To teach people how to notice details they might otherwise miss, Amy E. Herman, an expert in visual perception, likes to take them to museums and get them to look at the art. Recently she escorted a group of New York City police officers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asked them to describe some of the things they saw.
They did their best. “This seems to be a painting of some males with horses,” one officer said of Rosa Bonheur’s mid-19th-century work “The Horse Fair,” a scene of semi-chaos as horses are driven to market. He tried to abide by Ms. Herman’s admonishment to avoid words like “obviously.” “It appears to be daytime, and the horses appear to be traveling from left to right.”
Another pair of officers tackled Picasso’s 1905 “At the Lapin Agile,” which depicts a wilted-looking couple sitting at a French bar after what might have been a long night out. “They appear to have had an altercation,” one observed. The other said, “The male and female look like they’re together, but the male looks like he’ll be sleeping on the couch.”
The officers asked that their names not be used because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. They said that they did not know much about art — their jobs allow little opportunity for recreational museumgoing — and Ms. Herman said she preferred it that way.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I hate art,’ and I say, ‘That’s not relevant,’” she said. “This is not a class about Pollock versus Picasso. I’m not teaching you about art today; I’m using art as a new set of data, to help you clear the slate and use the skills you use on the job. My goal when you walk out the door is that you’re thinking differently about the job.”
A painting has many functions. It’s a cultural artifact, an aesthetic object, an insight into a time and a place, a piece of commerce. To Ms. Herman, it’s also an invaluable repository of visual detail that can help shed light on, say, how to approach a murder scene. “It’s extremely evocative and perfect for critical inquiry,” she said in an interview. “What am I seeing here? How do I attach a narrative to it?”
Before unleashing the officers in the galleries, she talked to them in a classroom in the Met’s basement. She put up a slide of “Mrs. John Winthrop,” a 1773 portrait by John Singleton Copley. The painting, showing a woman sitting at a table holding little pieces of fruit, is considered a masterpiece of fine detail — the intricacy of the lace trim on the lady’s gown, the rich decorations on her hat. But there’s a detail that’s so obvious, or maybe so seemingly irrelevant, that most people fail to mention it in their description Everyone sees that this is a woman with fruit, and 80 percent miss the mahogany table,” she said. (They also miss the woman’s reflection in the veneer.).
Ms. Herman also displayed a pair of slides featuring reclining nudes: Goya’s “The Nude Maja” (1797-1800) and Lucian Freud’s 1995 “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” who is very fat. Ms. Herman asked the group to compare the pictures. “Most cops, when I ask this question, say it shows someone before and after marriage,” she said.
Several officers raised their hands.
“Uh, the woman at the bottom is more generously proportioned,” one said.
“She is morbidly obese,” said another.
“Right!” Ms. Herman said. “Don’t make poor word choices. Think about every word in your communication.”
Ms. Herman, who has a new book out, “Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life,” came to her vocation in a roundabout way. She worked first as a lawyer, did not like it, took a job in the development office at the Brooklyn Museum and then moved to the Frick Collection. Earning a master’s degree in art history at night at Hunter College, she eventually became head of the Frick’s education department.
There, inspired by a program in which Yale medical students studied works of art to better observe their patients, she helped devise a similar program for the Frick. Eventually she moved beyond medicine. She has been offering the courses full time as her own business since 2011; her clients include federal and local law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as medical students and business executives.
Steve Dye, chief of police at the Grand Prairie Police Department in Texas, brought in Ms. Herman recently to talk to a group of officers from the region. He said her presentation was invaluable in showing the officers how to better observe and document their findings accurately and free from bias.
“Some of the works of art she showed us, we wouldn’t notice the finer details,” he said. “And we’re supposed to be professional observers.”
When forced to deconstruct paintings in group settings, people from different professions tend to respond differently.
“The law enforcement community is much more forthcoming,” Ms. Herman said. “Cops will outtalk you every time. Doctors and medical students are much more inhibited. They don’t want to be wrong, and they never want to show that they are ignorant about anything.”
The New York Police Department is one of Ms. Herman’s most important clients. She tailors her presentations to her audiences, and they are on the regular training curriculum at the detective bureau and the training bureau at the Police Academy; other divisions use her services from time to time. In general, her program is voluntary rather than mandatory.
“Amy reminds officers to explore outside the box,” said Police Officer Heather Totoro, who added that the program helped officers in training because of its “uniqueness and power.”
“She taps into officers’ unique sixth sense, teaching them to tell her what they see, not what they think.”
Law enforcement officials tend to view the works through the lens of the job: Who has done what to whom? Where is the perp?
“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘We have an E.D.P. here’ — an emotionally disturbed person,” Ms. Herman said. Once she showed some officers El Greco’s “The Purification of the Temple,” which depicts Jesus expelling the traders and money-changers amid turmoil and mayhem.
“One cop said, ‘I’d collar the guy in pink’” — that would be Jesus — ‘“because it’s clear that he’s causing all the trouble.’”
Among the works she finds most interesting as a learning tool is Vermeer’s exquisitely ambiguous “Mistress and Maid,” a 1666-7 portrait of a lady seated at a table, handing over (or being handed) a mysterious piece of paper. “There are so many different narratives,” she said. “The analysts come away asking more questions than answers — ‘Who’s asking the question? Who’s doing the talking? Who’s listening?’ The cops will say, ‘It’s a servant asking for the day off.’”
She also likes “House of Fire,” a 1981 painting by James Rosenquist that has three absurdist parts: an upside-down bag of groceries, a bucket under a window shade, and a group of aggressively thrusting lipsticks. “It’s really conducive to good dialogue,” she said. “How many times do officers have to make order out of chaos? So many times in our work we come across things that don’t have a coherent narrative.”
The officers in the class seemed impressed, both by Ms. Herman and by their grand surroundings.
One officer said that she had learned “how to sit down with colleagues and deal with the fact that you can perceive things so differently from each other.” It was her first trip to the Met, or indeed to any art museum.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It’s very Thomas Crown-ish, isn’t it?”
here to edit.
How do you reconcile need of praise, independence of mind, world's honours and true genius? Artists, critics, philosophers, amateurs have been debating on this subject for centuries without conclusive answer. But two elements seem to be common to all beliefs and definitions:
1. Our internal worlds are rich beyond words but:
"Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind." said once F. Scott Fitzgerald, which implies to create in sounds, clay or colours and give it life.
2. This process requires time and efforts as " Genius is patience" says Isaac Newton.
Now what about children labelled Genius? Some do benefit from a very high level of analysis intelligence, some wonderful artistic abilities or amazing memory skills; But is this genius? Aelita Andre, this 7 year-old- Melbourne girl, has been labelled post-modern prodigy at age 9 months by her mum; Both her parents are professional painters and they have given complete liberty and full access to material supplies to their toddler. Maybe this would help any child keep the magic of childhood alive and develop technical skill in any artistic field... Now after practising several hours every single day for almost 7 years, is Aelita still a prodigy or has she become a very skilled craftsman (or in this case crafts-girl)? Time seems to be the key to determine the outcomes of any life and success and Aelita may need time to become an artist as she is at the moment still a child painter. Her parents do support her career(!) with complete dedication but what is the impact of a potential financial/ family pressure in the choices made by this very young child? I cannot help but thinking about former young prodigies grown out of their genius, and the distasteful mini-miss competitions .. What is the responsibility of parents? What about critics and art investors? WHAT IS THEIR PRIME INTEREST IN THIS ( success) STORY? the child's emotional balance or their own wealth?
Now, in my view, on one hand , any talent needs to be expressed and developed to flourish a life; Creativity is certainly a real and effective solution to solve conflicts and rekindle happiness in personal or professional life.
On the other hand, childhood is a magic, unstained and limitless time of possibilities and beauties, Aelita as a matter of fact does say about her work " it's beautiful!". I like that.
So developing talents, growing creativity, enlarging horizons, cultivating true childhood, at any age, in any circumstances, deserves a very resonating YES!
But alas! In Aelita 's magic world, this comes with a price.
SEVERAL TEN THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO BE PRECISE.
Hmmm. Here is the witches' cauldron.
Adelaide, Sept 15 2015
To discover Aelita Andre's artwork get to page:
"We are educating people out of their creativity," Sir Robinson says. The british expert led the government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, His 9 books, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, are as his talks: informative, full of humour and so inspiring; Here is one his talks delivered for TED in 2006 on the relation between school and creativity. This is great ART!
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
I had been sitting in a local medical centre waiting room for already an hour when I finally realized that the waiting would certainly be veryveryvery long ...sigh.
I grabbed the book I had hastily thrown in my handbag just before leaving home; a thin paperback book on Sacha Guitry, the French writer and actor. One of the hundred cheap and torn editions I have carried with me all way from France. I opened the book on its first page and instinctively inhaled its smell: a sweet bitter dusty odour that struck me; I more deeply breathed the old paper pages, eyes half closed and everything suddenly came back in a wave: the pink and blue collections of my childhood favourite book series, Alfred Hitchcock ‘s almost perfect crimes, commissioner Samuel Vimes running in Terry Pratchet’s world, Mr. Molière‘s misanthropic Alceste reflecting and despairing on humanity, Marcel Pagnol’s Cesar arguing with his son Marius and Giraudoux’ Cassandra struggling so hard to avoid the unavoidably Troy war... An improbable parade of motley characters, saluting each other, “ long time no see!”, all this small talk and smile... like filling up the whole room with deafening whisperings... and unveiling some unnatural social bonds.. Look there in the corner, the quite upright Fitzwilliam Darcy is deep in conversation with the idealistic and somewhat hot-headed proletarian Etienne Lantier ... There, a quite serene Jean D’ormesson since his humbling meeting with the Angel Gabriel (understandably so) and Raphael de Valentin are marvelling at the creepy wonders of the wild donkey’s skin. The elegant Araminte is listening with a very courteous smile to Dr Jekyll, lecturing on the very promising results of his last experience; John/Jack/Ernest Worthing and the wise Enchanter of Barjavel are animatedly debating on the importance of being... your true self.
But WHAM! I suddenly shook my head, coming back to my senses, strongly self-conscious again and pictured myself in my mind's eye: what was I looking like, hanging with two hands onto my book and smelling it with delight, eyes half closed, in this crowded room? A Freak? Freeze NOW, Laure, look stealthy around, on the right, on the left, sigh (mere relief) and exhale at last : nobody is paying the least attention to you! I was alone and gone away for 3 never-ending seconds of real reunion with lifelong friends. Who could rightly express the joy of smelling the perfume of beautiful words, the touch of papered tales and the delight of being shipped off to new horizons... Again and again and again. For the joy grows with the repetition. And our ability to apprehend and comprehend the complexity of life issues does grow with practice. Is this not what Oscar Wilde meant when he said “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ? Thus I have had this favourite yearly ritual for many years. I immerse myself into a few very special books every 12 month or so: the Provincial trilogy of Marcel Pagnol is one of them. The story takes place in the port district of Marseilles in the late 30s and portrays the joys and sadness of simple daily life. Simple but far from being simplistic. It deeply reconnects me to the most innocent part of humankind and by so doing it reconciles me with humankind itself. And every year I feel the urge to sail off again to Marseilles Port, sit with Pagnol’s characters on the terrasse of Cesar’s bar and revive in their midst. It is quite of a cleansing inner process, to get rid of parasitic thoughts or emotions that may darken my views on the world and ON PEOPLE.
And that’s exactly what Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009: individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. Of course, they took into account the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. In his 2010 study, Mar found also that the more stories young children have read to them, the better they are at modelling other people’s intentions.
Books activate the part of ourselves that links us to others.
Real books by the way, the paper kind, as it has been demonstrated that virtual Ebooks do not convey the same benefits to readers and do not always allow deep reading. And Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, found that reading gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. That immersion is supported by the brain which creates a mental representation, activating brain regions specialized in dealing with real life experiences.
Virtual= Real for the brain, as we all know.
Thus emotional situations and moral dilemmas in books are internally lived as real ones increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.
And I personally do need on a regular basis to increase my “real life capacity for empathy”. And so does the world, I would add. And what if books were an answer to our world in turmoil? “Start a book not a war!”, To paraphrase the hairy hippies from the mid 70s.
Now, Let’s imagine that you were in charge of selecting books you would consider as “the most valuable in terms of their significance for the modern world”, those that may change things or be deeply important for the humanity, which ones would you pick up and why?
Well, that’s the question more than 2,000 persons in GB were asked in November 2014. Tom Walker, editorial director at publishers The Folio Society, who commissioned the survey, noticed that there was ‘relatively little on economics despite the financial climate and only two overtly political fiction titles on the list’. Here’s the top 10:
1. The Bible
2. On The Origin Of Species
3. A Brief History Of Time
6. Principia Mathematica
7. To Kill A Mockingbird
8. The Qur’an
9. The Wealth Of Nations
10. The Double Helix
Now that’s interesting: It seems that people only selected classic science, religion and philosophy masterpieces.
But, how are the Bible, “the Relativity” of Einstein or “To kill a mockingbird”, a classic of the American literature, significant to OUR modern world? What do they bring, or maybe what do they awaken? On the dawn of this data intensive century, How and Why appear to remain the ultimate questions we finally wish to ask ourselves.
When politics, economics, social sciences ... do fail to help us truly feel connected to our time, could Reading really be the way to find the answers in ourselves? By centring, it may expand our views, reform our opinions and enlarge our understanding of life. Could it be a door to change? first ourselves, then the world.
Now, a question:
How long ago was your last READING ADVENTURE? What was it about? Do you remember the emotions it created? What is left?
So, here is my prescription : Run to the closest library/ Bookshop/living-room bookshelves ( or Auntie Jane's, it will be the occasion to check on her, I know, I know...but listen people, Saving The World has got a price ),
...and read the “Reader's Bill of Rights Daniel Pennac has established :
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes”
And turn off the tablet, the mobile or the television.... indeed "I find television very educating, says again Groucho MARX ; Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."
Adelaide, June 9 2015
By Laure VINCENT-ALLARD
Now a riddle: what is the common point between the Jewish tradition, Plato, the Medieval times and my father ? So, no guesses? Well here is the answer (drum roll):
The acquisition of knowledge in the Middle Ages was done through discussions, questions and answers, an educational process which dates back to the pre-Socratic Greek era: to deeply discuss issues in order to reconcile opposing views and therefore expand human knowledge.
When I was a teenager, whenever I asked a question to my father, he would refer me first to an encyclopedia and/or a dictionary to grab some basic knowledge on the matter and then would ask the usual question:- Laure, you, what do you reckon? -Uh, (do I really have an opinion on it? Would I often wonder..., thinkthinkthink, be quick and articulate), and I would breath out on the spot an hardly intelligible answer. Which would lead to a discussion; This has developed in me a natural curiosity for the world on one hand and on another hand, given me the ability to have an opinion on everything, to be ready at any time to talk and argue about everything...
Believe me this habit has become downright annoying throughout the years, even for me... However and despite the trend to know everything that it has developed in me, I recognize the highly educational nature of this method: Questioning forges the ability to think fast and well, and to be able to justify or at least consider contrary positions. .All this has served me well in my work.
But what a relief when that I finally allowed myself to have no opinion at all...
“I DON’T KNOW” has become one of my favourite sentences:
-What’s the capital city of Slovenia? hmmm I got it on the tip of my tongue ... No, no, I DON’T KNOW *
- What do you think of the most recent EU commission decision? Well which one? No just kidding, lost track ages ago; I DON’T KNOW
-What do you think of the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott? Hmmm, tricky this one, considering the fact that I have a hard time even understanding the political and financial situation in Aussie Land, how could I have an opinion on him? My mum (she is French) says he is handsome; does that count? I DON’T KNOW
-Are you happy? Oh my mind! For somebody like me, simplicity impaired, that’s harsh... I DON’T KNOW.
.... And soooo on...
For years I have been a sort of reference book for many of my friends and at work; You don’t know? Ask Laure! Don’t misunderstand me however: First it is quite pleasing to be considered as knowledgeable enough to be the one who answers the questions. Plus, I have got some kind of label tag riveted on my forehead with the words “TEACHER”; whenever I am training, conferencing, lecturing, interviewing, guiding... I am always asking and answering questions; and that’s certainly one of the most exhilarating things in the world.
But from first-hand experience I highly recommend from time-to-time adopting the healthy habit of the got-no-idea position. It is mind relaxing.
I have been somewhat forced to give up many certainties lately. Yes, this new assumed ignorance makes me feel sometimes a bit dizzy and overwhelmed but as I cut down some of my mental circuits now and then I have the greatest opportunity to simply feel a situation; And believe me this is no easy task considering my European heritage, my family legacy and... my very French ability to question everything; We are used to saying that arguing is indeed the true French national sport. Speaking of which, I remember hearing an interview with a great magician, a few years ago. As he had performed all through his career in many different countries, he had noticed differences in reaction depending on the country: "In the USA, the audience is very expressive, clapping, shouting of joy" he explained, " In Japan, I can hear a very introverted but highly appreciative "ah!" ;
But in France, everybody systematically after each new tour will ask aloud:" How did he do THAT?» "
So, how can I reconcile this tendency to question, analyse and search for answers with this growing desire to let it go? Here is a secret. Beauty . This is the secret. This is the way. Whenever I look, smell, touch, hear Beauty, I get back into myself and simply enjoy the very moment; You may call it Enlightenment, Grace... whether it is human-made or Nature-made, true beauty teaches me to say “I don’t know but it feels good”. That doesn't matter your definition of what Beauty is. It varies according to your origins, your culture, even your time in life. It is greatly personal but it touches your heart and bring forth peace and secure inner quietness.
Here are some of the pearls you will find in my Beauty treasure box: A self-portrait made by aging Ingres, a sunrise landscape of Turner, the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, a ray of sun piercing the clouds after a tempest over Somerton Park, the smell of the soil right after a summer rain, an alley of gum trees framing a countryside road by Berri, Cesar of Marcel Pagnol...
Being deeply touched by each one of them and many others has been a soul-nourishing experience of true beauty. And every time I need this inner quietness, I get back to my treasure box and rediscover its content. Or I go and make new souvenirs. That’s a never ending process. As I have found out that Creating beauty may be even more uplifting and more memorable.
So yes! Questioning is good, even essential. My father used to say that if you've got the question, you are ready for the answer.
BUT... MAYBE IN BETWEEN TWO PERIODS OF ASSUMED, QUIET, UNINHIBITED IGNORANCE... Ahh, dear, beloved, precious Ignorance.
Hey, it makes me think of Woody Allen who once said: "the answer is Yes. Definitively yes. But what was the question? »…
Adelaide , November 29 2014
*Ljubljana ; Yes I checked.
The Toulouse Contemporary Art Museum: well-named “Les abattoirs”*... An early evening, Spring 2012. I was on my way to visit some relatives, I drove past the museum. It was a lovely evening, I was listening to some smooth jazz music on the radio, the atmosphere was light and pleasant and life seemed beautiful... I absently glanced at the entrance to the Museum; I suddenly felt a blow to the heart... “You are missing a single being and the whole world feels empty" I thought of this old saying and I felt that my world was all of a sudden very empty... Nothing left, but a poor wood fence...
“ But, I said to myself, a two meter and half high pink concrete statue of intestines does not disappear that easily...” For I was not prepared for it vanishing away, you see... I had grown accustomed to this sculpture, year after year, as every time I was passing the museum I was glancing at the huge representation enthroned on the pavement at the entrance of the museum... Mental flexibility is no doubt the essence of humahood and we do grow used to anything, even to ugliness. By the way, you may notice the extremely ironic sense of humour of the museum general curator who had decided a few years earlier to erect giant concrete intestines in front of the former city slaughterhouses...
This has led me to question the state of our world today and especially the state of Art today... After its Neoclassical, Figurative, Impressionist, Naive, Symbolic and finally Conceptual periods, would it have finally managed to break free of its chains? The bonds of good taste certainly, which is according to Marcel Duchamp: "the great enemy of Art". But What is Good Taste? WHAT and WHO defines it? I wonder what this great provocative art critic would have thought of the Toulouse pink intestines above-mentioned ... Would he have uncovered the mysterious designs of the author, rejoicing in his bold freedom of thinking? Happy to see that the artist had apparently unchained himself from any proper good taste requirements? And what are my personal definitions of good taste? How does it impact my views on Art?
Blaise Pascal, the universal genius one day exclaimed : " How vain is painting (or sculpting) as it creates admiration by resembling to the things whose originals we do not admire !” I must confess that I have never been struck dumb with admiration when viewing a picture of real intestines, who would be? What Pascal’s statement may imply is that when I admire a piece of Art, I am only admiring the craft, the skill of the maker. When attending my weekly watercolour painting classes, a few days ago, I have realized that I was indeed valuing my works only in terms of resemblance or realism; All the antiques philosophers agreed on it : “All art is but imitation of nature”, as said Seneca. So Is Art really only to look like real?
What new ways are left to explore in Art? The stick-figures that one of my nieces has taken so long to complete, my neighbour Sunday painter’s watercolours... Our understanding and definition of it seems highly variable according to our own culture, our family values, the society we are living in, according to the mental idea each of us has of his or her own artistic talents... and certainly also according to how praising others are of our masterpieces (do consider the highly persuasive power of professional critics in that matter).
Let us listen to the dance master who has been commissioned for teaching the art of dancing to the gentleman of Molière:
“As For me, I confess, I delight somewhat in glory. Applause touches me; and I consider that it is in the fine arts a rather unfortunate torture to appear in front of fools [...]. It is enjoyable to work for people who are able to feel the delicacies of Art, who know how to sweetly greet the beauties of an artwork and with tickling approvals enjoy your work. Yes, the most pleasing reward of things done is to see them acknowledged, to see them fondly applauded, which honors you. There is nothing, in my opinion, that repays us better of all our toils that these exquisite delicacies, well -informed praises. “
So is a piece of Art valuable only when praised or at least understood? Are the prices of sale the only indicator of worth? In the opposite direction, is it more valuable because the artist lives in an attic, eats once every other day and despises society values and standards? Is Art to be rejected and controversial? Paul Gauguin has said : “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” Isn't there any other alternative? What makes Art valuable?
Now time to get back to the Toulouse slaughterhouses for two last thoughts:
1. I lately discovered that the above-mentioned Art work was entitled by its author: "Agoraphobia"... The fear of crowd... I have the feeling that humour may sometimes be too contagious. I have right at this moment one or two readings for this eloquent title that come to my mind, but I‘d rather spare you the burden of it, as they may be a bit too prosaic. Of course, I realize how much more intelligent, or even brilliant, a bit too dazzling, perhaps, the sculptor’s motivations are certainly. This reminds me of Raymond Devos, the outstanding French artist who once said: "we no longer know what darkness is. By wanting to light everything, we cannot distinguish anything anymore! " So let's the mystery hover over the intestines sculpture , I feel it is much safer...
2. Good news! After a few days of a nearly unbearable emptiness, the Toulouse Contemporary Art Museum director decided to colonize new artistic horizons. The Pink intestines are dead, long live the elephant of metal wire in equilibrium on its nose! At least it is quite humorous, non aggressive, largely praised by critics and true to life...
So maybe it is, after all, Art.
*= “the city slaughterhouses”
Adelaide, Oct 11 2014