All of the seemingly simple things we see in the natural world are underlain by complex phenomena. As we learn by "taking apart” we come to analyze “complex” vs. “simple” in the phenomena we observe.
I sit on the MFA European paintings Gallery, an imposing room of heroic proportions surrounded by dramatic paintings of the late Renaissance. Each painting is filled with detail, sparkling with movement. Each painting provides challenging images of great depth, perspective, and visual insight.
As a museum patron I am asked to focus on each painting individually. But I expect I am also responsible somehow to take in all these images at once, like some kind of ornate circus. Why else would they be organized the way they are in this room?
Immediately my mind is drawn to the opposite--or is it the opposite-- scenario? The beach at Reid State Park on George's island, Maine. There the waves crash or roll gently onto a mile-long strip of sand, their noise a thousand concerts, their breaking arcs a baroque empire of color and contrast. This is where I first discussed with Victor the question of blank horizon vs. busy wall.
Are the waves on the beach and the pictures on the wall different? Or are do they both share similar qualities? Both are replete with images and sensed impulses, noisy even as they are silent.
And there at Reid I pick up my head and stare at the horizon. I search for a swell, a cloud, a bird, an island. I see only the lonely horizontal of the spot where sky meets the ocean. That place is simplicity itself. A straight line against an open space, the bisecting signal between two great panels of color. Yet in its silence it is somehow alive with the noise of life and a living planet. The noise I feel (I cannot hear it) is a visual noise as well, borne in the tension between two great masses, the atmosphere above and the water below.
So I ask, which is "busier," the horizon or the wall packed with art? Which is more peaceful? Which one more pleasing to the senses? Aside from their major difference (one is the product of human endeavor and the other a purely natural phenomenon), how do we distinguish between the two?
Which of our senses do we engage when observing, comparing the two? What kind of meaning, if any, do we invest in them? Is there a value to one above or different from the other?