excruciatingly difficult, even nerve- or neuron-racking, which it quite literally is, as I hope

to explain at least in part as we go. At its best, it is a dialogue of haptic (i.e., touch)

industry and kinesthetic (i.e., movement) awareness that is held in check by constantly

referencing against a changing mental image.

  Every choice, every move we make, alters the mental picture as we go, fed and

stimulated by the continuous prompting of sensual input from touch and movement.

And even for the wordsmith, whom we typically think is left brain, driven by symbolism and

less affected by tactile suggestion, we find this not to be the case. That same

haptic/mental dialogue prevails with tomes of examples referring to the pleasure of the

scribing process itself; of holding a pen against paper, of ink, of pressing keys, sounds

of its clacking, of hand motions, of fingers tensed and curled, and of the watching of letters

and then words form in front of you.

  I suggest that it is identical to the image-crafting one too, where it would appear that

this so-called ‘fertile exchange’ is more truly a rotation of attention; physical execution

allows time for the mental one to reboot. The clumsiness of our movements, the drag of

the pencil, the tapping of the keyboard allows us the time to reconfigure the imagery.

  There are simply more seconds involved in tapping than imagining, and far more

seconds in dipping a brush into a chosen color and finding the right place on the canvas

or vase or plate or stone. And that is a very good thing. A recent description by the writer

Philip Pullman stands out as he decries the use of the Internet:

        Moving a little mouse about and seeing a cursor zip down a screen—
        it is not satisfying. I would infinitely rather draw something—there is
        more pleasure in moving a pencil across a slightly resistant but also
        slightly forgiving surface of a roughened paper…I like a sensuous
        engagement with things. Yes!!  (Mitchison 2010)

  This chapter tries to demystify that magnificent and decisive process, both from a

visualization standpoint and a physiological one, the latter being the course most often

overlooked but ultimately the most defining because it is the only way of getting it done.

The primary tools will be that discriminating for ‘difference’ is the starting point and how

that gradually moves outward through the physical act of separating, collecting, isolating,

and confining, or literally pinning the image down. Ultimately all art form results from the

mental and physical process of isolation and confinement so that attention cannot waiver

beyond the presentation of the form.

  There is a method to this madness. But first, why is fixing attention by confining imagery

so important?

  Because ‘art’ really is a mnemonic device, and as any such memory-enhancement

tool, it functions in a forward-seeking role by prejudicing recognition. Once you see

Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ (Les Nymphéas), you cannot regard any aspect of a real-time

water lily without filtering through or past his seeking caricature since as yet you lack your

own. And this too is a purposefully driven impulse, not for pleasure, not for beauty, but

for success. ‘Art’ therefore, is a vestigial behavior to construct search alarms, both good

and bad, that accelerate the possibilities for survival. It’s our version of looking for the

worm and looking out for the hawk.

  When the object-bearing image is extricated from its circumstantial context, a closer

relationship is triggered because of its immediacy with the viewer. A Faberge Egg tossed

into a mass of gleaming jewelry releases its content, but held in hand, amplifies it.

We see this best with relatively modern distribution channels that we take for granted like

graphics, books, and the Internet. But we can just as easily understand the remarkable

proliferation of ideas and cognitive sophistication in Aurignacian art when it was isolated

and pinned down to their stationary objects like horns, animal bones, pebbles, shells and

rock faces, including subterranean ones, though in a different way, and much like a movie


  By both capturing and captivating our attention in these oft-used smaller objects, the

‘appreciator’ had ample opportunity to revisit the image on a highly restrictive format

without refocusing attention elsewhere. Imagine holding a Fabergé Egg. Imagine a

Japanese holding a Netsuke carving, imagine a small child holding a Thomas the Tank

Engine, and then imagine primitive man holding a torn leaf poked through with three dots

against the rays of the sun.

  Intimacy has always been essential, a dialogue of sorts in which the viewer grappled

with the imposition of an image against his normal preoccupation with the boundaries that

defined himself such that his sensitivity to sensory input was turned down to turn up the

image. If we take a moment to analyze what we do when we view art, we’ll easily recognize

this exchange, during which the body or self is left in abeyance over the consideration

of an image. And back and forth it goes.

  But this is nothing remarkable since any act of ‘attending’ shunts cognitive focus.

If my foot hurts and I’m thirsty, I’ll forget the discomfort when I finally drink. If I’m depressed,

counting distracts me. If I’m in love, I can forget I am thirsty.

  Handheld images reproduced in books, beginning with woodblock, line engravings,

and then lithography (invented by Alois Senefelder accidentally in 1796), and later

photographic reproductions disseminated in magazines and the like - often have far more

impact than the real deal because the eye and focal point is contained by the rigorous

format of the page before you, in comparison to the distractions of a museum and the

ambient noise of competing art, surroundings, etc.

  Removed from its self-selected context, which in its most extreme these days is a

museum, imagery in a vernacular setting has to battle through so much more. The same

intimacy is true to an even more heightened degree by the hosting of the Internet’s bright

screen that draws attention exclusively to the frontal plain without peripheral distractions

so that when art is represented, we are able to scan it more thoroughly within a

circumscribed locus and without any visual conflict.   

  Consequently, we naturally tend to iconize images more readily in this manner of

presentation because of the immediacy of the viewing and the natural conversational

intimacy. Conversational because it sits smack before you like another person,

exchanging, refining, zooming in and out as a friend might when discussing all shades of


  For example, I will never forget my shock on finally seeing a 3-dimensional copy of the

‘Venus of Willendorf’ (fig. 2) at the Museum of Natural History, having long viewed the

icon in books and photographs. I believed it to have been larger than life, which is always

the natural tendency when recognition of imagery is constructed out of context and

therefore exemplary. This is important. Art is intentionally exemplary and made to be ‘loud’.

Its behavioral directive is not of indulgence, as many would guess, but rather as

purposeful. I still like to inform people that the ‘Venus’ is a mere four and a half inches tall,

which never fails to illicit utter shock.

  The point is that isolating objects is the most effective means of presenting

‘visualizations,’ something I suggest that anatomically modern man naturally came to

discover when he adapted objects such as pebbles, animal bones and horns, rock faces,

and utilitarian objects, thereby captivating his audience with a frozen format.

  Movies are a case in point, though not obviously so since we think of the moving

image rather than the fixed presentation or delivery system. Darken the chamber to cut

down on peripheral distractions, brighten the screen and bring it front and center, and

the presentation speaks for itself. As Frank Capra, the famed MGM director explained:

        No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan has ever had the power
        that a filmmaker has, the power to talk to hundreds of millions of
        people for two hours in the dark. You have the power to say anything
        you want, so why not say something positive? (McBride 2000:191)

  But this is extreme, to say the least. Other platforms served just as well,

particularly when we considered them as objects rather than purely images.

But before we can discuss this on any deeper level, we first have to consider the first

step in this process.

                  Collecting for Difference

What’s most curious, though unsurprising, about human perception, is that like most

animals, we gravitate toward likeness more readily than differences, but constantly seek

differences to settle our nerves about consistencies. Sound nutty? Not really. It is a rather

obvious point when considered in terms of survival imperatives to identify aberrations

quickly in time to make lifesaving adjustments. Often, that effort to seek interruptions in

patterns consciously comes from a faster-working scanning, sub- conscious sensation

that something is amiss, or that there is, in fact, no pattern when there generally looks

to be one. At what order of magnitude do we interpolate inconsistencies into patterns,

and at what point do we notice them?

  For example, Jean Nouvel's crazy window building at 100 11th Avenue on 19th Street

in Manhattan makes me queasy. The reason is primitive: From the ground and passing

by usually in a car, I haven't got sufficient time to establish what the window pattern is.

It is unsettling to think that there is none which is always what seems to be the case

from below. We are used to window patterns, and therefore anticipate them to dismiss

them. If you stop to consider how many times we do this in a single minute, you'd be quite

amazed at the speed of recognition and thinking we do all the time.

  Therefore, when the reality does not appear to fit the expectation, a cognitive nausea

sets in. Our brain goes into overdrive and does not have sufficient time to determine,

let alone classify, the results. It is much easier to decide a priori that something will defy

patterns. The nausea comes from a mental inability to extrapolate a pattern before

moving on. Humans like to leave things as settled law, especially when they are not in a

seeking mode. When isolated in experiments, such behavior to anticipate consistency

speaks loud and clear.

        …there appears to be an interesting paradox in the human ability
        to categorize a complex scene presented for a brief time such as 100                 
        milliseconds… Although they may fail to detect small inconsistencies
        in the picture, they will notice any large systematic inconsistency. …
        [the same person] may be completely incapable of reporting what
        appears in the place of the error when the picture is errorless and
        complete. (Sutherland 1968:301)

  Redundancies connote safety and an unnecessary investment in attention.

Deciding what constitutes a safe paradigm from a remarkable one is common to all

creatures in their survival behaviors. For humans, we instinctively recognize that repetition

is code for safety, and interference or obstruction of it is not. Extreme coping devices for

anxiety, as in obsessive compulsive disorder, hinge on methodical repetition. We count

when we exercise to get through it. Routine is comfort food.

  But ‘art,’ especially decorative art, does the same by inventing patterns that repeat

and are in effect mollifying code for ‘You don’t need to attend to this.’ The ironic hitch is

that we must scan along these rhythmic images with our cognitive antennae fully up to

determine if there is an aberration before letting it go. And we do so all day long,

scanning for interference and for repetition faster than most of us are even aware.

  The greatest irony of all is that the plethora of imagery for a given object, say a face,

has so many variations that the breadth of renditions over time and space and history

and context is so vast that it becomes a pattern of repetition in itself, a single pattern of

so many repeated and expected nuances that it falls into a gross pattern in which the

smallest changes, ‘the small inconsistencies,’ are not important or discernible, as noted