Sunday, September 11, 2016

An Artists Senses: Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch

SMELL: Dogs have a fantastic sense of smell - 100,00 greater
than ours
Every morning, and I mean every morning, my dog Maggie wants to go for a walk. Not just around the perimeter of the condo complex for the WPP (walk, pee and poop)  but outside the gates into the "real" world. Even though, at least during the heat of this summer, we go very early in the morning, usually around 5 a.m., if not earlier in the dark of night, we follow about the same two routes ( I let her pick the one she wants). She always manages to find something new to sniff.

I finally became aware of smell the other day after Maggie smelled the same place about five days in a row. I realized that no matter if we went on the same route each and every morning she was constantly sniffing. I could only wonder, what was she smelling and how wonderful it must have been to her! I really have a terrible sense of smell but she sniffs and sniffs during the 30 or so minutes that we walk every day. What is her world like?

Recently I became acutely aware of this and wondered, how different her world must be to mine. Now Maggie is a black, and greying, 9 year-old Labrador Retriever. Unlike most breeds not only does she sniff the ground she looks up observing things above her as a good retriever should. Since moving here she has become a lizard catcher par excellance! She will even jump to catch lizards once narrowly missing a foot long one on a 5 ft. wall. Some she eats, some are left as "gifts" for me.

If we consider the 5 basic senses: sight, hearing, taste, small and touch, I began to muse about about our senses and how they affect how we see the world. Even though artists are considered mostly involved with "sight" I realized in many ways we are influenced by the other senses as well.

SIGHT: Dali, The Melting Watch
Starting with "sight" I realized that there are two kinds of sight - what we see around us and as artists, minds eye. While we can see the world and many great works of art record what the artist sees, an artists minds eye can often be as moving and unique as anything around us. If there were any artists that personify "mind's eye" it would have to be Picasso or Salvador Dali, ironically both famous and art changing Spanish artists. To me, they revealed how they felt they saw reality rather than portrayed reality itself.Are they wrong? I think not. We are so influenced by the world we see and don't see that sight is often considered to be the artist,'s, especially painters, greatest sense.
Ancient Egyptians recognized the importance of the eye

However, I say, not so fast. The other senses often influence us in ways we may not always be aware of. Anyone who has even seen the Disney movie "Fantasia" knows that the challenge for Disney and his artists was portraying how they felt the music they heard could be portrayed. Who can forget
HEARING: With iPod's and headset is music far away?
"The Night on Bald Mountain," "Ave Maria" or Beethoven's "6th"? Even "Dance of the Hours" with hippos and crocodiles dancing is memorable. I know that I cannot hear Strauss's "Blue Danube" played without seeing the Pan American shuttle flying to the space station in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Hearing today is not just the cacophony of the daily noise but noise we bring with us. Gone, mercifully, are the boomboxes of the 70"s and 80's. Now we see people twist and shout walking down the street thinking they have lost their minds ... that is until you see the ubiquitous white wires dangling from their ears. Hearing, as the painting clearly shows on the left, is something that affects and is often a subject of our art. Remember, Beethoven, deaf as a door created the greatest symphony ever written stone deaf. They had to turn him around so he could see the applause after its first performance! Was he a great artist? He  had both sound and art in mind.

That said, think record covers, concert posters, even t-shorts and hats, all artistic items extolling or recording the passage of music in our lives. Our here in the Coachella Valley the number of concerts create a blaze of artwork on billboards, advertisements, even the tickets allowing you in! There is simply no shortage of art.

How valuable is poster artwork? Watch "Antiques Roadshow" sometime and see what some of those posters from Woodstock, a Beatle Concert, Rolling Stones circa 1972 are worth. Sound begat art!

TASTE: Those who know, how what flavor this truffle is!
Taste may seem to be a risky choice for art but then ... look at the artwork you see on just about every package. Restaurants in Japan make models of their dishes so everyone, but especially Westerners, can go look and point. I know, my daughter was allergic to fish. Can we say the model maker was not artistic? The challenge was to create a fake meal that looked real and very, very tasty.

If you think that food has no place in art, think again. Some of the most famous and most important paintings in the history of art revolved around food.
Cezanne - apples, pears and peaches

Paul Cezanne and many, many others have made food, and paintings of food some of the hallmarks of their art. Eating food, meals and even what's left over have all had a place in art. Yes, taste is often portrayed and is considered an important piece in the history of art.

That leaves us with the last of the five senses, touch. Who among us doesn't remember finger painting? It was one of those rare moments, usually in school, where we could get paint all over our hands (and frequently ourselves) and could smear it all around. We already knew that doing that at home was not good. To do it in school, of all places, with the often sour-pussed teacher lurking over us, was a thing to behold. I discovered on a visit to my sister that she had taken up coloring in adult coloring books. While not as messy, it was not unlike the sudden infatuation we had with finger painting.  While we were told  not to go outside the lines, we can now if we wished. There is a kind of freedom, within bounds to be sure, to pick the colors and method you want to color with.  I really wouldn't be surprised if some sort of fingerprinting made a return ... only this time for adults! Just smearing that paint around with literally no limits sounds both liberating and sinful!

TOUCH: Possibly the most famous touch in art history,
God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel
If you are an artist like me, or have observed artists at work, we are not above using a finger to smear a line, or enhance a stroke. I am usually covered with paint after craft painting. Sometimes your creation just needs a little help, help that darn brush just can't manage to do!

Your senses are literally your greatest ally. Let not just what you see or feel define what you do and create, don't be afraid of your mind's eye ... how it perceives sound and smell and taste. The next time you prepare a dish look at the random way your leave your food, the knife, the cutting board. Is it something that is artistic? Could you paint it? Improve the composition? Does it make a statement? Do you take the time to record it? A quick sketch, a cell phone photo? Why not?

Look at great art and see how each of our senses have been portrayed from the ancient Egyptians until modern times. It you want to see what artists have done since time immortal, go to Google's home page, click images and when that comes up type in touch, sight, taste and see what comes up. You will be more than amazed!

Art does not exist in a vacuum, it brings to our consciousness the things that happen around us each and every day. That is what we so often just ignore.To improve your art, you must listen to all your senses! You will be glad you did!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design affects our lives ... and always has. 

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