Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The art of confusion

We have seen the art before.

I remember popular illusory sketches from the late 80s that on the surface looked like skulls (usually) but were in fact something else, such as a woman seated at a vanity in the case of this Def Leppard album cover.  But long before there were such novelty optical illusions, there were serious works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.

Now there is a compendium entitled Illusion Confusion that surveys this style of art.  The BBC recently showcased a few of the pieces included in the study. Among the pieces included is the one above by Chinese artist Liu Bolin.  Bolin says that his art is meant to symbolize how the individual can be rendered invisible by in his case the Chinese government or by consumer culture in the world writ large.

Also in the showcase are a few examples of street art that appear meant to jar the observer, making she or he think that they have been transported somewhere else entirely.  As but one case in point, the BBC piece cites a painting done by Edgar Muller in Dublin that turns of stretch of pavement into an icy, gaping crevasse.  He has also done 3D street paintings that have turned day to night through the use of photoluminescent paints.

Reaching towards the lower of common denominators, there is also a postcard from 1900 in the collection that features a woman on horseback as viewed from behind.  Use your imagination.  Or go to the link, that might be easier and let's face it, we're all about "easy" these days in America, aren't we?

While it is a natural formation and not what I would call "art," the BBC link also features "The Old Man of the Mountain" or Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.  Up until its collapse in 2003, the formation resembled a man's profile in rock.  Art or not, interpreting formations in rocks, clouds, and other pareidolia has become something a modest interest for me.  This might be an outgrowth of the on-again off-again controversy of the "face on Mars" and the religio-consumer driven craze of seeing the images of Jesus or Mary in foodstuffs such as potato chips and grilled cheeses.  Expect future blog posts on the subject.

Perhaps when I view this aforementioned interest through the lens of the art in this post, I see just why it is that I have it.  It's all about interpretation.  The artists probably don't intend to deliberately hoodwink or bamboozle the viewer so that the artist might prance about giggling, "gotcha." Instead, the intent is to force us to look at something differently.  Both the input of our eyes and the interpretations of our synapses are forced into question.  If we wish to be engaged, then we must think critically.

As I attempt to underscore with my students, there is always more than one way to look at things.

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