Saturday, November 7, 2015

Steve Schapiro, Scenes of Art

Last weekend I attended an agent-based conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I expect to share a few notes about that conference in my next post. But let’s start with some serendipity. On my trip home I met Steve Schapiro, a photographer from Chicago. Chance tossed us together on two legs of the journey: the shuttle to Albuquerque then the flight to Chicago.

Steve showed me this. When you are eating a meal either alone or in company — stop — sometime during the course of the meal. Look at the scene before you on the table. The arrangement of food and implements will be a scene of art. It will be perfect. You cannot improve it. If you try to improve it by moving things around you will only break it. You will make it worse.

First Steve told me about this, then later he proved it. After I had mostly finished my airline snacks and cup of coffee, he stopped me to look at the tray-table in front of me. It was indeed a satisfying scene of art.

What a delight!

Of course I can’t leave this alone. I need to explain this phenomenon. Here goes my attempt.

The scene invites you to participate. A person looking into that scene may know exactly where he or she would start. When I look at that scene I feel an impulse in my arm to start an action.

One reason for this feeling is, I suppose, that almost everything in the scene was made for use with human hands. The table, utensils, napkin, and servings of food were all made for human touch.

Let us compare the scene of a partially completed meal with three alternative scenes:
meal just set
If we look at the table with everything set in place but the meal not yet commenced, we human observers might know how we would start but we are not sure we have permission. Is this place setting mine or someone else’s? Has the time to dig in been signaled? It would be improper if we started without these permissions. The scene does not quite invite my participation.
craftsman’s workbench
We might look at a midday scene on a craftsman’s workbench and, as in the scene of a meal in progress, see objects which were made for use with human hands. But if I am not familiar with that particular craft I do not have any sense of what I would do next. The scene does not invite my participation.
extra-human landscape
A natural landscape with no evidence of human existence may appear beautiful to my human eye but this sense of beauty differs from the art I sense in a partially completed meal. I do not know how or if I would start to do anything in this scene. It does not invite my participation.

Why, you might ask, am I writing about scenes of art in this blog which has the purpose of promulgating the Resource-Patterns Model of Life? Psychology. The main interest which I find in RPM is its implication that we living things are probably biased to search for resource patterns. Such searches might be expressed as instincts or impulses. And this could possibly include our sense of art.

I could grope forward here to propose more specifically-worded ways that a sense of art may help LTs find RPs. But I prefer to encourage the reader to think in that way.

Addition: March 23, 2016
David Sloan Wilson seems to deal with a similar question. See for example Chapter 16 in Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, (2007). Wilson looks into this question from a different model, a different perspective, although there are strong parallels.

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