Ramachandran_Artful_Brain

Isolation 5 perceptual problem solving 6 symmetry 7

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Unformatted text preview: erceptual problem solving 6. Symmetry 7. Abhorrence of coincidence/generic viewpoint 8. Repetition, rhythm, and orderliness 9. Balance 10. Metaphor duce an image that looks even more like Nixon than Nixon himself. Skilled artists work this way to produce great portraiture;2 take it a step further and you get caricature. It looks comical, but it still looks even more like Nixon than the original Nixon. So you’re behaving exactly like that rat. What has all this to do with the rest of art? Let’s go back to the Chola bronze of Parvathi, where the same principle applies. How does the artist convey the very epitome of feminine sensuality? He simply takes the average female form and subtracts the average male form—leaving big breasts, big hips, and a narrow waist. And then amplifies the difference. The result is one anatomically incorrect but very sexy goddess. But that’s not all there is to it—what about dignity, poise, grace? 173 the internet and the university Here the Chola bronze artist has done something quite clever. There are some postures that are impossible for a male owing to the constraints imposed by pelvic anatomy, curvature of the lumbar spine, and angle between the neck and shaft of the femur. I can’t stand like that even if I want to. But a woman can do it effortlessly. So the artist visits an abstract space I call “posture space,” subtracts the average male posture from the average female posture, and then exaggerates it. Doing this produces the elegant triple flexion—or tribhanga—pose, where the head is tilted one way, the body is tilted exactly the opposite way, and the hips again the other way. And again the viewer’s reaction is not that the figure is anatomically inappropriate because nobody can stand like that. What the viewer sees is a gorgeous, beautiful, celestial goddess. This extremely evocative image is an example of the peak shift principle in Indian art. So much for faces and caricatures and bodies and Chola bronzes. But what about the rest of art? What about abstract art, semi-abstract art, Impressionism, Cubism? What about Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Henry Moore? How can many ideas even begin to explain the appeal of some of those artistic styles? To answer this question, we need to look at evidence from ethology, especially the work of Niko Tinbergen at Oxford more than fifty years ago, who was doing some very elegant experiments on herring-gull chicks. As soon as the herring-gull chick hatches, it sees its mother’s long yellow beak with a red spot on it. It starts pecking at the red spot on the beak, begging for food. The mother then regur174 the artful brain gitates half-digested food into the chick’s gaping mouth, the chick swallows the food and is happy. Tinbergen asked himself, “How does the chick recognize its mother? Why doesn’t it beg for food from a person who is passing by or from a pig?” And he found that you don’t need a mother. A hatchling would react in exactly the same way...
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