We all speak at least one other language. What's more, we've been learning it all our lives and speaking it fluently every day, despite the fact that no one taught us. The language of iconography – simple pictures representing complex ideas, instructions, or information – is all around us and deep within us. Without icons, driving would be a nightmare, shopping would take even longer, and using a cell phone? Impossible. To that end, might it be argued that though it is our second language, it is gradually becoming our first? Written language is ideal when we need to understand a complex idea or problem or read a story, but when we need to make fast decisions, understand something instantly, or avoid danger, the icon's visual language is way ahead. This is because our brain is wired to receive information visually. Long before we humans learned to speak (let alone write), our brains received visual cues. In those days, as far as our minds were concerned, the whole of the natural world was a vast series of icons: visual cues to helps us do anything and everything – from finding food or shelter to avoiding a predator or crossing a river. Although life is a little less primitive today, the way our brains work is much the same as it was, and iconography maximizes this perfectly. The three elements of an icon – color, shape, and image – give the brain all the information it needs, providing a direct fast-track route to allow for quick decision making and a deeper understanding of data being received. So, is the written word disappearing under the inevitable march of the icon in our modern world? Fortunately, this looks unlikely, but words certainly do have competition. While icons are very good at what they do, their reach is limited and cannot (not yet anyway!) compete with a poem or prose to convey, for example, emotion or narrative. Nevertheless, icons have revolutionized our lives and are undoubtedly here to stay, like tiny directional beacons. And without them where we would be? Probably stuck in traffic wearing pants that don't fit.
- Jul 8
- 2 min read
When we experience art, our brains go into overdrive, processing and decoding the incoming information at a phenomenal rate, stimulating our emotions and exciting and inspiring us. But why does art have this effect? Although scientists agree there is no single explanation, there are several reasons that help explain.
Some say art works as a social stimulus, helping us form into groups and enable friendships to develop. Through art, we form opinions and enrich our understanding of one another, forming bonds and connections. It’s a collective glue that enables us to get along in close proximity and large communities.
Others argue that appreciating art is a vestige of evolution and an essential reason for our ancestor’s survival. That understanding form and lines, color and texture, abstract ideas and complex smells was once the thing that also helped early humans to understand and avoid danger, to solve a problem and invent tools, or to eat the right food and remain healthy.
Still more say that because the appreciation of art is a distinctly subjective activity, it helps with our personal development, our emotional growth, or our individual understanding of the world around us. Broadly, art helps us develop the mental tools by which to live our lives.
One thing is for sure - art scratches an itch within us humans in a way that nothing else can. Whatever the complex combination of reasons that conspire in our brains, the emotional response we experience when looking at a painting, reading a book, or listening to a song, is a powerful and wonderful thing. So, let’s leave it to the scientists to figure out why we like what we like, and we can concentrate on loving art in all its extraordinary and inspiring forms.
- Jun 8
- 2 min read
While most of us would not claim to be an artist, with a bit of gentle persuasion, we might admit to being artistic, and given the right tools and plenty of time to learn we could thrash out a fair still life in oils, or a recognizable landscape in watercolors, or a usable cup in clay. But with a camera, we can be artistic in perhaps the most immediate, direct way of all; just by observing the world around us.
Not even 20 years ago a camera was a cumbersome and complex piece of engineering, and the preserve of ‘the photographer’. Today, the opposite is true. Everyone has one in their pocket that’s every bit as sophisticated, and taking a photograph is as easy as switching on a light.
But the camera also has a superpower. It has the ability to allow us to be artistic even when we are not using it; just by being in our pocket it makes us more aware of the world around us. Walking along the street, beside a river or up in the hills, with a camera in our pocket, we are unintentionally scanning for a moment to capture; unconsciously poised to take the photograph as it appears to us. With a camera in our pocket, our artistic superpower is switched on the moment we leave the house.
That’s not to say taking good photographs is easy. Far from it. It’s is a skill to learn and it can be difficult and challenging. Correct framing, good light, angles, subject, time of day… all need consideration. But with such immediate results, and with easy to use technology, we can progress quickly and develop an artistic style of our own in a very organic way.
Armed with our camera we naturally, almost effortlessly see the world a little differently. We instinctively look for things that are interesting, funny, moving, and unusual to capture. We look up at the sky and up at buildings, or down on the ground, or into the distance. We do it because we have a camera in our pocket. And even if we don’t use it, we still look, and we still see the world a little differently. Our camera has opened our eyes. And while we may not be about to be exhibited or claim to be an artist, and even if we don’t take the picture, we see it; we see the world through a new, artistic, lens.