NOTES ON THE EMPIRICAL DRAWINGS
During the four years I worked on the Empirical Drawings I witnessed and experienced all my understandings about what and how we see completely unravel. I kept written notes and produced many didactic drawings to help sort out and explain this event for myself and anybody else who might be paying attention. The following are excerpts from those notes.
"In a sentence the world is put together tentatively" - Lichtenstein
There are some basic concepts about what is out there on which we base our entire existence; most of these are as misleading as the earth being flat.
Ignorance is an underestimated asset when knowing provides too many constructs that funnel your thinking. Ignorance is fundamental and invaluable.
These drawings -- their parts -- never completely coalesce into a coherent image. That is the way they are drawn and given the opportunity they will re-de-coalesce. The drawings are nothing more than a sequence of acts of perception.
When the options outreach our ability to discriminate, we inventively compensate by knowing.
We always talk about what it is we really see, or what it really is we're seeing. There is an honest reluctance to let go of the idea of a definitive perceptual actuality, without that, seeing seems to have no bearing. It's unsettling to consider the possibility that our most immediate sensory response to the natural environment is mostly something else . . .
Seeing is the magic of energy (light) turned into thought (energy), the principle resource of our knowing.
Here you can spend an incredible amount of time discerning what has to be the de-information that is only the light.
The problem is to make the processing and the mind responsive rather than directive, susceptible rather than structured, open to the possibility of perception rather than blurred by intention.
The peripheral is always beyond or around what is focused. Consequently it is much more dependent on language and constructs. Can the unlanguaged fovial activity function apart from the peripheral's constructs?
The more specific I try to base the decisions I have to make, the more intense I look at the subject, the more intense the perception, the more each unit becomes finite and isolated. This proliferation of the tiny disconnected units of information forces an even more subjective, non-specific decision - perception that causes an intrinsic abstraction based on extrinsic information. A kind of perspective where the horizon line and the vanishing point is internal. This could be a real functional possibility.
This drawing (Head II) is the place to sort out the senses, thinking and language but:
Our senses are manipulated by our language and thinking.
Our thinking is manipulated by our senses and language.
Our language is manipulated by our thinking and senses.
So on and so forth, our senses, our thinking, our language . . . one is not (as things would have it) exclusive of either of the other two. They are cyclical with interchangeable relationships and we are the effect of their ever changing deliberation.
The fifteenth century understanding of space originates outside on some horizon line, and we are precariously placed on one of its projected orthagonals. Why do we insist on staying out there?
The progress and transitions in this drawing (Head III) cause an uncomfortable feeling there are some fairly consequential questions going unanswered. It seems the progress is motivated more by what should not occur. It's a medieval mentality I thought was lost 600 years ago.
Seeing is locked into a single understanding in a fixed extrinsic position which is strange because there is the potential latitude of tens of thousands of understandings (bits) if empiricism were subjective.
The mechanics of the eye demand a constantly changing and moving focal point. This mechanism, the fovia, requires purpose to engage it, find its range, and cause its movements. The purpose is not the seeing. So it would appear that some kind of thinking, and all that implies, intrudes on perception both before and after the act of seeing.
The form we give objects has more to do with logic than perception, just as color is not indigenous to the object we see it is conceivable that form is not indigenous to the object we see.
Disorder is not necessarily an unnatural function.
But order is a function of logic.
Form is a visual type of order.
It is possible that form is more precept than percept.
The anxiety level is a very significant part of this drawing (Head III). The quality and integrity of each decision and execution has to be monitored with an intensity that is unnerving. But it is that crazy watching of the process; that very internal, singularly personal, observation of thinking that makes this involvement worth the effort.
There is a precariousness about what this drawing (Head III) is and how it does it. There is a lot of dubious time, energy and worry spent making the drawing - which should distract from the perceptual process that the activity is. But the clarity that is the drawing forces the generative decision makings, monitoring and seeing. The balance between is and does has to be maintained.
Monitoring choices and decisions causes this drawing process to be other than empirical. It generates too many questions that want to deny the idea of empiricism.
Although we intuitively know we are each the center, we are caused by language and our own biology to think of ourselves as small parts of a great external authoritative center. That center is synthetic but singular which lends order and clarity to function. Our dependence on its mechanisms of clarity produces powerful structures. These structures then predicate, if not dictate, most of our thinking and obscure future considerations.
A spherical perspective notion has merit. If nothing else, it allows for simultaneity.
There is a funnel made of peripheral orthagonals (radials) projected from the eye and not from the horizon - that is to say the observer is the point of perceptual origin and not some .......vanishing point?
An object's mass displaces a given space but that given space occupies a percentage of an expanding space . . . the greater the expansion, the smaller the object's percentage. So intracentric perspective could become referential by its mass-space ratio.
The idea of perspective space is a dichotomy. It depends on a two-dimensional plane as a median that causes our judgements about space to be two dimensional, excluding actual space. When you think that something in the background is smaller than something in the foreground, the comparison of these two separate spatial positions is made on a plane that is common to both. That plane is make believe, its space is a make believe space that can only occur on a piece of paper.
Seeing things as though the orthagonals of perspective were to radiate from the person provides perception the flux of an expanding space, a more capacious vehicle for visual activities than the very inflexible convention of linear perspective.
There has to be a way to represent the idea of an expanding visual space. Eliminate mirrors - they will only compound the confusion. Parallel and curved lines on a large wall or in a space seem to have potential.
This internally generated (projected) perception thing is perplexing. The didactics are too limited to convey the idea, the head drawings have no latitude - maybe sculpture .
An ideo-concentric horizon and projected radials might imply that seeing employs a simultaneity we don't know how to think. Why should we think it, what we have works, or so it appears.
There has to be a way to penetrate this two dimensional construct. The drawing adequately addresses the object, but a space will need a space.
The experience of space is impossible to convey in a two dimensional vehicle . . . mostly because of the linear (time sequential) aspect of seeing. A fixed and common relationship of all the parts is impossible - the continuum needs time and presence. Another thing is the straight lines - one wall in my studio is about 36 feet long. When I stand in the middle of the room the height of the wall at the corners is visually smaller than the center of the wall. That means all four edges of that wall have to be curved.
The internally generated horizon line always appears two and three dimensionally straight because it is concentric around the origin of perception. A constant. This line is laterally perpendicular to your line of vision no matter where you direct it: up, down, or straight on.
To perceptually translate a wall in the studio to a workable two-dimensional vocabulary demands interesting slight of mind. The wall is 9'5" by 36'8" and the perceptual origin is 19 feet from the wall. I have put up a string to mark my physical eye level - the concentric horizon line. My peripheral vision can include the entire wall at this distance - but I can't see this wall - there are too many variables and the perception is too linear - and that time defies any and all other constants. To draw it would demand an impossible two dimensional language.
The diagrammatically drawn rooms are interesting. The internally generated perspective seems to work.
In 1982 I put up the first public centripetal installation in conjunction with the Aspects of Perception exhibition.
William T. Ramage, Professor
30 North Street
Rutland, Vermont 05701