The intelligent eye (6)

The final chapter of David Perkins’s The Intelligent Eye, called “Building the Mind through Art”, is perhaps the most important one. Perkins rounds up what he has said by giving the warning that stereotypes are the most insidious of temptations. Regarding looking at art, the temptation is to treat art as yielding up all to a glance. Looking at art not only demands experiential intelligence, it also demands reflective intelligence, which is the knowledge, skills and attitudes that contribute to mental self-management. At the broadest level, this controlling role of reflective intelligence can be viewed as a matter of dispositions. It is only when we put together the deliberative and managerial powers of reflective intelligence with the quick and flexible response mechanisms of experiential intelligence that we truly have the intelligent eye.

Perkins contends that what is true of art holds for many other facets of life as well. Looking at art, with its various features such as sensory anchoring, instant access, personal engagement, dispositional atmosphere, wide-spectrum cognition and multi-connectedness, makes it a particularly supportive platform for building thinking dispositions. The challenge is one of transfer, which Perkins defines as “the impact of learning in one context on performance in other significantly different contexts”. For transfer to occur, the conditions needed have to be present. Perkins holds that the conditions for transfer can be engineered into instructional situations. Apart from specifically teaching transfer, there are two alternative approaches:
  • Abundant and diverse practice – Well-mastered skills are more likely to stand up in new contexts.
  • Reflective awareness of principles and deliberate mindful connection making – These encourage seeing the common principles that bridge disparate contexts.

In nourishing the thinking dispositions, art has a distinctive role to play. Its liberal borders help us to carry good thinking dispositions nurtured in the context of art to the wider world. Where most disciplines dig moats, Perkins says, art builds bridges.


The intelligent eye (5)

As David Perkins says, it is all too easy to stand in front of a work of art and miss much of what the work has to show. This basic fact is the invisibility of art. Works of modern art, in particular, are often pure abstraction. They are what Perkins calls “idea-based” art. Such works tease rather than tell, conceal rather than reveal, and pose a mystery rather than present a message. We have to use systematic ways of looking at art, to render it more visible than it would otherwise be.

Perkins introduces two models on looking at art in an organized way. The first is Edmund Burke Feldman’s “critical performance”. The four-phase process is as follows:
  • Description – Taking inventory of what is in the work.
  • Formal analysis – Looking at the way the elements of the work are organized and seeking out the “logic” of their organization.
  • Interpretation – Analyzing the meaning of the work.
  • Judgment – Appraising the aesthetic merit of a work relative to other comparable works.

The other is a process described by Harry S. Broudy and R. Silverman, called “aesthetic scanning”:
  • First, look for sensory properties, formal properties, expressive properties and technical properties.
  • Then, give judgment.


The intelligent eye (4)

We would like to find in a work of art insight into its essential message, logic, or expression.
According to David Perkins, our experiential intelligence does not serve us well here, as it tends towards the fuzzy, guiding us to easy conclusions that may not stand up to careful scrutiny. We catch impressions that may mislead, and lump ideas, feelings and images together.
We should, therefore, muster our reflective intelligence and use it to direct ourselves to get more systematic and analytical.

A few rules of thumb are given:
  • Find a focus – Go back to something that surprised you and ask “Why did the artist do that?”; go back to something that interested you and ask “How did the artist get that effect? And why?”; look for something that puzzles you and try to unravel the puzzle.
  • Consider examining what hides (the technical underpinnings of the work) – Make mental changes; look for “reinforcement” across the work; look for technical features of the work; compare the work with another you know that relates in some way.
  • Think in words to help you manage your line of reasoning – Articulate to yourself your questions, the possible resolutions, the evidence, the message, etc.
  • Sum up – Try to come up with some specific articulated, well-evidenced conclusions.

And how to progress from thinking about art to the art of thinking? Here are Perkins’s observations:
  • Discoveries are reasoned out rather than thought up out of the blue.
  • The disposition to think in a deep and careful way involves not only logic but the exercise of knowledge.
  • Look for oddity – the detail that does not make sense. It is in the nuances, the details, the subtleties that people often find their insights.


The intelligent eye (3)

David Perkins’s second suggestion for looking at art is to make looking broad and adventurous. Experiential intelligence, he says, tends to operate in a somewhat narrow, stereotyped way, unless we give it a nudge. This sort of self-cuing helps experiential intelligence to change directions, casting a net widely to finding seeings that otherwise would be missed. In order to expand our perceptions, we should aim our experiential intelligence at chosen targets, set ourselves a mission and direct ourselves to look for particular sorts of things, such as what awaits and what hides.

The rules of thumb suggested are:
  • Ask “What’s going on here?”.
  • Look for surprises.
  • Look for mood and personality.
  • Look for motion.
  • Look for capturing a time or place.
  • Look for cultural and historical connections.
  • Look for space and negative space.
  • Look for specific “technical” dimensions.
  • Shift your scale.
  • Look for virtuosity.

Perkins then makes the following observations on the cultivation of broad and adventurous thinking to enrich our thinking:
  • Broad and adventurous thinking is reaching out beyond the obvious by any manner whatsoever with an open spirit.
  • It is more enculturation than instruction. It is a posture, a mindset, an attitude, an orientation.
  • Broader and more adventurous thinking should not be seen as the manna of genius but the bread and butter of getting along in the world just that much better than we otherwise would.


The intelligent eye (2)

In The Intelligent Eye, David Perkins devotes individual chapters to each of the thinking dispositions mentioned in the blog entry yesterday. In dealing with each disposition, Perkins adopts the same approach of first explaining how to look and think about art and then moving on to the art of thinking.

Perkins’s first suggestion is that we give looking time. He warns us against Impressionism – not that of the artists but the audience’s natural impulse of hastiness. Instead of cruising past the wall and grading the artwork, he suggests that we slow looking down in order to find out what awaits and what hides in the works of art. Perkins emphasizes that this is not to push experiential intelligence to one side but to buy time for it to produce insights for many minutes. Persistence and patience are the most important ingredients. A few rules of thumb are given:
  • Position yourself.
  • Resolve to look for a good while.
  • Let your eyes work for you.
  • Let questions emerge.
  • Let what you know inform your looking.
  • Tell yourself when you notice interesting features.
  • When the flow stops, look away for a few seconds, then look back.

Perkins then talks about how to cultivate this disposition to refine the art of thinking:
  • Give thinking time.
  • Cultivate through culture – create a culture that honours thinking time; do not sweep complex matters under the rug of hasty resolutions.
  • It’s an attitude, a commitment.


The intelligent eye (1)

If you consider yourself an art lover, ask yourself these questions:
What was the experience of your last visit to an art museum like? How did you look at the works of art? Which art works have left strong impressions on you? What impressions are they? In what ways have you benefited from the experience, aesthetically or otherwise?

If you are struggling to give clear or coherent answers to these questions, It is likely that you are one of the "wall cruisers" that David Perkins refers to in his book The Intelligent Eye. Maybe reading it will help you take a different approach in the next museum visit. But the book offers more than that. This succinctly-written monograph is not only about art appreciation but also about thinking. It deals with two central and inter-related themes: (1) looking at art requires thinking, and (2) looking at art helps cultivate thinking dispositions.

According to Perkins, looking at art requires thinking - a disciplined kind of thinking that is different from everyday thinking. Everyday thinking is governed by our experiential intelligence, and is streamlined for fast, efficient responding. Perkins describes such thinking as hasty, narrow, fuzzy and sprawling, and refers to it as the “90% Solution”, since it serves us well 90% of the time. The problem with everyday thinking is that it sometimes gets us in trouble, so we need the “10% Solution” to go with it. The 10% Solution is reflective intelligence. It requires the dispositions that cut in the opposite directions of everyday thinking. And looking at art is a good arena in which to exercise it.

Before moving further, it is necessary to elucidate the meaning of the word "dispositions" here. Perkins defines a disposition as "a felt tendency, commitment and enthusiasm", and he regards thinking dispositions as "more than skills and strategies".

The four thinking dispositions that can be applied to looking at art are:
  • Give looking time!
  • Make your looking broad and adventurous!
  • Make your looking clear and deep!
  • Make your looking organised!

It is not difficult to see how these thinking dispositions which are governed by our reflective intelligence are meant to counter the hasty, narrow, fuzzy and sprawling thinking habits characterised by our experiential intelligence.  However, Perkins emphasises that reflective intelligence is not a divorce from but a control system of experiential intelligence. He believes that we need the thinking dispositions of reflective intelligence to manage the best deployment of our experiential intelligence, and it is when we put together the deliberative and managerial powers of reflective intelligence with the quick and flexible response mechanisms of experiential intelligence that we truly have the intelligent eye.


Bonne Anniversaire, Sophie!

However health conscious you are, however good care you take of your health, it is difficult for a woman to remain a leggy stunner at 50 years old.
But not for Sophie.

Sophie la Girafe, the chewable rubber baby's toy, celebrates her 50th year this month. Over thirty million have been sold since Vulli, a company based in the Haute-Savoie region of France, started producing it in 1961. Hand-made from natural rubber and non-toxic paint, Sophie is completely safe for chewing by babies.

To celebrate Sophie's birthday, Vulli has been running a competition to design Sophie's birthday card, while Gauthier, Swarovski and Escada have
designed her party outfits.

To learn more, go to Vulli's website.


A Tale of Two Kitties

"To be honest I think it would be really good for Parker to have the other kittens to play with (so he doesn't keep beating up Piper! ) and Piper can just be a Mommy's and Daddy's boy - he's a real sweetie. Why don't I bring them over as suggested on Saturday morning and you can give them a try?"

This is what the woman who originally owned Parker and Piper wrote when I was negotiating their adoption with her some three years ago. I wanted to offer the two sight-impaired kittens (one with only one eye and the other with none at all) a permanent home, but was concerned about their safety as we already had two cats, also adopted ones, which were not the friendliest in the world. Would it be a problem especially when we were not around during the daytime, I wondered. And the above was what the woman's said.

The remarks of the woman, who had only spent a few weeks with Parker and Piper when they were babies after picking them out of a rubbish bin, turned out to be prophetic. Parker is an affectionate cat who does not have an ounce of malice in his blood, but this rascal with boundless energy likes to boss around, and Piper is always an easy target. Parker provokes every cat in the home, including Fred and Francis, even when he was a little kitten and only half the size of those two. But probably because of the family bond, Piper remains his favourite playmate - or plaything, depends how you look at it. And every time it is Parker starting the fight, mostly by walking over Piper and stamping on him. Now Piper is the probably gentlest cat you will ever see, but he is also the bravest. He wouldn't let Parker get away with any abuse. He fights back like a lion. Given that he cannot see and that he is much less sturdy than his elder brother, seeking to get even with the exceptionally agile Parker is a tall order. But seeing them try to tear each other apart, or so it seems, you would never notice that Piper is handicapped.

And, definitely, Piper is "a Mommy's and Daddy's boy", not only because he is "a real sweetie", but also because he is the youngest, tiniest and most disadvantaged cat in the home and deserves that extra dose of love and care.


Week Without Screens

According to an online article from a French website, 26 French schools participated in an operation called "the week without screens" which took place on 10-16 May. The activity, which was launched in 2008 in a school in Strasbourg, was so successful that schools from many regions other have decided to take the challenge. The schools tried to organise the operation in the form of a game, with prizes to encourage the students to take part in outdoor activities.

This is definitely a well-meaning operation, but I really wonder how possible it is, even for school children, to live without screens any more.

I know the modern people's reliance on or attachment, if not addiction, to the screen is far from healthy, but can we realistically live without it? To try to do that would definitely be a brave move. Just make a mental account of screens you have stared at today. In my case, these include the TV at home, the mobile phone, the computer in my office, the monitor in the elevator, the personal organiser, the Kindle e-reader, the iPad at home, the notebook at home. Some of these, like the computer at work, I don't even have a choice of not using.

And the bottom line is, without a screen, I wouldn't be able to update this blog.
Difficult. But all the more reason for trying. Just like when I became a vegetarian. I never knew before I did it that it would be possible and I would feel so good to be without meat either.


"This life is yours..."

A long, long time ago, I used to love reading and sometimes buying the greeting cards by a company called Blue Mountain because of the beautiful poems therein. There was one name that was particularly notable – Susan Polis Schutz. I used to love her poems so much that I would copy them from the cards that I wasn’t prepared to buy, and I would then go home and type them up. After some time, there was quite a collection. This is one of my favorites:

“This life is yours.
Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well.
Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly.
Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature.
Take the power to control your own life.
No one else can do it for you.
Take the power to make your life happy.”

It was a time when, intoxicated by youth, I had difficulty telling the difference between dreams and reality, and even the air I breathed was filled with romance. Susan Polis Schutz’s poems always touched a soft spot in my heart.

It is amazing how, after so many years, the magic of the poem is still there. Re-reading it revokes a plethora of feelings – feelings that are stirred by all sorts of memories down the years. Just now, I was reading a passage which was about flavours in French - sucrés, salés, acides, amers, piquants, gras. Maybe there’s a bit of each plus a tinge of sadness. I felt sad for the passage of time between now and when I first came across the poem in a greeting card. I felt sad for the fact that it is only now that I have the capacity to appreciate the wisdom.

Not too late, I hope?