Category Archives: Year 3


I wonder why it seems so much easier to write straight into an html file without wordwrap than to write a proper word document? I think it has something to do with being forced to be recursive and re-read everything written, as well as essentially having two seperate views of what you are writing – the stylised version and the plain words surrounded by markup. A close up view of a sentence followed by a quick ctrl+s and a refresh of the stylised page with a view of it in context seems to make me concentrate much more on what I’m writing, for some reason.

Descriptive stumbling blocks

I don’t know why I dislike analysing texts (Shakespeare especially for some reason!) and paintings so much. I started loathing it when I was doing my art A-Level, and one of the reasons I like the Impressionists so much is that their art is straightforward and about beauty and colour and joy. Painting’s like Renoir’s The Jardin d’Essai just leave me breathless. I’ve got to the stage in my documentation where I have to start putting down on paper exactly why I love the particular paintings I chose and why they influenced me so much and I’m having such a hard time doing it.

Renoir's The Jardin d'Essai, Algiers - 1881

I do love the contrast of the aquamarine + teal and burned gold, I love how the flashes of silvery white add such liveliness and character; it makes the piece seem perfect. I think the buildup of textures and strokes is masterfully executed, but even writing it down in this blog in the most informal way possible makes me cringe a little. It seems to cheapen the art and make it less, discussing it. I do wish I could work out why I think it’s so, because intellectually I know that a group of people discussing what they love most about a piece of art means everybody gets more out of it; some people might spot bits other people haven’t noticed and so on.

I enjoy discussing The Wire and certain books and so on, it just seems to be visual/aesthetic things like artwork or video that I have a bit of a block with (and Shakespeare and a lot of the classics). This next lot of documentation is going to be painful.

This is dent to my determination to get it done is not helped by my evil evil housemate introducing me to Professor Layton and the Curious Village which is seriously quite scarily addictive. I have a terrible weakness for puzzles and this fulfils that weakness in a very big way. The art is really cute and the dialogue is either terrible on purpose or written by somebody with a very dry sense of humour, either way it makes me laugh a lot. I do like it.

Research books I have finished and analysed

Guido Ballo – The Critical Eye : a new approach to art appreciation
A laughably pretentious book which dictates the various forms of art appreciation the author callously catagorises with an attempt at scientific precision. There are several pages of the “Ordinary Man’s” responses to various artworks, among other things. I believe it is not necessary to have a firm knowledge of the social/cultural/economic history of a piece of art to appreciate it, nor does a person have to be well educated or refined. It’s about inspiration and intuition! How can that be catagorised! Well it’s about a way of looking at it I guess.

Francois Mathey – The World of the Impressionists
Interesting to read because the author does not hold back on his own opinions – or attempt to clothe them as fact (which I truly appreciate). It’s a heartfelt history by a fervent man who clearly has a great deal of knowledge and love for the art movement. The language is fresh and not even a little ostentatious, but of course because of this it could not be described as objective. The history bits are all interesting, and the art analysis even more so.

Donald E. Gordon – Expressionism: art and idea
This is much heavier going, delving deep into the political and social climate which gave birth to these expressionists – although it is pointed out in the introduction that is in fact a very silly term (it applies to several art movements, some of which are wildly different). Nietzsche and the Impressionists and other various influences are discussed in it’s 214 double columned dense-text pages. Interesting all the same though. although my interest is starting to lean towards the core of Impressionism and it’s culmination down the Van Gogh and Cezanne avenue which eventually lead to Expressionism.

Performance and Technology
A selection of formal essays about the role new technology has to play in art – with a focus more on dance/theatre than on traditional art unfortunately, but relevant nonetheless. The approach the academic authors take to their investigatory essays is generally coldly clinical, but I suppose this is inevitable for them to have standing and be published. At one point one of the guys was trying to analyse what made a game fun and it made me want to scream a little bit, it was so painful to read.

John Maeda – Maeda@media
Heavy on images and rough documentation for individual projects (so nice to flip through while looking for inspiration), kinda low on actual new-tech/art analysis/criticisms/thoughts. Nicely designed.

It feels like I’ve done a small fraction of my needed research, but time has run out and I have to start thinking of a few proper concepts if I’m going to actually come out with anything. More research generally gets done as I go along though, I’ve noticed with these projects.

Don’t even get me started on the amount of actual content either. It’s like panning for gold – it takes hours of concentration and like 50 pages of reading to get say 3 paragraphs of well written, concise and relevant analysis/content. I am totally not impressed, because I can write endless amounts of dross with a fraction of the effort and it will hold up more or less. It seems to actually think about things and write thoughtfully you really have to invest huge amounts of effort. How long will I continue to think meticulously about everything from the overall structure of my written analysis down to the position of each carefully chosen word in a sentence? We’ll see.

In other news, I’ve found that I love browsing random books in the library, just going there and sitting cross-legged on the floor hidden by the high shelves and reading textbooks and essays and journals and the like. I’d happily sink into a sort of knowledge-absorbing daze and emerge only for food and water. This interest in everything and anything (swapping from dickensian analysis to a musty biology textbook seems a matter of course) only materialises when I have other work I desperately need to focus reseraching on and can’t afford to browse though, unfortunately.

3rd year project/dissertation

These are disjointed thoughts I’m just keeping for myself, so I can remember what I’ve been thinking (because I seem to be going round in circles

So, I have this idea that when it comes to new media – not much of it is art. I mean it’s got a commercial basis. Which isn’t to say that art can’t have a commercial basis, but it gives it purity if it’s about conveying the artist’s social/political commentary, or his/her ideals or emotions, or, you know, just pure aestheticism.

There’s a lot more opportunity to give a lot more impact to whatever it is the artist wants to achieve with the new technology we’re starting to see more readily available. There’s more scope to get the audience even more involved.

I think looking at a straight kind of ‘port’ from traditional art to digital art is far too naive a way of looking at this kind of thing. Okay so, it’s a new media and it needs to have a wild kind of approach, but there’s no reason why I can’t take the fundamental principles from a movement of art like say, expressionism (or impressionism, these are the two I think would be really interesting) and look at them in a digital context. In fact, why not both of them?

Impressionism – from what I remember a lot of it’s all about the movement that goes on around us in the world, and the quality of light and so on.
Expressionism is all about manipulating reality to get certain emotional effects.

So, I could look at combining those two schools of thought and creating a digital [b]interactive [/b]piece of art.

Is it a really bad sign that part of me is going : What is the point?

Connections (James Burke)

So, we watched a very interesting video in a lecture for emergent technologies today. It was called ‘Connections’, and it consisted of this remarkably 70s looking man named James Burke, complete in a kind of elvis-like white suit, giving a very structured insight into the future (of science) and exactly how it progresses (by looking at the past). Among other things. Anybody interested in reading a very long ramble triggered by the video, feel free to read on, but be warned I’ve only read it through once to make sure it’s not complete nonsense and I’m remarkably tired. It feels like I had to get this all out before I could sleep, well so be it.

Ah, Wikipedia has an entry on it.

Episode 10, part 1/5
Episode 10, part 2/5
Episode 10, part 3/5
Episode 10, part 4/5
Episode 10, part 5/5

There are a variety of interesting topics Connections touches upon. Burke points out in an interesting and engaging way how there is no way to tell what a key trigger is going to be in our current time, and how past events have hinged on a single thing which at the time seemed perfectly insignificant. It’s an interesting, non-linear history of practical science on one level. On another it’s almost about the philosophy of science. It also deals with the problems technology has caused, and the three different standard ways people react to this. That’s very interesting actually. Should we :

  • shut down everything and go back to a rural society,
  • stay where we are and stamp out all technological advances (no more research, no more upgrading),
  • or carry on as normal?

The possibilities of each are touched upon. Honestly, it’s an excellent programme to watch for anybody at all with even the remotest interest in the world around them, and I can’t recommend it enough. Of course the language seems slightly patronising (I believe it’s aimed at older children), the style is slightly ridiculous (but charming!) and the computer specific scenes are laughably out of date (in a cute way!). But still.

It concludes :

The key to why things change is the key to everything. How easy is it for knowledge to spread? Change comes from knowledge. Communication between scientists is important, and possibly most important of all is a willingness to learn and understand everything we can. The scientists and technologists are the true driving force of humanity.

But what of art, philosophy, politics, literature?
Burke suggests that at best the products of human emotion are interpretations of the world, second hand views of the world. Art is easier to accept, understand and perhaps delight in. “Scientific knowledge removes the reassuring crutches of opinion, ideology and leaves only what is demonstratably true.”

This is very worrying to me, because although I keep trying to pick it apart, it seems to stand firm.

Perhaps you could argue that art and philosophy and so on all have their function in keeping our society a healthy, developed one – mentally at least. I mean, they must exist for a reason right, other than to make life more complicated? Since the dawn of human consciousness there has been art, it must be something the human brain needs to do – either to enjoy and take in and understand or to create. It helps develop the minds of the young, I’m sure it’s not possible for a human being to never take in any form of art (books, film, music, etc) or philosophy or politics and not suffer from it.

That’s all a bit wishy washy, and ironically I don’t have any scientific proof to back it up. Maybe science and art/philosophy/etc are interrelated, are co-dependent. Leonardo da Vinci is one famous example of course, a brilliant engineer and inventor as well as artist and all the other things he excelled at. Of course, geniuses don’t come along every day. Most people seem to have more natural aptitude for either one side or the other. [This begs another question I’m deeply interested in of course – are women in general better at social and artistic academia because of gender roles or because our chemical balance and our brains are more adapted for certain things? I’ll leave this for the moment.]

I think what I’m trying to work out is how the human brain works. Maybe, um, scientists are more interested in the world at large (as well as humanity), and artists are more interested in how the mind works. My thoughts are running round and round in circles and I think that as a human race we’d better damn well find ourselves a point and a reason for being so I can stop thinking about it! Um, to go in another circle, I suppose that’s part of what philosophers are trying to do. At this point I often start to think about us being a TINY little blip in space/time, soon to vanish away forever without a trace (apart from radiowaves maybe). This is a particularly useless thought loop I seem to so often get stuck in, so I’m going to leave it now.

Maybe it’s coincidence, or in searching for a suitable topic for a third year project I have become remarkably sensitive to what people say about thought processes. That episode of Connections in a way is all about trying to find ways to translate the knowledge, to teach ourselves to ask the right questions. Several different sources in my life have all emphasised that it is important to know where you’re trying to get to, and what you are trying to achieve, when you set out to do something. Of course this is self evident, this is the sort of like that which had me gritting my teeth through Systems and Computing in first year, on account of it’s painful obviousness. And yet. And yet. It jolts me each time I hear it because I truly don’t know what I’m setting out to do. I’m not a naturally decisive person I don’t think, and without wanting to sound pompous I think I’ve got quite a broad set of interests. It’s very hard to pick something when there is so much interesting stuff to explore and play with! (And yes even though the paragraph above this was fast approaching a blunt statement “What the hell is the point of it all”, I can’t but help delighting in everything even so.)

Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, seeing as I don’t seem to have any idea in which way I want myself to head (knowledge-wise). Perhaps I should do something I’m more interested in than lots of other stuff, and something I think I will enjoy. And really it’d be a real shame to spoil that run of straight As I’ve lined up so nicely to point towards getting a 1:1, so maybe something which will get me a good mark too.

To go back to Connections, James Burke notes that ‘we’ (the audience in the 70s) are on the cusp of a revolution in human communication, and essentially if we don’t learn to use the tools we will be left as good as deaf, dumb and blind.

I think there’s something very sad about maybe one day not being interested in finding out stuff. I’m quite scared of the idea of that. And I love learning so very much, and I’m so glad to be back at university, with my awesome lecturers who can show us so many cool things like that Connections video, and who are kind enough to share what they’ve managed to find out in life so far.