The very act of seeing is a creative act.  The way the optic nerve is connected to the retina within the eye produces a void in the center of our field of vision.  What we actually see with decent resolution is quite small: a slice of vision about the width of our thumb held at arm’s length. The brain then makes assumptions about the missing information and creates the rest of the picture.  We are not even conscious that we are doing this, but we are expert modelers, relentlessly constructing visual models.  Even now, when reading this page, modeling is occurring.  Visual modeling is an invaluable tool in both how we perceive our world and how information about our universe can be organized and better understood.  For example, the abstract theories, ideas and concepts of science are often difficult to comprehend, but with the aid of visual models and the language of abstraction they can be transformed into more easily digestible forms, such as graphs, schematics, diagrams, maps, and so forth. 
Abstract painting is a form of visual modeling that can take this much further with its capacity to effectively communicate a complex array of subtle and nuanced information.  Abstract paintings are, in effect, models of seeing that suggest an alternate perspective on our world. In some cases, art can be empirical, but this perspectival shift does have scientific value as well.  Stephen Hawking, in his book The Grand Design, gives the example of the perspective of a fish from within a curved fishbowl.  From the fish’s perspective, the world is distorted due to the curve of the glass, and yet, the fish could construct a model of its reality that would, from its viewpoint, be “correct”.  For a person standing in the room with the fishbowl, however, the fish’s model would appear useless.  But actually the fish and person’s respective models are both correct in that they reveal a common aspect of truth from each relative position.
When we look at our past and the great problems that we have solved, we can see that we did not solve these problems because we had a sudden influx of intellectual capability.  Our intellectual capability has remained largely constant for thousands of years, what did change was our ability to look at the problem in new ways.  If we are not getting the desired answers to our questions, perhaps it is because we are not asking the right kinds of questions. In this way, Art may not be empirical in the strictest sense, but it can play a larger role in our understanding by helping reveal the right questions. The essence of experiencing art brings us out of ourselves, inviting different perspectives and helping more novel, innovative questions to emerge. Two hundred years ago the idea of crossing the Atlantic in a metal canister catapulting through the air in just a few hours was incomprehensible.  Now, of course, it is a given. What we can gather from this is that our current understanding is likely wrong in some way as well and that our future often begins within the depths of our imagination. 
In physics, there is a trend to find a single, elegant equation or theory to unify the forces of the universe.  If this trend is taken further, we can foresee a future society where the roles of Art and Science are more interconnected, greatly enhancing human capacity to comprehend our universe. What we have now is only the smallest hint, a seed, of that possible future society, where traveling across the Atlantic Ocean may be as easy as walking to the next room.
Visual Modeling and the Value of Seeing Differently | 2012 | abstraction, Art, creative act, emergence and structure, future society, imagination, intelligence, looking, mechanics of sight, model dependent realism, painting, perspective, physics, seeing, visual modeling | Comments (0)