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Viewing art that doesn't look like anything makes your brain take extra steps to try and get it.
- A new study finds that viewing modern art causes real cognitive changes in the viewer.
- Abstract art causes the viewer to place more psychological distance between themselves and the art than with more typical works.
- Exactly how this works is not yet known.
Abstract art alters your cognitive state? Kandinsky would be proud to hear it.<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="SlxuWYpH" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6729aae7d0a5a84ff0da7d8a99104a1"> <div id="botr_SlxuWYpH_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/SlxuWYpH-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/SlxuWYpH-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/SlxuWYpH-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p><a href="https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-94-007-0753-5_2306#:~:text=Psychological%20distance%20is%20a%20cognitive,persons%2C%20events%2C%20or%20times." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Psychological distance</a> is the mental distance you place between yourself and other people, things, times, and events. We tend to view abstract notions as very distant and concrete thoughts as very close. Likewise, events that are occurring tomorrow are often more "real" to us than things happening next <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construal_level_theory" target="_blank">year</a>.</p><p>As an example of how we all use this, imagine that you've made plans to spend the day go-karting with your friends. If it is a month away, you might focus on the general details like how much fun you'll have. If it is tomorrow, your focus might be on small details like the logistics of getting there. The first event is psychologically and temporally distant, so we tend to view it abstractly; the second case is the opposite.</p><p>For this <a href="https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/abstract-art-mindset-study" target="_blank">experiment</a>, the researchers gathered 840 subjects to test how the viewing of abstract art related to how psychologically closely or distantly they viewed it. </p><p>The test subjects were asked to view artworks defined as purely abstract, having a clearly defined object, or partly abstract with a definable object. They were then asked to imagine that they were going to decide where to place the painting on display. They could either put it in a gallery "around the corner" or "in another state." The date of the showing could either be "tomorrow" or "in a year."</p><p>The subjects were substantially more likely to choose to place the abstract works in a distant gallery in the future than to do the same with the more grounded works. This tendency to associate abstract art with faraway places or times, even after controlling for how much people liked the artwork in question, indicates that we tend to place psychological distance between ourselves and abstract art. </p><p>Study co-author Daphna Shohamy generalized these findings for <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/behaviour/evocations-of-abstract-art/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Cosmos</a>:</p><p>"This means that art has an effect on our general cognitive state that goes beyond how much we enjoy it, to change the way we perceive events and make decisions."</p><p>This study, published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/07/29/2001772117" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, points in the same direction as previous investigations into how we interact with abstract art. One <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21734876/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">2011 study</a> tracked the eye movements of people viewing representational art and those considering the work of Jackson Pollock and found that people tend to view all of an abstract work as they scour it for meaning as opposed to focusing on small details in a more representational painting. </p><p>Exactly how abstract art causes our brain to take a step back when considering it is a subject for further research.</p><p>The notion that a work of art must evoke a particular reaction from the viewer is the subject of some debate, though it is unlikely that many of the people advocating for that idea had the findings of this study in mind. While this study won't settle any debates in aesthetics or make a modern art lover out of everybody, it might lead to new understandings of how art affects the viewer and serve as a reminder of how much artwork and beauty influence the mind. </p>
Armed with today's advanced digital tools and itching to express ourselves, "boredom" is bringing out the best in us.
- While staying at home, many are exploring their creative sides to unprecedented levels, sharing their creations with the world in similarly novel, and sometimes collaborative, ways.
- People are finding amazing ways to create and to share from the safety of their homes using apps designed to promote expression and not simply distract users.
- Creative professionals are also stuck at home, facing unemployment, and a lack of access to their usual creative outlets.
The inspiration of boredom<p>Pandemic-related lockdowns and social distancing restrictions have led to millions of people around the world being shut in, isolated and increasingly bored. But might that actually be a good thing?</p><p><a href="https://www.uclan.ac.uk/staff_profiles/sandi_mann.php" target="_blank">Sandi Mann</a>, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of the books "The Upside of Downtime" and "The Science of Boredom," is researching how boredom can be a creative force. </p><p>In fact, being bored during this time is unleashing a veritable global creative renaissance. Of course, for many impacted by the virus, boredom is a luxury. Millions are out of work, including many creative professionals, and others are too busy dealing with working from home or job loss, homeschooling children without an end in sight, or are tragically coping with the virus itself. </p><p>However, for many, boredom has become a common theme in this new normal – and that might not be the worst thing. <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/07/health/boredom-benefits-quarantine-wellness/index.html" target="_blank">Mann advises</a> her audience to "Harness your boredom by getting bored," explaining that when you really let yourself be bored without distraction, you are forced to let your mind wander and find new ways to occupy itself.</p><p>"That means real boredom, which is where you have to let your mind wander," she says. "This is the real key. Daydreaming and mind wandering. Don't turn to the internet or try to scroll your boredom away."</p><p>While scrolling away might not fuel creativity, people are finding amazing ways to create and to share from the safety of their homes using apps designed to promote expression and not simply distract users. In one <a href="https://www.lightricks.com/blog-posts/how-is-covid-19-impacting-creativity-at-home" target="_blank">survey from Lightricks</a>, a software company that specializes in mobile tools for creative expression, over 70 percent of respondents said that using a creativity app helped them overcome anxiety and more than 90 percent responded that they use creativity apps to combat boredom. </p>
What are people doing to get creative under quarantine?<p> Every day people are going deep with amazing art projects and finding ingenious ways to stay occupied. The trend is, in part, inspired by the need to keep kids busy and engaged, but the wave of creativity goes way beyond this motivation. </p><p> Instead of shutting down and switching off, people have become creators of content rather than just passive consumers. </p><ul> <li>Early on in the pandemic, families and friends found ways to keep busy and have fun with creative TikTok dance videos. This trend has only picked up as the months have wore on, with COVID-19 related hashtags like #quarantine and #happyathome connecting users across the globe.</li> </ul><blockquote class="tiktok-embed" cite="https://www.tiktok.com/@tommy_bracco/video/6806044372379929862" data-video-id="6806044372379929862" style="max-width: 605px;min-width: 325px;" id="v64928368834841060"> <iframe name="__tt_embed__v64928368834841060" src="https://www.tiktok.com/embed/v2/6806044372379929862?lang=en-US" style="width: 100%; height: 897px; display: block; visibility: unset;"></iframe></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://www.tiktok.com/embed.js"></script><ul><li>Pinterest is another tech platform that is helping people get creative at home. With <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/pinterest-accelerates-tech-projects-as-pandemic-boosts-user-engagement-11591194991" target="_blank">searches up 60 percent</a> from this time last year and over 30 million new users joining the platform from January to June, DIY and craft projects are some of the most popular pins.</li><li>With public places becoming breeding grounds for coronavirus infection, classes and clubs for art forms like parkour and capoeira have <a href="https://www.candybar.co/blog/merchant-stories-move-academy-shie-boon/" target="_blank">moved to virtual spaces</a>, with different modes of movement.</li><li>New apps are also offering a digital space to be creative and maintain social networks, support others, and maintain mental health. One such app is Quickart. In a <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200708005658/en/Lightricks-Launches-%E2%80%9CQuickart%E2%80%9D-Turn-Images-Photos-Digital" target="_blank">press release</a>, the creators of the app explained that the pandemic has "accelerated consumer appetite for powerful, easy-to-use creative tools that empower users to unleash their artistic expression while offering them an escape." With filters like Split Colours (below) and AI-enhanced animation tools, this app is blowing users away and putting the power of advanced editing in the hand of every person – no professional skills required.</li></ul><p> <br> </p><div> </div><blockquote class="tiktok-embed" cite="https://www.tiktok.com/@tommy_bracco/video/6806044372379929862" data-video-id="6806044372379929862" style="max-width: 605px;min-width: 325px;" id="v42403778904227576"> </blockquote><script async="" src="https://www.tiktok.com/embed.js"></script>
@sereiadosuburbio via Instagram<ul><li>In one incredible project, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles tweeted a challenge for people to <a href="https://www.instyle.com/news/getty-museum-art-recreations" target="_blank">recreate famous works of art</a> at home. This unleashed an amazing display of creativity as people everywhere reached for everyday objects to reimagine masterpieces. </li><li>Using an app called <a href="https://mudeo.app/#/" target="_blank">Mudeo</a>, people are recording themselves singing, or playing instruments, and then layering additional tracks on top of themselves to create <a href="https://mudeo.app/song/k8mep9XaMy" target="_blank">rich self-accompanied arrangements</a> on the fly.</li></ul>
Creative professionals are getting in on the fun<p> Creative professionals are also stuck at home, facing unemployment and a lack of access to their usual creative outlets. </p><p> With amazing resilience, this sector is rising to the occasion in amazing ways that, thanks to technology, are inspiring millions of people around the world. </p><ul> <li>Professional musicians and <a href="https://www.pscp.tv/questlove/1lPKqLAVXaMxb" target="_blank">DJs</a> are playing free-access <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidalm/2020/03/31/when-in-quarantine-create/" target="_blank">online concerts and dance parties</a>. Collaborating from their homes in Brooklyn and Paris, for example, one rock school recorded a "family jam" of "With a Little Help From My Friends" by the Beatles, captioned with the words: "Created Under Confinement."</li> </ul><div> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zrP7YqaMry0" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> </div><ul> <li>The <a href="https://forgefiction.com/quarantine-fiction/" target="_blank">#QuarantineFiction </a>campaign encourages authors (and aspiring authors) to write and share their stories, whether it's a memoir or a work of fiction. People can even compose together, and the best stories will be compiled in a book and made accessible all over the world.</li> <li>A <a href="https://www.voidprojects.org/#/home-muralfest-1-2020/" target="_blank">home mural festival</a> featuring artists from around the world, giving them the opportunity to come together and find a creative outlet together. One of the artists involved in the mural project, Jacoba Niepoort, told <a href="https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2020/05/home-muralfest/" target="_blank">This Is Colossal</a>: "Being cooped up has presented an opportunity to come together in new ways, both as coordinators and as artists. To share visuals of the space and time we're standing in now, created in solitude, but with the solidarity and simultaneousness being an important value-factor."</li></ul><div></div>
@daviddelamano_ via Instagram<p>Adapting creativity to suit the strange circumstances has born inspiring fruit with many otherwise disconnected aspiring artists finding connection, community and opportunities to create and distribute their work.</p><p>This, in turn, is helping to ease the anxiety, loneliness and boredom of lockdown. Of course, all of this creativity is propelled by the ability to share it with an unlimited audience online. </p>
Locked down and spreading wings<p>In 1665, the Great Plague raged across Europe, and Isaac Newton was sent home from his post at Cambridge. Confined indefinitely to his home, Newton got creative and invented calculus.</p><p>COVID-19 is another pandemic proving the creative force of adversity and boredom to inspire ingenuity and art. With agility and perseverance, people will find new ways to cultivate creativity and express themselves. With fun and jaw-dropping tools available on any phone, people everywhere are using their devices to create content and share it with the world, to inspire and be inspired. </p>
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Using modern tools, a team of astronomers uses celestial sleuthing to figure out when Vermeer painted his masterpiece "View of Delft."
- The origin of Vermeer's acclaimed landscape has long puzzled historians.
- The painting is of the artist's home town, but exactly when it was made is a mystery.
- A team of astronomers have uncovered clues hidden in the artwork.
Just 35 paintings done by Johannes Vermeer survive.
The best-known among these is his captivating "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Part of what makes it so arresting is Vermeer's masterful use of light — his model's eyes practically glow with life and intelligence, staring straight back into your own. You may not be as familiar with "View of Delft," a landscape that writer Marcel Proust declared "the most beautiful painting in the world." Vermeer's genius here makes viewing this masterpiece feel as if you're actually there, warmed by the morning sun that illuminates the scene across the water.
Or is it the afternoon sun? Not much is known about Vermeer's life, and people have puzzled over this landscape for years, trying to identify exactly the view it depicts and when Vermeer could have painted it. Some experts had tagged its source of light as coming from the west, while others felt that it must've been directly overhead.
Now a team of researchers from Texas State University led by astronomer Donald Olsen have solved the riddle, thanks in part to the uncanny manner in which Vermeer was able to capture the play of light and shadow. When was it painted? According to the study, it was September 3 or 4, 1659 at 8 a.m. from a second-story inn window.
The research is published in the March 2020 issue of astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope.
What did Vermeer paint?
Delft today, a bit to the right of the painter's view and closer-in
Image source: Hit1912/Shutterstock
Olson, along with fellow astronomer Russell Doescher and three students — Charles Condos, Michael Sánchez, and Tim Jenison — took a multidisciplinary approach to their sleuthing.
The first question to be resolved was the location from which Vermeer painted the picture, and what he was painting.
Says Olson, "The students and I worked for about a year on this project. We spent a lot of time studying the topography of the town, using maps from the 17th and 19th centuries and Google Earth."
They concluded that Vermeer was looking northward from the second story of an inn across the triangular Kolk harbor, located at the southern end of his hometown. The students mapped out the painting's landmarks with Google Earth and calculated the angles and distances to reveal that it represented a 42-degree-wide view of the harbor from Vermeer's vantage point. "Google Earth is spectacularly accurate when it comes to distances and angles, so we used it as our measuring stick," Sánchez says.
The online research was followed up with a physical visit to Delph by Olson and Droescher, during which the retired professors took their own measurements and an array of photographs to confirm and expand on the students' conclusions.
When did Vermeer paint it?
Image source: Mauritshuis, The Hague/Big Think
Important clues can be found in the Nieuwe Kerk tower, located to the right of landscape's center. Some experts concluded, for example, that the painting had been done in 1660, but the tower rules out that possibility. While Vermeer's rendering shows the openings in the belfry as being empty, carillon bells — still present today — were installed there starting in April 1660. This would still leave the early months of 1660, except that in Delft there would be no leaves on the painting's trees before late April or early May. So much for 1660.
As for the time, look at the clock in the picture. To many, the clock has two hands that show a time just after 7 a.m. The authors of the new research noticed in other paintings from the period that the two hands of a clock were always lined up. Further research revealed, however, that clocks of this period didn't actually have two hands — they had just one, an hour hand. With this in mind, Vermeer's clock looks a lot more like 8 a.m.
Finding the date was a bit trickier, but again the octagonal Nieuwe Kerk tower provided an answer. Each of the tower's eight corners has its own stone column. The right side of the center-most column is lit, while its left is in shadow. On the next column to the left, however, is a thin sliver of light not blocked by the center column. Trusting Vermeer's careful depiction of light and shadow, the team was able to use this subtle detail to deduce the precise angle of sunlight shown in the painting. "That's our key," says Olson. "That's the sensitive indicator of where the sun has to be to do that, to just skim the one projection and illuminate the other. The pattern of light and shadows was a sensitive indicator of the position of the sun."
The team used astronomical software to identify any days on which the sun was at precisely that angle around 8 in the morning. The software returned two periods, one in April 1660, which was discarded for the reasons noted above, and the other around September 3-4, 1659.
Art takes time
The days identified by the Texas State researchers are most likely those on which Vermeer made the preliminary observations from which he executed the painting. Says Olson, "Vermeer is known to have worked slowly. Completing all the details on the large canvas of his masterpiece may have taken weeks, months or even years."
Still, "His remarkably accurate depiction of the distinctive and fleeting pattern of light and shadows on the Nieuwe Kerk suggests that at least this detail was inspired by direct observation of the sunlit tower rising above the wall and roofs of Delft."
And now we know when.