Over 40% of our brains are devoted to visual reception and processing.
We’re capable of editing, sifting, receiving and making sense of visual data faster than any current computer CPU, with iterations happening so quickly, we’re able to analyze, synthesize and process all aspects of space, location, distance and position in an instant. In addition to understanding our position and relation in physical space, we’re also rapidly investigating individual objects, light, texture, personal relationships, memories and plans–while instantaneously seeking anomalies.
During my studies in English, I pursued serious creative writing (largely poetry). One thing vastly different professors agreed on was: to write well, you need to read good writing. My mentor went so far as to say “garbage in, garbage out.”
If you read poorly written poetry or novels, you might learn something about weak techniques to avoid–but more likely, you’re absorbing and internalizing patterns on the page. If you read only lower end, weak romance novels, all of your writing would be, without a doubt, influenced by the rhythm of the words, the nature of its overall structure, the flow (or lack thereof) of its personality. Whether you like it or not, it becomes at least a temporary part of your internal terrain, your way of associating words and phrases.
My studies in visual art have been no different. Professors and mentors mostly agree: to create effective artwork, you need to look at art. Some omit the qualifier “good,” but it’s usually implied. There’s an understanding that the more you engage with, the more you explore–the more you’re fueling raw material for your work, the more you have in your data pool. Look and receive, process and apply.
Beyond studying art itself, we also need to look, read and receive our experiences. At least for me, this also means paying attention to original and immediate sources of visual information. It means taking a close look at the mundane, the everyday.
Your daily environment–the things you interact with, watch, listen to, grew up with–all of these elements boil into a unique, self-flavored, semi-filtered soup of influence and intention. It’s fascinating in itself, finds itself planted in your analytics. The music, tv shows, restaurants, cars, coffee cups–all of it belong. Being aware of our self and what we’re exposing ourselves to (or being exposed to, by virtue of living where we live or how we live), factors in on a visceral level.
One visual technique I’ve employed is the transition from flat, but heavy texture (like open desert) to sudden intrusions of smooth and flat (dry lake beds, dirt roads cutting through the desert). Having spent so much of my childhood exploring these kinds of physical terrains on foot, bike, horseback and car, it was only natural I was treating the textural changes as an important transitional element. After all, negative space is what allows you to travel the desert safely, so it’s a lead-in to physical (in this case visual) material.
I didn’t realize how much of the California landscape had worked its way into my work–even compositions that had nothing to do with landscape. At first, it snuck in: shapes that resembled twisting Joshua trees or dense, urban city skylines. Analysis of my mark vocabulary in undergrad revealed the source of these relational voices and I manipulated them purposefully. The desert, yuccas, roads, canyons, freeways, urban developments, port scaffolding, freighters and ships, trucks and telephone poles, skyscrapers and sidewalks: they folded nicely into my studies of traditional Chinese brush painting, German Expressionism, Eastern visual culture and American Expressionism.
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