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Do you see the invisible man?

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I was fascinated by this article and these this series of photos of Liu Bolin, a Chinese artist who makes himself invisible through his art.

I was also very interested in the concept behind his art, which he views as acts of protest that which is not seen. For example, his grocery store art was motivated by his sense of helplessness at food additives.

"He said the inspiration behind his work was a sense of not fitting in to modern society and as a silent protest against the Government's persecution of artists.

He said: "Some people call me the invisible man, but for me it's what is not seen in a picture which is really what tells the story.

"After graduating from school I couldn't find suitable work and I felt there was no place for me in society. I experienced the dark side of society, without social relations, and had a feeling that no one cared about me, I felt myself unnecessary in this world.

"From that time, my attitude turned from dependence into revolting against the system."

I find art most interesting when it is used to illustrate an idea, when it helps us to "see" what we could not see. That was definitely my experience with this series of photos.

Thirty people worked for 1,357 hours over 22 months to create the stop-motion animation music video for singer Kina Grannis's sweet song, "In your arms." What did they do? They could have used CGI, of course, but they didn't. They created images with 288,000 jelly beans, one image after another, then carefully photographed each image--2,460 frames in all--with a still camera. Iconic memory does the rest.

Is it cranky for me to point out that 30 people working full-time over 22 months would be 110,000 hours (it is standard to assume that a full-time position is 2,000 hours per year.) Was the team that created this video dedicated but under-employed artists? So it must be a labor of love.

If you are curious about how it was actually done (a very interesting video, actually):

Screen shot 2011-10-12 at 10.35.34 AM.png My older sister recently directed me to the "Color Sense Game", a series of images and words created by the marketing group at Pittsburgh Paints that are supposed to reveal the color palette that is "...all about you, your personality, your style, your senses....Now you have a starting point for designing your entire space around your personality, your style, and your own five senses." It sounded fun to me, and I was curious, too. You can take it yourself by clicking HERE.

So who are you? Are you the "eternally feminine" "Morning Rose?" fresh and outdoorsy "Al Fresco?" Perhaps, "Pop Art"? The color scheme of Pop Art is for those who are "lighthearted and daring, for those who don't always play by the rules, and for those who live to laugh out loud." My illustration here is from the Pop Art page; I chose it over others because its colors are so bright...and because I like the parrot. Parrots are cool. (All the categories are HERE).

And why would you care? Why would you want to know which palette you "feel"? Pittsburgh Paint assures us that this knowledge will simplify your life ! "The ColorSense Game 2.0 eliminates the feeling of having too many choices and offers you your own personal set of colors for all the design elements in your room or space."
So you, too, can "create beautiful and harmonious atmospheres for your home." It's a win-win. Your spaces are beautifully decorated. Your life is more simple. Pittsburgh Paints sells more product.

While I am confident that this game wouldn't meet UM standards of reliability and validity for personality measurement, I was interested professionally as well. I have thought for a long time that psychologists have not paid enough attention to aesthetics, the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and art. If you believe, as I do, that Art is of fundamental importance to human well-being, then you can appreciate why this question interests me. It seems to me, at least based on anecdotes, that what we find beautiful inspires us, pulls us out of our petty concerns; beauty leads us to contemplate the world with fresh eyes and to behave towards others more generously, more kindly, more justly.

But how would one study something as subjective as "beauty?" We find beauty in different things, and there are huge individual differences in the degree to which we are touched by beauty. Where would a psychologist start? The kinds of items that the Pittsburgh Paints marketing team put together seem to me to exactly the kind of visual and verbal stimuli that might work as variables to study "beauty." Not only fun, fun, fun, but potentially useful. We could start by trying to identify what people find beautiful and what the impact of that beauty is on their behavior.

What about you? What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen? Do you think it had an impact on you?


Usually, research on the brain goes from something presented to the brain--an image, for example--to brain activity in response to that image. However, in this line of research, the researchers are doing the opposite. They started with brain activity that was generated when participants viewed something and then tried to infer what that something was. Really cool stuff!

What you are seeing in this video is a compilation of the brain activity of three subjects. If you watch carefully, for each stimulus on the left, you will see three brief recreations of what the brain recorded on the right, one from each subject.

I was especially struck that the subjects "saw" scenes with Steve Martin but their brains didn't register the details of the set behind him. This is consistent with research on inattentional blindness; astonishingly, our sense of a unified and rich reality is an illusion. We actually attend to three or four things in our environment, and the rest is filled in by the brain. I find this very profound. Do you?

Dalmatian illusion.pngHere's a classic visual illusion of a dalmatian dog in a sun-dappled field, but really, all you see are black dots against a white background. Our brain makes sense out of this black and white stimuli, and "sees" the dog.

This summer I was hiking and suddenly, from the underbrush, in romped the dog seen in the second photo. He posed briefly, then dashed off to join his walking companion.

Dalmatian in France.pngAnd thus does life mimic art.



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