Science for Artists

Inspiration and Truth

Metaphor, Structure and Understanding


Painting by Katarina Countiss

Excerpt from Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Bayles, David (Book – 1993) page 109

Making art depends upon noticing things—things about yourself, your methods, your subject matter.  Sooner or later, for instance, every visual artist notices the relationship of the line to the picture’s edge. Before that moment the relationship does not exist; afterwards it’s impossible to imagine it not existing. And from that moment on every new line talks back and forth with the picture’s edge. People who have not yet made this small leap do not see the same picture as those who have—in fact conceptually speaking, they do not even live in the same world.

Your work is the source of unaccountably large number of such relationships. And these relationships, in turn, are a primary source of the richness and complexity in your art. As your art develops, conceptual relationships increasingly define the shape and structure of the world you see. In time, they are the world. Distinctions between you, your work and the world lessen, grow transparent, and finally disappear. In time, trees are once again trees.

Viewed over a span of years, changes in one’s art often reveal a curious patter, swinging irregularly between long periods of quiet refinement, and occasional leaps of runaway change. (And though it’s beyond our purposes here, we can’t help but note the tantalizing similarity between this pattern and the manifestations of chaos theory in mathematics.) Sometimes our perception of the world flows smoothly and continuously from one state to the next, and sometimes it flips over unexpectedly (and irrevocably) into a different configuration entirely. As school kids we memorize the famous examples—like Newton’s apple delivering him the Law of Gravity—but always with the caveat that such events are rare, probably excessively rare. After all, how often does anyone get the chance to rewrite the underlying laws of physics?

Yet it’s demonstrably true that all of us do (from time to time) experience such conceptual jumps, and while ours may not affect the orbit of planets, they markedly affect the way we engage the world around us. Study French, for instance, and you’ll likely spend the first month painstakingly translating it word by word into English to make it understandable. Then one day—voila!—you find yourself reading French without translating it, and a process that was previously enigmatic has become automatic. Or go mushroom hunting with someone who really knows mushrooms, and you’ll endure some downright humiliating outings in which the expert finds all the mushrooms and you find none. But then at some point the world shifts, the woods magically fill—mushrooms everywhere!—and a view that was previously opaque has become transparent.

For the artist, such lightning shifts are a central mechanism of change. They generate the purest form of metaphor: connections are made between unlike things, meanings from one enrich the meanings of the other, and the unlike things become inseparable. Before the leap, there was light and shadow. Afterwards, objects float in a space where light and shadow are indistinguishable from the object they define.

Excerpt from The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in your Own Life by Fritz, Robert (Book – 1989) page 6.

“Amy C. Edmundson in her book A Fuller Explanation describes the concepts of R. Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetic Geometry:

Thinking isolates events: “understanding” then interconnects them. “Understanding is structure,” Fuller declares, for it means establishing the relationship between events.”

Quote from Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication by Maggie Macnab

“Time is intimately tied to space and we travel through pattern to grasp our sense of being.”

Author: KC

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

2 thoughts on “Metaphor, Structure and Understanding

  1. Just as our human eyesight tends to degenerate, our artistic eye tends to sharpen with use. Thanks for the excerpt. I enjoyed it.

    • There’s some interesting evidence that some visual impairments made better artists. Speculations that a few great artists in history had depth perception issues and that made the transcribing of reality onto a flat surface easier. Thanks for your comment!

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