mapping the brain and maybe the mind, victorian colors wallpaper, eggleston and the value of art

Science found that the eyes were biological mechanism that captured and focused light, not the windows to the soul – though on a poetic level they still are for many of us. Science mapped the  human genome, the tiny and elegant helical architects of life that are on permanent auto-pilot, performing functions that require our conscious minds to sweat bullets to understand. The Brain: The Connections May Be the Key to a Glimpse of the Human

Seung believes that by the end of this century, his successors will have mapped the connectome of an entire human brain. “Our descendants will look back on these achievements as nothing less than a scientific revolution,” he writes in his new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. As scientists gain the power to see the brain in its full complexity, he argues, they will finally be able to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the mind.

The breakthrough has been a long time coming. The first accurate pictures of the human brain date back to the 1660s, when English physician Thomas Willis published anatomical images created by his assistant, medical illustrator Christopher Wren. Those pictures helped destroy the ancient belief that animal spirits pumped through hollow chambers inside the brain. Yet the microscopes of Willis’s day were so crude that he couldn’t make out the fine structure of the brain’s cells. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Camillo Golgi invented stains that could reveal details of individual neurons. Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal then used Golgi’s stains to demonstrate that the brain is a thicket of branching cells, and he hypothesized that electricity jumped from one neuron to the next.

The philosophers who have staked out the premise that the mind or human consciousness can only be understood if one introduces some mythical unknowable element to the discussion might be in for a surprise. It might be that knowing every single synapse will not explain why your sister loves blue and you much prefer greens and dark reds. Science doesn’t have to go to that level to explain that this combination of neural connections, plus this density of glial cells and a cup of environmental stimulation makes the basic you.

dried flowers victorian colors wallpaper

Just a few weeks ago I posted the Cindy Sherman photograph that broke the record for being the highest priced photo in the world at $3,890,500. William Eggleston has not broken the record for a single photograph ( that now belongs to Andreas Gursky’s ‘Rhine II’ which sold for $4.3 million), but he did break the record for a collection of photographs, 36 prints by for $5.9 million. – Why This Photograph is Worth $578,500

The first thing to realize is that in art, especially modern art, value is not simply attributed according to how aesthetically pleasing something is or how well it is made. Aesthetics and craftsmanship are certainly important, but they are by no means the sole or even primary contributors to the value of an artwork, monetary or otherwise. Those who say ‘Memphis (Tricycle)’ is not beautiful or technically accomplished enough to be worth half a million dollars are simply missing the point.

To understand which factors are responsible for the value of a work of art, you must first understand what art is. Art is a way of seeing the world. It challenges perceptions, evokes emotions and stimulates thought. All great art changes the way we see the world around us, or perhaps creates a new world all of its own. That’s what sets art apart from crafts, which are solely concerned with craftsmanship and aesthetics.

William Eggleston 's Memphis Tricycle

Eggleston’s has been called “the man who reinvented color photography”. His use of color established color film as an art form. Previously if you did art photography, you did black and white, period. Other photographers did color. Though at the time those photos were thought of as either purely documentation or a way for families to have fun remembrances. They generally were not considered art except in retrospect – the Depression era color photos by Russel Lee come to mind. I bought a book of Eggleston’s photos some years ago after I took a class in the history of photography. Besides liking his work on a pure esthetic level, I have been to some of the places he has photographed. Being almost instantly able to identify with a photographer because of shared experience is not always possible. I saw the kind of southern Gothic haze in my memories that Eggleston caught on film.

Heartless Bastards – “Parted Ways” (Studio Video)



resisting new knowledge is how learners define elitist, jackson pollock, today’s orwellian doublespeak from paul ryan

I’ve read similar essays before, but this one set off the memory of an often repeated contradiction that has become imbedded in our political culture. Age of Ignorance

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year.

In a recent post I mentioned Alistair Smith and some terms he uses in High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools,

At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

Getting stuck is not a problem. Staying stuck is. Good learners practice getting unstuck, and here’s how: Turn that around — praise for progress, don’t praise for perfection.”

The knowers tend to be conservative and far right leaning libertarians ( the latter whom when push comes to shove will always pick ‘private realms of power’ over freedom). This are the people who are always yelling elitism at colleges, college professors, college graduates or anyone who has walked past a college. Sure colleges are job training centers and some people see them and use them solely for that purpose, but most see them as a mix of professional preparedness and centers of learning. This latter group has made the implicit declaration that they do not know it all. There is always an arrogant know it all wherever you go, though generally college has a way of instilling some humility. It turns out the world is a complicated place, mastering a subject is a tremendous challenge, you probably will not do that if at all until years after you graduate and all the other people striving to understand this world and master some knowledge are in the same ball park of intellectual gifts. The conservatives who hang on every word of Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Bill O’Reilly – the conservative royalty of knowers and self declared anti-elitist claim they don’t need to study knowledge, facts or logic. They know things. They just do. They know a fake birth certificate when they see it. They know when someone is conspiring to foist solar energy on a nation that deserves all the fossil fuels it can blow the tops off mountains to mine. That lack of humility, the resistance to information and to new justified knowledge is the very definition of elitist.

nature, wildlife

family of chitas resting


The photograph below is how people generally picture artist Jackson Pollack.

Jackson Pollack 1947 at work. In the famous series on Pollack by Life magazine – done two years after this photo by he looks much the same. It is as though he was one of those men who was born middle-aged, always a rough old school blue collar worker look ( at Life link) and bald. So this photo via the  Smithsonian is a jolt to that perception of a man suspended in time by the most often used photos of him.

Jackson Pollack high school photo ca. 1928.

Description: Taken at about age 16, when Pollock was a student at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles.

Citation: Portrait of Jackson Pollock, ca. 1928 / unidentified photographer. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers, Smithsonian Institution.

Looking at that angelic face it is difficult to imagine that 28 years later he would kill himself and an innocent passenger in a drunker car accident. Note: I think they might be off about his age in that photo. If the year was 1928 he would have been 18.

The tea cup.1946. Oil on canvas. By J. Pollock

if anyone is looking for a unique context theme for a blog, you might try the daily Orwellian doublespeak. George Bush called his initiative to allow more toxic pollution the Blue Skies Initiative. Lying the nation into a disastrous invasion of Iraq that caused a massive death toll and pushed two million Iraqis into becoming refugees was called Operation Iraqi Freedom. In today’s doublespeak, Paul Ryan’s(R-WI) “Focus on Dignity” is a Spectacle of Greed and Cruelty

All told, Ryan hands out about $4.4 trillion in tax cuts that primarily benefit the very best off, and pays for it with $4.15 trillion in spending cuts to programs that primarily benefit the poor and middle class.

[  ]…“A budget that diminishes what we provide for the one in six Americans who are struggling with hunger is not a budget befitting a moral country,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “A plan reflective of our national priorities should seek to lift up our neighbors in a time of high unemployment and poverty; instead, this demands the most from those with the least, and flies in the face of the common dignity of all Americans.”