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Can We Learn to See How Artists See?
We all dream of mastering a skill like a pro—to skate like an Olympian, sing like an Idol, or go to the hoop “like Mike.” What if we could learn to see how an artist sees? “It’s so important to move through the world with this kind of wonder,” artist Bo Bartlett says of putting on an artist’s eyes in SEE: An Art Road Trip. “It all passes so fast.” Directed by Bartlett with his wife and fellow artist Betsy Eby and filmmaker Glenn Holsten, SEE challenges and inspires us to see the world through an artist’s eyes not necessarily in hopes of making art but, more importantly, in hopes of our appreciating the beauty that rushes past us and our high-speed everyday lives. Part road trip, part art history lesson, and part existential drama, SEE at all times conveys a vision of a more aware, more visually activated life that most of us only dream of but can finally experience, if only fleetingly, through these pros’ eyes.
Both a realist artist with heavily symbolic content and an insightful filmmaker, Bo Bartlett sees the world with an artist’s eyes but combines that vision with a poetic, philosophical voice. (Read some of his website’s seasonal musings to get the full effect.) When Bartlett married Betsy Eby in 2007, they united not just their lives, but also their unique artistic styles. Eby works in encaustic, specifically colored beeswax, which she torches to create “nature-based abstraction,” as described in the film. (See a video of Eby “painting with fire” here.) Thus, realism and abstraction, but both rooted in nature, came together in their relationship, which naturally spilled over into that most ancient of journeys—a quest, in this case a quest to capture the essence of seeing.
The concept for SEE is deceptively simple—two people in a car crossing America with a camera and a dog in search of beauty and how one can become fully open to embracing that beauty. Their trip and the film itself could easily have detoured into indulgence—two beautiful, talented people so clearly deeply in love that you might envy them to the point of hatred—but they steer clear of such potholes and never lose their sense of invitation, a beckoning to become an artist of seeing and living in the beauty we see. Bo and Bets’ “excellent adventure” takes us along for the ultimate art lover’s road trip, essentially completing my personal “bucket list” in under an hour: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field, Gutzon Borglum’s Mount Rushmore, the quilters of Gee’s Bend, the Whitney Biennial, Norman Rockwell’s home and studio, Winslow Homer’s Prout’s Neck coastline, a Maine lighthouse Edward Hopper painted, the Olson House in Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World and other paintings, and even the Cadillac Ranch. They somehow manage to fit in a lunch, complete with blueberry pie a la mode, with Wyeth and his assistant/model Helga Testorf that may be the last filmed interview with the artist before his death in 2009.
If Bartlett is the voice of SEE (a false dichotomy since Eby’s an equal partner in the philosophical conversation), Eby is the body. (In addition to providing a body for SEE, Eby, a classically trained pianist, helps provide a soundtrack by performing much of the music herself.) Rather than the “transparent eyeball” of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay “Nature” that could be a presence-less presence as it sees, SEE emphasizes the physicality of seeing—the necessity of being there and “seeing” with your whole self. When Eby approaches Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, we get a true sense of the scale of that work not as it engulfs her but rather as it embraces her (and, vicariously, us) into its strange, swirling beauty. Similarly, Bartlett shoots Eby from below at Mount Rushmore and momentarily places her sculpted features among those of the presidents, visually cutting those monumental figures down to everyman (and everywoman) size. Walking, stretching, dancing, bicycling, and even trampolining, Eby conveys materially the joy of seeing and being seen by her beloved. Even though SEE “completed” my bucket list for me, it only makes me want to be there to see it for myself more.
Into the film and Bartlett-Eby’s marital bliss, fate complicates matters as Bartlett begins to experience vision problems. After some fuzzy medical advice, they eventually learn that a tumor pressing against Bo’s optic nerve requires surgery. Could there be anything more tragic than the idea of an artist going blind? Through pure synchronicity, Bartlett’s ailment underscores the value of the gift of sight as well as the finite nature of that gift. Accompanied by footage of their car driving through the night around a bend, Bartlett ponders his future and muses on how life is like a bending road that you have to trust goes on beyond what we can see at that moment. SEE manages to include Bartlett’s dilemma into the drama not by exploiting it, but rather by making it all part of the bigger picture. At another point, Bartlett neatly encapsulates the goal of the film as challenging everyone to become “activated” by “seeing everything as art” flush with “great meaning,” akin to a dream state in which “everything has intentionality, everything is beautiful.” Even that tumor contains an odd, ironic beauty in that its moment of discovery comes in the middle of a project about the discovery of true seeing and its momentous value. The last images we see in SEE show Bartlett in a hospital room preparing for the surgery that could either save or end his sight—an unforgettable, cliffhanger embodiment of the high stakes of vision for us all.
Spoiler alert—Bartlett’s surgery succeeded and he still paints today, with little difference between his pre- and post-surgery paintings save for how we (and maybe he) perceive them. Did Bartlett paint Blind Tom in 2010 thinking “There, but for the grace of God, go I”? After watching SEE, it’s impossible not to think such things in the face of a sightless possibility. SEE: An Art Road Trip will open your eyes to the gift of sight and activate in your soul the grace of appreciating everything from works of great art to images as simple as the way the wind ripples through a dog’s fur as it sticks its head out the car window. SEE: An Art Road Trip takes you on a joy ride in every sense of the word and shows you what you’ve been missing all along.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.