Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don't starve your systems of perception, you kinda need them.

This is a post about art process, although it may not seem like it.

As human beings we are remarkably engineered for survival. Our bodies are bristling with systems designed to perceive every motion, sound, and possible threat around us. Our biology is constantly and acutely feeding us beneficial data. 

For example, the hundreds of muscles that create expression in the human face are translated by our eyes & mind into hundreds of discreet and specific emotions, inferences, and messages, from subtle to overt.

Despite this brilliantly designed machinery, we as a species are rapidly shaping our lives to ignore or greatly under-utilize it.

Much has been written about the societal impact of phones & mobile computers. No doubt we get some amazing benefits from these devices. 

But for my purposes they are a lens through which humans view the world, often diverting the eye away from human-to-human contact. As our obsession with them grows, there are a lot of negative implications, the most egregious being the reduction of face-to-face connections between people.

And it's not just a matter of simple distraction. A side effect of device obsessions is that people can outsource (or offload) their basic perception systems onto other people. 

For example, while commuting by rail I often witness a good number of people who move through trains & stations without ever looking away from their phones. They literally use other people as bumpers, guiding them where to walk and when. Often this is accompanied by the use of ear buds or headphones, sealing off sound as well. 

From a safety standpoint, there's probably a dozen ways someone can die doing this. But they trust that other people are actually looking for them by proxy, and hence they can focus their attention on e-mail.

The crowd becomes the unwilling navigation & safety vendor to the phone-obsessed client. Once the client/vendor balance tips, I can imagine whole crowds of people just obliviously walking out onto the tracks by accident.

Sitting in traffic, one can't help but notice the endless lines of dark SUV's with nearly-opaque black tinted windows. In this example, people are removing their visibility from the outside world. Their vehicle becomes another one-way lens, other drivers can't see their eyes to judge their awareness.

So what's really being lost here, and how does this apply to art?

When artists aren't creating art, they're on "input" mode. This means absorbing and observing everything around them, drawing inspiration that directly feeds the soul. This input is visual and emotional, we take all of this data and process it in our minds, re-interpreting it into what becomes our artistic output. 

Artists rely on our perception systems to feed this important cycle. We need this pipeline to be unrestricted and wide open. There's no way we can outsource this process to someone else.

When we look at the world through these lenses, we lose a critical capacity of our wiring; face-to-face communication and understanding. We lose awareness, emotion, intent, inference, and bonds. We drink the world in through a tiny straw, subverting the immense energy we normally enjoy from our perception systems.

Our soul doesn't get what it needs. It becomes idle and anxious. Most distressingly, it doesn't reliably feed the output process when called upon, because we didn't fill the well. Generally, anything dehumanizing should be viewed as potentially toxic.

So what should we do?

I think we can work to be better bi-directional communicators, turning off our phones for a time every day, and going out into the world to interact, witness, taste, hear, smell, and converse face-to-face. 

Let's fight against the tide of isolation and purely digital identity. Let's reap the benefits of this incredible biological wiring we possess to keep our creative channels fully fed. 

The virtual still doesn't hold a candle, not even in the same universe, as our world unfettered before our eyes. As artists we can never forget this basic fact, lest we wither and dry up.

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