Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cosmic consciousness

My second favorite thing to do in life: visit an art museum. (Well, maybe it's the third favorite thing to do.)  It's always a magnificent walk through time that helps fill notebooks with thoughts and impressions for future pondering ...

Have you ever wondered why it is it that one gets pulled to certain artworks, while others get merely a glance? For example, while peering at the treasures in the Frick Collection or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I've had an unusual fascination with enamel plates by the "Master of the High Forehead."

Taking notes on the Master of the High Forehead's enamels
This person, or group of people, made the 16th-century equivalent of "art for the masses." (In other words, it was affordable to people other than the clergy.) The name says it all - the faces depicted in these works have unusually high foreheads.

Circumcision of Christ, enamel on copper plate, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The faces also have eerie-looking ringed eyes. Yuk! But for some reason I'm drawn to them, too.

Eyes of the Master
I've been trying to understand why these curious little plates garnered as much interest as masterpieces by El Greco and Kandinsky. I felt as though I knew the Master's work ... where did that feeling come from?

ah HAAA! Now I remember: as young boy, my absolute favorite TV show was Space Patrol ("Planet Patrol" in the US). I've revisited this program thanks to Youtube. It turns out that the Neptunians - bad guys on Space Patrol - look a lot like the odd characters depicted by the Master of the High Forehead. It's no wonder why the Master's work held such fascination.
A Neptunian (at right) keeps Marla, the Venusian secretary, captive
I recall lectures in Psych 101a/b where it was postulated that the mind can reformulate embedded memories and project them as current feelings and impressions; this poorly-understood process was mystified and presented as "cosmic consciousness" (i.e., a consciousness of "the life and order of the universe") by late 19th century psychologists.

I wonder if the artists involved with crafting the Neptunians had ever seen works by the Masters of the High Foreheads? I'd love to have this conversation with them ... and with Richard M. Bucke.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


I'm following up on the previous post, where porcelain fragments were ground to dust and then viewed at various scales. We always seem to focus on that's in front of us when viewing porcelain objects. That is where the "action" is - the form and texture of the piece and, perhaps most importantly, the glazed image(s). How often do we bother looking at what's inside or behind an object? (I never do.)

Obverse of Christina's porcelain fragment

Back side of the fragment
When first examining Christina's donated fragments, though, I discovered something remarkable on what would have been the "reverse" of the piece - a foraminiferan called Pyrgo!

Close-up of the fragment -- containing a Pyrgo!
I don't know how it was formed -- maybe it was an oblong bubble in the ceramic slip that burst upon heating?
False-color image of the ceramic Pyrgo

I've spent some time pushing watercolors around with Pyrgo on my mind, but nothing emerged as impressive as what I found on Christina's fragment.

The lesson? Sometimes "looking deeply" involves looking from all angles -- including from behind.