Science for Artists

Inspiration and Truth


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The Breaking Wave Off Kanagawa
. Also called The Great Wave. Woodblock print from Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Fuji, which are the high point of Japanese prints. The original is at the Hakone Museum in Japan.

Excerpt from How the Mind Works by Pinker, Steven (Book – 1999)


Can anything be said about the psychology of good art? The philosopher Nelson Goodman came up with an insight while examining the difference between art and other symbols. Suppose by coincidence an electrocardiogram and a Hokusai drawing of Mount Fuji both consisted of the same jagged line. Both tracing stand for something, but the only part of the electrocardiogram that matters is the position of each point that the line passes through. Its color and thickness, the size of the tracing, and the color and shading of the paper are irrelevant. If they were changed, the diagram would remain the same. But in the Hokusai drawing, none of the features maybe ignored or casually altered; any might have been deliberately crafted by the artist. Goodman calls this property of art “repleteness.”

A good artist takes advantage of repleteness and puts every aspect of the medium to good use. She might as well do so. She already has the eye and ear of the audience, and the work, having no practical function, does not have to meet any demanding mechanical specifications; every part is up for grabs. Heathcliff has to show his passion and fury somewhere; why not against the stormy, spooky Yorkshire moors? A scene has to be painted with brushstrokes; why not use jarring swirls to enhance the impact of a starry night, or a smudge of green on a face to give the impression of the dappled reflections that define a mood of a pastoral scene?…

…A skillful use of repleteness impresses us not only by evoking a pleasurable feeling through several channels at once. Some of the parts are anomalous at first, and in resolving the anomaly we discover for ourselves the clever ways in which the artist shaped the different parts of the medium to do the same thing at the same time. Why, we ask ourselves, did a howling wind suddenly come up? Why does the lady have a green spot on her cheek? Why is a love song talking about musical keys? In solving the puzzles, the audience is led to pay attention to an ordinarily inconspicuous part of the medium, and the desired effect is reinforced.

Author: KC

I am Katarina Countiss, a multimedia designer. I like blogs, games, art and technology. I am curious about how things are made.

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