‘The Analysis of Beauty’ by Disinformation – blind spots, kinetic depth effects & evolutionary neuroscience, Joe Banks, δημοσίευση CLOT Magazine [3/10/2022]Marilena Pateraki
The central nervous system is nature’s Sistine Chapel, but we have to bear in mind that the world our senses present to us – this office, my lab, our awareness of time – is a ramshackle construct which our brains have devised to let us get on with the job of maintaining ourselves and reproducing our species. What we see is a highly conventionalised picture, a simple tourist guide to a very strange city. We need to dismantle this ramshackle construct in order to grasp what’s really going on. – J.G. Ballard, 1992
Writing in 1753, in his theoretical magnum-opus “The Analysis of Beauty”, the artist William Hogarth observed that “the mind itself may be so imposed upon as to make the eye see falsely as well as truly”, with the effect that, were it not for the control that the mind exercises over vision, “we should not only see things double, but upside-down, as they are painted upon the retina, and as each eye has distinct sight”. Hogarth also asserted that “experience teaches us that the eye may be subdued and forced into forming and disposing of objects even quite contrary to what it would naturally see them, by the prejudgment of the mind”, stating that “surely this extraordinary perversion of the sight would not have been suffr’d, did it not tend to great and necessary purposes, in rectifying some deficiencies which it would otherwise be subject to” (original spellings).
So, it’s been known for centuries that the light received by human eyes is projected through the pupil onto the back of each eye and that the images formed on the retina are optically upside-down; and it’s obvious from this fact alone that it is the mind which inverts the images we actually perceive, so that our visual sense can be practically useful for the safe navigation of our environment. Likewise, as Hogarth was also aware, it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that the information provided by the eyes consists of not one but two images and that it is again our minds which fuse these images into the single perceptual construct that we perceive as being visual reality.
William Hogarth’s observations about what today we’d refer to as cognitive neuroscience, appeared in the context of the broader discourse contained in his book. The central focus of “The Analysis of Beauty” was Hogarth’s discussion of the aesthetics and symbolism of the S-shaped, (as Hogarth put it) “Serpentine” line, or “Line of Beauty” – the elegant sinusoidal form which Hogarth posited as the essence of beauty, which is the same line that modern physics and mathematics refer to as the sine-wave. Under the aegis of the electronic music and art project Disinformation, I exhibit an art installation called “The Analysis of Beauty”, which uses musical signals from laboratory sine-wave generators, which are then made visible as Serpentine Lines on the screen of a laboratory oscilloscope. The pattern on the oscilloscope screen strongly resembles DNA, and this exhibit was described as “visually sophisticated” and “distinctive and intelligent” by Art Monthly and as “particularly sensuous” by The Wire magazine.
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