Sunday, May 16, 2010

How reality confuses the brain

The way we perceive things depends on our experiences. If we have not already stored something our memory, the brain might store new information in the wrong compartment; it might even take us for a ride. We encounter situations where the brain plays tricks on us, simply because our grey cells respond automatically to experiences and expectations. We all know about mirages, the optical illusions which can lure thirsty desert travelers to disaster. Mirages make us to think we see expanses of water, or they make remote parts of a landscape seem much closer than they really are. Often mirages appear on the high way, making us think that the road ahead is slick with water.

Such apparitions can be explained through reference to conditions in the atmosphere, but our perception can also be deceived when the brain malfunctions. This can happen as a side effect of certain illnesses, hallucinations or the influence of drugs. Often, such malfunctions can make you see strange things. A typical example is the white mice that alcoholics may see during the first phase of withdrawal from alcohol. In a wider sense, metal delusions can also be counted among these brain deceptions. Delusions include persecution complexes, excessive jealousy or delusions of grandeur. They stem from the beliefs which are out of touch with reality or false images a person might have about his or her identity.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flemish Painting Part.IV

There are good reasons for our lack of Knowledge. At that time, artists passed their knowledge only to their own pupils. If they did not protect their secrets, imitations would have appeared on the market, robbing the leading workshops of their popularity, the unique Flemish tradition were lost as the techniques of Italian painting spread through northern Europe after the middle of the 16th century.

The appeal of the Flemish style, however, cannot be explained simply through the technical skill of the artists. It is clear that deep religious feeling is also involved. For example, the altarpiece of the Cathedral, of St. Bravo, Ghent, known as the adoration of the Lamb completed by the Van Eycks in 1432, has a complex religious programme. The central panel shows a sacrificial lamb- symbolizing Christ on an altar, with its blood flowing into a cup. Angels carrying the instruments of Christ’s suffering- the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear and the whip- have gathered around the Savior, while crowds of the faithful-prophets, martyrs, popes, virgins, pilgrims, knights, and hermits- flock from the four corners of the earth.

 The natural world, as presented in the Ghent altarpiece is a product of fantasy, and provides a perspective to the survey the whole earth: we can see cities, the ocean, mountains, trees and the sky, and are able to grasp the magnitude of creation.

 The message of the Flemish painters is that man can feel accepted by God and live in the awareness of his presence. The people in the paintings have understood this revelation, and radiate inner confidence and serenity. But the many paintings that depict Christ’s descent from the cross also testify to deep sadness. In a moving work Dirk Bouts shows the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John sinking to the ground in pain after the death of Jesus: a young man has died and those close to him are in agony. This tender scene evokes boundless sympathy, and yet it also leaves the viewer with the freedom to admire the beauty of the illustration. The true magic of Flemish painting lies in this arousal of both emotion and admiration.

Flemish Painting Part.III

Never before had, there been paintings of comparable brilliance. The Flemish masters used their colors in the most subtle ways to achieve particular lighting effects: for example, to create the natural interaction of light and shadow.

The artists worked on wooden boards, which they sanded down and then coated with a paste of chalk and gelatinous glue. This priming process added considerably to the brilliance of the colors when they were applied. Charcoal, a sharpened goose quill or the ash of burnt bones were used to make preliminary sketches.

The next stage in the process was to apply the paints, or pigments. Because pigments were expensive and difficult to obtain, they were applied layer by layer. Pigments were made from ground-up minerals and organic substances. The blue used for backgrounds, for example, was made from azurite, while pigments used for the glaze were made from lapis lazuli; because the latter did not cover well, it had to be applied in very thick layers. Copper resinate mixed with malachite yielded green tones, while yellow and white came from salts of lead or tin.

The painters crushed the pigments to powder and mixed them with certain binging agents, according to their qualities. The Van Eycks experimented for many years until they had developed a durable binder which would dry evenly. To achieve this, they mixed oils of flax, hemp and nuts, to which they added resins. But we do not know the exact recipe. We also don’t know how they made the clear varnish used to coat completed paintings. All we know is that it contained natural resins.

Flemish Painting Part.II

It was long asserted that Van Eyck invented painting in oils. Art historians no longer consider this to be the case, but, together with his brother Hubert, Van Eyck did contribute decisively to the development of the technique of oil painting. Because he employed assistants, it has not yet been possible to ascertain the nature of his contribution to certain important works.

Wealthy patrons made sure that their porteges lived well and could concentrate entirely on their work. After about 1424, Van Eyck worked for Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy who appointed his both court painter and official artist of the city of Bruges, in what is now Belgium.

 What made the achievements of the Flemish painters so important? First of all, they observed everything in the most minute detail: The human body, animals, plants and every day objects, what we see in their pictures appears within our grasp, and the proportions and detail correspond perfectly. Frequently the artist adopted an elevated perspective to give the viewer a bird’s eye view, and make pictorial space seem endless.

  The Flemish painters also broke with medieval traditions in their choice of themes. Generally, medieval artists chose to paint religious scenes, and paid little attention to landscape and background. The Flemish artists discovered the beauty of every daily life, placing people into interior spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms. This marked an important development: artists no longer orientated themselves exclusively towards God, but also focused on their earthly lives. For the first time the sacred and secular were combined in harmony.

Flemish Painting Part.I

During the first half of the 15th century, Flanders was the setting for a revolution in the history of painting. It was at this time that Flemish painters attained the highest degree of perfection in the realistic representation of objects. Their work fundamentally changed the aesthetic values of the time. We have learnt much about the special techniques they developed, but certain things will probably never be known.

In the 15th century, the Dukes of Burgundy were among the greatest patrons of art on Europe. The court of Burgundy employed artists from all parts of the lands ruled by the duchy, including Flanders, which had been a part of Burgundy since1385. there, in the windswept north, a major artistic change took place which left a permanent mark on painting. How did this pioneering style develop?

Jan van Eyck is rightly considered to be the father of Flemish painting; some critics even refer to the so called Eyck Miracle. But other artists, such as the Master of Flemalle Rogier van der Weyden, Dirk Bouts, Hugo van der Goes and Hans Memling, all made important contributions to the new Flemish school of paininting. These artists led the way from the stiff, formalized style of the Gothic era to the more naturalist style of the Renaissance.