Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

13 APRIL, 2012

From Jell-O to Ballet, 7 Ordinary Things is Extraordinary Slow-Motion

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What German ballet has to do with tea parties, eagleowls, and the hidden beauty of pollination.

When Proust observed that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” he was, of course, being most metaphorical. But, had he lived on to see today, he might have marveled at the way in which our literal “new eyes,” in the form of bleeding-edge camera technology, have enabled us to explore new horizons of perception. Gathered here are seven short films of everyday objects seen in ultra-slow-motion to a striking effect that fascinates, inspires awe, and challenges our most basic assumptions about objects, materials, time, and the fabric of reality.

JELL-O

Pure mesmerism: Jell-O bouncing at 6200 frames per second, a teaser for Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine, one of the 11 best food books of 2011.

CYMBAL

Vibration materializes in this footage filmed on a Phantom HD Gold camera at 1000 frames per second.

The Kid Should See This

BALLET

To take your breath away, Marina Kanno and Giacomo Bevilaqua of Staatsballett Berlin perform several exquisite jumps captured at 1000 frames per second.

Swiss Miss

TEA PARTY DEMOLITION

Exploding eggs, shattering porcelain, and other tea party destruction delights shot with a Phantom Flex camera at a frame rate between 3,200 to 6,900 frames per second.

EAGLEOWL

What buildup, what visceral crescendo in the last five seconds. Show on Photron Full HD High Speed Camera SA2 at 1000 frames per second.

WATER DROP

A spellbinding, sculptural water drop shot at 5000 frames per second with the Phantom Flex camera.

Explore

POLLINATION

Originally featured here in January, alongside Louie Schwartzberg’s chill-inducing TEDxSF talk, this mesmerizing montage of high-speed images reveals the intricate beauty of pollination in a teaser for Schwartzberg’s film, Wings of Life.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 APRIL, 2012

The Age of Insight: How the Cross-Pollination of Art and Science in Early 20th-Century Vienna Shaped Modern Culture

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What Freud has to do with Klimt and the neuroscience of a Beethoven symphony.

Something unusual defined Vienna between 1890 and 1918, something that shaped more of Western culture than we dare suspect — artists, writers, thinkers and scientists across biology, medicine, and psychoanalysis came into regular contact and, in the process of these interactions, steered the course of modern art and science. In The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present (public library), Nobel laureate Eric Kandel traces the spark of this ongoing dialogue between art and science through three key elements: the exchange of insights between seminal modern artists and the members of the Vienna School of Medicine; the Vienna School of Art History’s exploration of the interaction between art and the cognitive psychology of art in the 1930s; and modern science’s relatively nascent preoccupation with an emotional neuroaesthetic, bridging cognitive psychology and biology to examine our perceptual, emotional, and emphatic responses to works of art.

Kandel argues — much like physicist Lawrence Krauss recently suggested — that science and art share the same fundamental questions, but go about answering them in different ways. While brain science is concerned with the mental life that arises from the activity of the brain, including how perception and memory work, and what defines consciousness, art offers insight into the more experiential qualities of mind, like the subjective measures of what certain experiences feel like. Kandel observes:

A brain scan may reveal the neural signs of depression, but a Beethoven symphony reveals what that depression feels like. Both perspectives are necessary if we are to fully grasp the nature of mind, yet they are rarely brought together.

(Cue in Jonah Lehrer’s articulate case for “a fourth culture of knowledge” that brings together the sciences and the humanities for a necessary dialogue that enriches both.)

But among Kandel’s greatest feats is the eloquent, rigorous debunking of the popular myth that bringing the lens of science to art would somehow detract from our enjoyment of the latter. (In the process, he slips in a fine addition to this recent omnibus of definitions of science.)

Science seeks to understand complex processes by reducing them to their essential actions and studying the interplay of those actions — and this reductionist approach extends to art as well. Indeed, my focus on one school of art, consisting of only three major representatives, is an example of this. Some people are concerned that a reductionist analysis will diminish our fascination with art, that it will trivialize art and deprive it of its special force, thereby reducing the beholder’s share to an ordinary brain function. I argue to the contrary, that by encouraging a dialogue between science and art and by encouraging a focus on one mental process at a time, reductionism can expand our vision and give us new insights into the nature and creation of art. These new insights will enable us to perceive unexpected aspects of art that derive from the relationship between biological and psychological phenomena.

He goes on to argue that, rather than reducing the complexity and richness of the art experience, the scientific understanding of the brain and its responses might help us better understand the very impulses and aims of creativity and would “contribute to a broader cultural framework for art history, aesthetics, and cognitive psychology.”

To keep this dialogue between the arts and sciences coherent and maximally meaningful, Kandel focuses his lens on one particular form of art. Portraiture lands itself to scientific exploration uniquely, thanks to a long legacy of studies of human facial emotional expression, shaped by Darwin’s photographic experiments, and a sufficient scientific understanding of how we respond to the facial expressions and body language of others, perceptually, emotionally, and empathically.

Kandel further focuses the discussion on three specific modernist artists — Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele — who “emphasized that the function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths.”

Gustav Klimt, Adele Block-Bauer, 1907. Oil, silver, gold on canvas.

Klimt, for instance, read Darwin and became fascinated by the structures of the cell, which permeated his work. In his iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the small iconographic images on Adele’s dress aren’t mere decoration — they symbolize male and female cells, with rectangles representing sperm and ovals eggs. Kandel writes:

These biologically inspired fertility symbols are designed to match the sitter’s seductive face to her full-blown reproductive capabilities.

(In heartening evidence for the cultural potency of such cross-pollination of disciplines, Adele’s portrait fetched Klimt $135 million — the most ever paid for an individual painting by that point in history, and in stark contrast with Klimt’s otherwise unremarkable career prior.)

Meanwhile, a chain of influential scientists on the Vienna scene, stretching from Second Vienna School of Medicine founder Carl von Rokitansky to Freud, built a new dynamic framework of the human psyche, which radically changed the understanding of the human mind. Through conversations with artists that took place in museums, opera houses, theaters, and coffee houses — the same Enlightenment epicenters Steven Johnson points to as crucial for innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From — these ideas entered the scope of artistic concern and were soon translated onto canvases.

Kandel brings it all together for the modern reader by outlining our current understanding of the science of perception, memory, emotion, empathy, and creativity — in short, what makes us human — and how it shapes our experience of art, making The Age of Insight not just fascinating but necessary.

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10 APRIL, 2012

500,000 Strangers’ Secrets: PostSecret Founder Frank Warren at TED

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Cracking open the shell of the human condition.

A friend once told me she believed secrets were these beautiful things that “break” when shared. But the breakage itself can be a thing of beauty.

Since January 1, 2005, strangers have been writing, drawing, collaging, doodling, and otherwise revealing their most tightly guarded secrets on anonymous postcards and mailing them to Frank Warren’s PostSecret project. Last month, Warren took the TED stage to share the remarkable story of this collective exercise in compassion and crack open the shell of the human condition.

Secrets can take many forms. They can be shocking or silly or soulful. They can connect us with our deepest humanity, or with people we’ll never meet.”

The project has since been adapted in a series of books, dancing in visceral detail across the entire spectrum of being human.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.