"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Simultaneous Contrast

I had a great trip to the dentist last week.
Well, actually that’s only half true.

Having molar crowns replaced introduced me to a new experience: panic attacks. I couldn’t handle the cement form in my mouth. I started to choke and it got worse from there.

But the counter balance to the bad dentist appointments was a visual treat I am still processing.

The examining room had pale green walls. Chartreuse green, to be exact. Directly in front of my face, positioned so it was difficult to look away, was a computer monitor, used to display the inside of your mouth to the dentist - and to you - in case you care to look. The screen on the computer glowed an unusually vibrant red-violet.

Are you familiar with the term simultaneous contrast?
It’s a physical phenomenon that occurs inside your eyeball when you look at colors. Suffice it to say, those rods and cones you learned about in high school physiology are pretty miraculous devices. Simultaneous contrast always occurs when you look at one color a long time - say 60 seconds. The physiology of the eye causes it to generate the complement (opposite) to whatever color you are seeing. To discover simultaneous contrast for yourself, stare at a red square of paper on the wall for 60 seconds, and then look at a white wall. You will be rewarded by a green square (your eye’s reaction) on the white background. Kids love this. It's like magic.

The longer I stared at the red-violet computer screen in the dentist’s office, the more vibrant the chartreuse after-image on the wall became when I looked away from the screen. The visual effect was heightened because the wall color was already the complement to the computer screen color. So the illusory intensity of the chartreuse square on the chartreuse wall was heightened, and majorly incredible to my eyes.

There’s an important color lesson here for artists. Studying color is never over, and never enough. The more you understand the subtle complexities of visual phenomena, the more capable you are of deliberately employing color illusion in your work. Masterful use of color generates combinations that glow, vibrate, fade and illuminate shape; adding dimension where none actually exists. All illusion. Check out Richard Anuszkiewicz as a 20th century example of profound mastery over color.

The other thought rolling around in my head is harder to quantify. Simultaneous contrast generates an illusion, but it’s real. It’s really happening, but the color on the wall isn’t real. Stare long enough at the wall and the chartreuse square fades away. My eyes are left with the original chartreuse wall, nothing less and nothing more. I can reactivate the square over and over again by staring at the red-violet computer screen before returning my gaze to the pale green wall, but the square will always fade.

What’s that got to do with life as an artist? Or Life in general, for that matter? Most of us try again and again to produce the perfect image we see so clearly in our minds. On occasion, we triumph. What was inside is successfully interpreted outside. We live up to our potential.

But so often, the image fades and then reasserts itself. We struggle toward alignment. You’ve got to be in the right chair, with the right light, the right tools, and the right intention. Easy? Often not. But keep working anyway.