimulation. Therefore, the desire for homogeneity of visual stimulation makes a certain amount of logical sense. Most people are risk averse and the mental ease that accompanies seeing the same things repeatedly makes the viewer feel like they are taking fewer risks. Logically then, since most people are risk averse, most people are also visually risk averse.

However, there could be extremely great benefits to taking more visual risks. For the past century, there have been massive gains in IQ points from one generation to the next. This phenomenon is called “the Flynn effect” after psychologist James R. Flynn. There are a great number of potential reasons for this effect ranging from the possibility that the tests are fundamentally flawed to simply better nutrition in the general population. Another explanation for the gain in IQ points is that environmental changes due to modernization have meant that people are utilizing more of their brains in more complex ways than they have in the past. The Oct. 2007 Scientific American Mind Magazine describes this phenomenon. An example of how this expanded use of mental capabilities over the past few generations can be seen in the development of television shows. In the 1950’s, shows like “I Love Lucy” revolved around three or four characters in one location at one time, while contemporary shows like “24” involve dozens of characters in multiple locations over large spans of time. Watching contemporary television requires the viewer’s brain to coordinate memory, location and a host of other functions in ways that were not used even one generation back on such a regular basis.

This does not mean that people in past generations were not as smart as people today, but it means that they may have used their brains differently. When asked a question like,” What do a dog and a cat have in common?” a large proportion of the modern population will answer that they are both mammals, which is an abstract answer while people a century ago would have been more likely to answer that a dog chases a cat, which is a concrete answer. Neither answer is incorrect, but the abstract answer requires a more complex thought process.

October 2007 Scientific American Mind Magazine

If the hypothesis that stimulating different parts of the brain in complex ways can lead to a higher IQ is correct and if the brain responds differently to different visual stimuli, isn’t it logical that if you seek out new and different visual art, you will benefit from your brain’s added activity?

So in other words, shouldn’t everyone be out looking for the newest and wildest art even if they don’t like it? And as artists, isn’t part of our job to provide new ways of seeing rather than re-hashing visuals that our brains already know how to process? Maybe making work that most people cannot relate to and therefore do not like is an acceptable goal …

So do yourself a favor, rather than just making a New Year’s resolution to get back in the gym to make your body stronger, why not make your mind stronger by seeking out visual art that you’ve never seen before?

Luggage Sculpture
Airport Santiago, Chile

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Diet presents Brian Burkhardt’s Word of Mouth

David Jones and Walker Pickering from PhotoAwesome
and Steve Aishman interview Brian Burkhardt at Gallery Diet. 2007 Art Basel.

YouTube version

iPod version

Douglas Weathersby and Michael Mittelman at Aqua Wynwood

David Jones and Walker Pickering from PhotoAwesome
Interview Douglas Weathersby and Michael Mittelman at Aqua Wynwood. 2007 Art Basel.
YouTube version
iPod version

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scope Miami Day01

Some quick images from Scope Miami

Rhys Gallery @ Scope Miami with Mark Chariker's work on the right and Nick Rodrigues on the left.

Judi Rotenberg Gallery @ Scope Miami with Brian Burkhardt's work in the foreground.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Phantom Zone Astrological Predictions for Miami Basel 2007

Based on the Cosmic Calendar, Prof. Steve Aishman has prepared his astrological predictions for people going to Miami Basel 2007.

Find your astrological sign and have your future revealed to you!

The Collector:
You will feel pissed because the once elite fairs have doubled in size to over 50,000 visitors. Middle-to-Upper-Class-Riff-Raff (or MUCRRs for short) will be everywhere. You will decide that Miami Basel was much cooler two years ago before anyone with a little money to spend learned that prestige could be bought while on vacation at an art fair.

The Art Vacationer:
You will feel confused over what the big deal is. You will have seen more Picasso’s the last time you went to the Met and you will not find any of the art “deals” people are talking about. While you are going to Miami planning on finding a small something for your summer home, you’ll decide that even the least expensive art piece is way over-priced.

The Curator:
You will feel let down because all of the galleries you are going to see will bring their most conservative pieces to increase sales to the MUCRRs. The few galleries that will take risks will prove to be uninteresting.

The Gallery Owner:
You will feel cheated because the public has decided that Miami Basel is a social event rather than venue to purchase art. You will waste 3 days explaining your artists’ work to MUCRRs who will insist on telling you that they “just really love the work” and have no intention of buying. You will decide that most people don’t understand that Miami Basel is a huge investment that demands a return.

The Gallery Worker:
You will feel over-stressed and under-paid. You will discover that most people are expecting luxury treatment in a 12’x12’ booth. You will spend most of your time explaining that “you don’t have work by that artist that someone once saw somewhere”.

The Celebrities, the Wanna-be-Celebrities and the Fashionistas:
Who cares about how you’ll feel? All that matters is that more people will be looking at you than the art.

The Art Critic:
You will feel like you have to write something, but what is there to write about? Miami Basel is not an exhibition, so how can you criticize it? You will feel like a fashion critic trying to write intelligently about a trip to the mall.

The Unrepresented Artist:
You will feel like you wasted your time and money because the smaller, more exciting satellite venues like Scope and Aqua will be overwhelmed with people. The gallery owners will not have time to talk with you and they definitely will not have time to look up your website. So you will have wasted time and money getting to Miami that you should have spent on new work.

The Represented Artist:
You will feel like maybe your gallery is thinking of dropping you because of lack-luster sales, but it’s not your fault! CNN is throwing around the word “recession” like it’s as inevitable as global warming. What does your gallery think that this is the late 90’s and art-work is just flying off of the walls?

The Business-People-Who-Don’t-Care-at-All-About-Art
You will feel that the drinks and clubs were great and that you made lots of solid business connections. Of all of the groups, you are the only one who will actually get what they went to Miami for.

Everyone Else in Miami:
You will feel like there was an asshole convention in town.

Everyone Else in America:
Miami what?

Everyone else in the World:
Upon discovering what Americans spend their time and money on, you will feel like you got screwed.

Me at Miami Basel 2006

Zombie Walk at a Mall