Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On dots again

One could state that I have become obsessed by dots, but while writing on my post  Dots rule I remembered art-class in High School (lucky me, because this way I wouldn't have to take a course in biology). When the modern artists were discussed also Pointillism was reviewed: a technique that uses dots instead of brushstrokes to create an image . One known contributor is Georges Seurat (1859 - 1891), of whom the  painting "Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte" (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) is shown below.

In fact, Pointillism was derived from Impressionism. Impressionists wanted to catch the light of the moment in the painting as accurate as they perceived it at the exact moment. To achieve this goal, often colours were blended on the canvas itself instead of on the palette, the brushstrokes were harsh and black was hardly ever used. The reasoning behind this was that even a shadow holds all colours, only it is lacking enough light for our eyes to be able to perceive it. To use black would deny this fact and would deprive the image and experience its quality.

The Pointillist way of achieving the same goal was a bit more artificial:  they tried to replicate the perception itself, by not painting in colours that match as closely as possible the colour(s) perceived. By not physically blending different pigments, but merely placing them next to each other on the canvas, the viewer would in his or her mind automatically recreate the colour intended. The eyes would do the trick, so to speak. You could view this as a kind of optical illusion. To illustrate this, view the next image  for a while and try to distinguish the individual colours you perceive (detail from "La Parade" (The Parade)):

If you look very close (click to enlarge) you will find that in the face there are touches of blue, dark red and perhaps even a hint of green. Colours you wouldn't normally expect in the pink and fleshtones that would be used to paint a face "the old-fashioned" way. The darkness of the hair in the back of the neck is not achieved by black paint, but by dots of dark blues and greens lying very close to each other. Still, when you look, you don't see an alien but a human , in normal human hues.

I was thinking about this again when I was reading my copy of "Beaded Embellishment" by Robin Atkins and Amy C. Clarke. In the book is a high quality picture of a beaded piece by Amy, that when I viewed it with the book at a reading distance in my hands, didn't make much sense. It was named: Apple.

Then it came to me to hold the book at a greater distance and Lo and Behold ... two hands carefully holding an apple came forward, presenting me with its beauty. So vividly that I wanted to take a bite out of it and savour it all to the last piece.

This is exactly what the Impressionists in general and maybe the Pointillists more particularly aimed at: you, the viewer, wanting to be a part of the experience. Looking at a painting had to feel like you were there, at the waterside on a sunday afternoon:  feeling the breeze, the warmth of the sun on your cheeks, hearing children shout and laugh, dogs bark,  and maybe holding an apple and admiring it before eating.

I feel so delighted by the idea that painting and beading to me once again fall into place, though I have never held a brush in my hands for art-purposes since kindergarten. Painting is not my cup of tea, as much as I admire those who do have the gift. It does pose me however with the challenge to blend my beads for the BJP-pieces to come, in a way I feel like I honestly am journalling, beading the experience instead of the mere thought.

I also gained a new appreciation of how intricate our eyes work and work together with our minds in combining (the frequency and intensity of) light and prior expierence, to make sense of a whole that is truely composed of parts. This even to the extend that qualities that are in fact not there are added, like motion:

So I want to leave you with this thought:

"A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind."

Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994) Romanian-born French playwright.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visualization reversed or do you dare?

I won't have to make it any clearer that there are hundreds of ways to visualize a thought, feeling, mood or anything else. There are at least as much roads to visualization as there are people setting their minds and hands to it. In my post Visualization fantastique I gave a couple of examples all based on one piece of music. Now I want to try to trigger your minds in doing exactly the opposite.

A very well known piece of music is "Pictures at an exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881). It was orignally composed for piano around 1874 in honour of the artist and architect Victor Hartman (1834 - 1873), a close friend of Mussorgsky, who had died at the age of only 39. In commemoration of Hartman about 400 pictures were exhibited in the Academy of fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Mussorgsky, still shaken by the sudden death of his good friend and an admirer of his art, then needed only about 6 weeks to compose his virtual tour through the museum.

The original piece consists of 15 movements:
  • Promenade
  • Gnomus The gnome
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Il vecchio castello The old castle
  • Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) Dispute between children at play
  • Bydło Cattle
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Ballet Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
  • Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle also known as 2 Jews, one rich the other poor
  • Promenade
  • Limoges, le marché (La grande nouvelle) The market at Limoges (The great News)
  • Catacombæ (Sepulcrum romanum) and "Cum mortuis in lingua mortua" The Catacombs and With the Dead in a Dead Language
  • Baba-Yaga The Hut on Fowl's Legs
  • The great gates of Kiev The Bogatyr Gates
It is easy to see that Mussorgsky wanted to take his listener by the hand and walk with him through the halls of the Academy. He wanted to recreate in the minds of those who heard his music the pictures he had seen and loved so much. Maybe (but this is a wild guess on my side and not even an educated one at that) he even wanted to make us part of his loss and grief. Unfortunately, most of Hartmans paintings didn't survive today so we do not know what Mussorgsky saw and have little more than his music to testify for their existence.

Apart from the music being very inspirational in itself it has inspired others as well. For example, Maurice Ravel made an orchestration that has now become more known that the original version. But also Emerson, Lake and Palmer have made their own version, as did Isao Tomita. They all added a personal note to their own stroll through the museum and all evoke a different sensation. ELP even went so far as to add a few pieces of their own, thereby making their tour a very personal one.

Now my question to you is: when you listen to the music, what images come to your mind? Are they vivid? Colourful? Real or abstract? Does your imigination cling onto the title of the movement or are you able to let go and just drift away? Does it make a difference whether you listen to the original or to the orchestration?

In order not to give away to much, the pictures in this post are not of the music you can listen to below, nor will I tell you what movement is played except that all videos are of the same movement. Of course it is easy to cheat, as most video's will tel you what movement is played... But face the real challenge and just listen, eyes closed. Do you dare?

The original:

The orchestrated version:

The Emerson, Lake and Palmer version:

The version by Isao Tomita:

An unknown (to me at least) surprising version:

I would love to hear what you come up with and will later share my own visions. If you have any versions I didn't mention, please let me know!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Where am I?

A short time ago I received the question to blog about where I live.... Well, to me it's quite simple: I live in a very small village in The Netherlands. A small country on the north coast of the Norhtsea. No, it's not Danmark. No, our capital is not Brussels. No, we don't speak German (as a matter of fact most of us do, a little, but not as our native language.) 

So now that a few misunderstandings are out of the way, where do I live?

Ok, this might be too general an indication. But at least you have in incling as to where you would fly into if you came over for a cuppa. Just to give you some statistics, The Netherlands are:
  • 41,526 km²  in total
  • of which 18% consists of water
  • and most of which is under sealevel.
  • there are 16,528,699 of us
  • our capital is Amsterdam
  • our government is seated in The Hague
  • and we speak Dutch (which to most foreigners sounds the same as German, but defenitely is not)
If we didn't protect ourselves from al that water, about 40% of our country would disappear, as would the village I live in. The Netherlands would look like the picture on the left.

 But now you still don't know where I live! As I said it is a little village called Kanis, if you want to "fly in" search Kanis, Utrecht with Google Earth and you will almost end up in my backyard. As you will notice it's a very small village, surrounded by lots and lots of farmland. If you have taken a close look at my profile, you will have noticed it says "Kamerik" and not "Kanis". I can tell you why: to the postal service the small place I live in doesn't exist. As far as they are concerned I live in the nearest village, which is called Kamerik, and lies about 1,5 km's south to our village. To make it even more confusing: the community we live in is called Woerden. There is also a little town called Woerden, about 7 km's south.  So how small is a small village and how little is a little town?
  • In my village Kanis live about 600 people, that is including the farms surrounding us
  • In the community of Woerden there are 48,395 people in total, of which 33,927 actually live in the city
To give you a comparison:
  • Amsterdam is our largest city that harbours 1,36 million people including those living in the suburbs
  • New York is the largest city in the United States and has over 8,36 million inhabitants
So now you know where I am. I hope you enjoyed your short visit in my small country. It's nice out here, so you're welcome to visit an find out more about those clogwearing, tulipminded people under the winds of the Nothsea. As long as you never forget:
"Home is where the heart is."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Visualization Fantastique

In my previous post, I wrote about how powerfull visualization is and presented you with a couple of examples for visualizing data. Lately I have found some wonderful videos on YouTube. Among them were a couple of a lovely (piano) piece by the French composer Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918), called Claire de lune or Moonshine.  Debussy was one of the Impressionists and alongside with Maurice Ravel one of the most know composers of his time. The original sheet music looks like this: (Follow the link if you want to download the entire piece. It is free for non-commercial use.)

You have to be able to read the notes to let it speak to you. So it won't be appealing to a lot of people, unless they have had some education in reading musical notation. Of course anyone can listen to the music and let it come to them that way, but today I want to talk visual. That's what this blog is all about now I am officially on the road to the Bead Journal Project 2010.

When I saw the first video I found it astoundingly simple, and at the same time it shows the intricacy of the musical lines so beautifully. It all comes together, even if musical notation isn't your thing: you can litterally see what is going to happen next. The experience of listening and being able to see what you hear is an intriguing one. So please take the time, watch this video, listen to the music and let your imagination do the rest.

This visualization was made by MAM, the Music Animation Machine. Someone has spend years and years of time and effort to be able to convert music to animation. The same way we bead single beads onto cloth, he entered pieces of code after code to start encoding music.

Much earlier Walt Disney had similar ideas when he started his Silly Symphonies in the late 1920's. In 1940 the first full feature film was made with this idea and I think everyone will now know Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. The video below is of the same piece by Debussy, now orchestrated which makes the listening all together different, and with a less abstract visualization. Sadly enough it didn't make it into the full-lenght film, so I am very pleased for technical improvement and the blessings of YouTube.

So when Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-189, American author and poet) says:

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body.
I would like to add:
Open your eyes for anything that you may find of beauty every day, and you will find that it is balm for your mind.


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