Thursday, December 13, 2012

Abstract to Aesthetic; The Interior Topology of Personality

Confronted with the monumental woodblock series yesterday of Kerry James Marshall at the Harvard Sackler Museum. An ethereal roomscape cityscape landscape in spare shapes and swaths of pink yellow and green. But constructed within a world of formally arranged perpendicular lines. The power of a Beckman series combined with a delicacy, an almost painful intimacy. Certainly a mammoth task from conception to concoction, carving, printing, and coloring.

I've been meaning to discuss with my friend Neil Gore the origins or at least outline of personality development. How does it arise, what are its boundaries and byways? Are there mechanisms of personality development we can detect? Are there limits? And how does the personality process the world it encounters? How does the personality interpret its world? Or is it even part of the realm of the personality to interpret, navigate, and function within an abstract canvas, to "make sense" of the world?

In earlier posts I've written about "touching" a problem-a haptic response to artistic (and possibly wider) problem solving challenges. Here's another take.

A waking dream early this morning, based on these questions and on my observations of the Marshall prints.

The mind finds itself in a large enclosed space. Something about it is as if it were a glass room but the ceiling is low and opaque and white. Arrayed in a landscape is a series of large rocks. Different sizes, heights, textures but overall smooth and rising higher than the line of sight. The rocks cannot be scaled and even if you could scale one rock all you would get would be a view of the landscape of rocks.

What is this abstract topography and what does it mean? Does the mind perceive it in a fog so that the space between rocks is invisible or is it clear inside this landscape so that the space between rocks is available but invisible, blank. In either case the tops of the boulders are invisible so their overall shape can't be discerned. Do the rocks relate to one another? Is there a "plan" beside this abstract landscape?

So I wonder, in personality development is it the task of the mind to perceive and decipher this mystery of abstracts? Is it the role of personality to determine how the individual will negotiate through this landscape of boulders? How the individual will "make sense" or "make peace" with or interpret this topography? Is the personality in part the formation of an aesthetic, the development of an explanation for all this randomness?

How does the personality order the world, find explanations, aid in interpretations? If aesthetic = interpretation or ordering, how much of the personality plays an aesthetic role? And if every person interprets the room if boulders differently does this act as a kind of proof that each person's personality is unique?


  1. The blog posts make sense to the group collectively, however the general consensus is that to articulate the ideas as you have done requires a certain artistic perspective, or "set of eyes," that all of us do not necessarily possess. The posts have alluded to the fact that art is overwhelmingly present in aspects of our every day life, though we may not always have the time, energy, or ability to reflect in the same depth as you have done here. Out of the three short phrases describing each piece of artwork, we discovered a sort of "pattern": the longest sentence represents our initial observations of the image; the second phrase is a documentation of our direct thoughts; and the final word is an analytical reduction based on the first two phrases. Science is finding out the reasoning behind things: what you have done here is just the same but applied to pieces of art. These posts inherently interpret the world around us in artistic form, therefore coinciding with the process of aesthetics. If we authored these posts, we would add in the (now) obvious fact that analyzing and interpreting art are almost synonymous with analyzing and interpreting scientific phenomenon.

    -Jess Morin; Shayna Leeds; Maddy Fisher; Michael Kagan; Dominick Troendle

  2. These posts make sense to us, however, they bring up abstract ideas. They are trying to communicate that art and science are both complex and simple. The museum wall being the complex and the horizon in Maine representing simplicity and nature. The second article shows that you can use aesthetics to analyze abstractions in art and in science. Professor Hammer is observing both scenarios and documenting them in the blog and then analyzing them through comparison. The idea of connecting art and science is shown in the first article by contrast of the complexity of the artwork at the MFA and the simplicity of the horizon at the beach is Maine. In the second article, Professor Hammer uses the simplicity of words to describe art at the Harvard Sackler Museum. The posts show his thinking process when observing, documenting and analyzing. We would add more images in the second post and further reflection on the aesthetics in the first post.
    -Jake Browning, Dani Segelbaum, Jake Weissberg, Dana Friedman, Sasha Engelman, Allie Kulak, Carley Mirvis