All Art is Utilitarian (anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan)

I have always tried to render inner feelings through the mobility of the muscles . . . --Auguste Rodin

More often than not, [people] expect a painting to speak to them in terms other than visual, preferably in words, whereas when a painting or a sculpture needs to be supplemented and explained by words it means either that it has not fulfilled its function or that the public is deprived of vision
. --Naum Gabo

Aesthetic signal. 1. An aromatic, auditory, tactile, taste, vestibular, or visual sign designed by human beings to affect the sense of beauty. 2. Arrangements, combinations, contrasts, rhythms, or sequences of signs, designed as an emotional language with which to bespeak elegance, grace, intensity, refinement, and truth.

Usage: "I shall thus define the general function of art as a search for the constant, lasting, essential, and enduring features of objects, surfaces, faces, situations, and so on, which allows us not only to acquire knowledge about the particular object, or face, or condition represented on the canvas but to generalize, based on that, about many other objects and thus acquire knowledge about a wide category of objects or faces" (Zeki 1998:71).

Anthropology I. "All art then is utilitarian: the scepter, symbol of royal power, the bishop's crook, the love song, the patriotic anthem, the statue in which the power of the gods is cast in material form, the fresco that reminds churchgoers of the horrors of Hell, all undeniably meet a practical necessity" (Leroi-Gourhan 1964:364).

Anthropology II. In Upper Paleolithic sculpture and cave art: "Women, bisons, aurochs, horses, are all executed according to the same convention whereby identifying attributes are attached to a central nucleus of the body. The result is that the head and limbs are often merely hinted at and, at best, are out of scale with the mass of the body" (Leroi-Gourhan 1964:376).

Aromatic art. "On the deck [of Cleopatra's barge] would have stood a huge incense burner piled high with kyphi--the most expensive scented offering known to the Egyptians compounded from the roots of Acorus and Andropogon together with oils of cassia, cinnamon, peppermint, pistacia and Convolvulus, juniper, acacia, henna and cyprus; the whole mixture macerated in wine and added to honey, resins and myrrh. According to Plutarch it was made of 'those things which delight most in the night' adding that it also lulled one to sleep and brightened the dreams" (Stoddart 1990:142).

Cuisine. A dessert course without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye. --Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (quoted in McGee 1990:271)

Form constants. 1. "What [Heinrich] Kluver showed was that there are a limited number of perceptual frameworks that appear to be built into the nervous system and that are probably part of our genetic endowment" (Cytowic 1993:125). 2. "Kluver . . . identified four types of constant hallucinogenic images: (1) gratings and honeycombs, (2) cobwebs, (3) tunnels and cones, and (4) spirals" (Cytowic 1993:125). 3. "In addition to form, there are also color and movement constants, such as pulsation, flicker, drift, rotation, and perspectives of advance-recede relative to the viewer" (Cytowic 1993:125). 4. "Form constants can be found in many natural phenomena, from subjective experiences to works of art, including craft work and cave paintings of primitive cultures" (Cytowic 1993:125).

Golden section. Human beings are most aesthetically pleased when a straight line is divided not in half (i.e., not in two equal segments), but rather, when the right-hand segment measures 62% of the left-hand segment (Young 1978).

Likes. 1. As human beings, we may be genetically predisposed to like bright colors, glitter, and sunshine; soft, tinkling, and rhythmic sounds; sweet, fruity, and nutty tastes; and touching what is soft, smooth, and dry (Thorndike 1940). 2. We like star-shaped better than blocky, rectangular-shaped polygons (Young 1978). 3. Visually, we prefer "unified variety" in a picture, rather than seeing too much or too little variety (Young 1978).

Mobiles. "Until Calder invented his mobiles, the generation of motion depended upon machines, and machines did not seem beautiful or desirable works of art to everyone, not even to the cynical Duchamp" (Zeki 1998:71).

Neanderthal art. Among the few artistic artifacts fabricated by Homo sapiens neanderthalensis are a. an engraved fossil from Tata, Hungary, with lines scratched in the shape of a cross; and b. a carved and polished mammoth's molar tooth, also from Tata (Scarre 1993:48).

Plato. The Greek philosopher Plato reasoned that, as a medium of communication, art was removed from reality and therefore could not communicate knowledge or truth (Flew 1979:6).

Prehistory I. 1. The oldest human rock engravings, consisting of designs etched into stones in southern Australia, date back ca. 45,000 years ago (Scarre 1993). Known as Panaramitee petroglyphs, the engravings depict ". . . mazes, circles, dots, and arcs" (Scarre 1993:47; see above, Form constants). 2. One of the oldest human decorations, consisting of zigzag "V" markings engraved in a bone from a cave at Bacho Kiro in central Bulgaria, appear to be deliberately incised rather than merely accidental (Scarre 1993:47).

Prehistory II. "Picturing by drawing or painting on flat-surfaced sign vehicles (walls, ceilings, animal skins, sides of containers, clay tablets, etc. [see SIGN, Usage II]) increased in quantity and sophistication with the arrival of urbanism and the full-time artist and scribe (ca. 6,000 B.P. [before present]). The painted signs themselves not only improved but became increasingly prolific, standardized, and information-laden, and began to carry more of a narrative force than the pre-urban decorations. Egyptian funerary art (from 3,000 B.P.), for example, details complex social, political, and agricultural activities in graphic picturing sequences--scenes easily understood by the modern viewer. Another example is the Minoan fresco from Akrotiri (ca. 3,500 B.P.), 16 inches high and more than 20 feet long, which depicts an intricate naval battle sequenced horizontally in a flowing narrative order" (Givens 1982:162).

Neuro-notes I: "Artists, without their being aware of it, have accurately described the function of the brain through their definition of art. Just as artists select from varied visual information for their representation of reality, so does the brain discriminate from varied stimuli to produce insight" (Zeki 1998:71).

Neuro-notes II: "To be able to activate a cell in the visual brain, one must not only stimulate in the correct place (i.e., stimulate the receptive field) but also stimulate the receptive field with the correct visual stimulus, because cells in the visual brain are remarkably fussy about the kind of visual stimulus to which they will respond" (Zeki 1998:71).

See also MUSIC.

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