Introduction to Visual Representation by Alan Blackwell – Video 1


bjbjq Rikke: Welcome, today we are at the
Kettle s Yard Gallery in Cambridge. We are meeting Alan. Alan is going to tell us about
visual representation and how we can use it when designing engaging products. Alan, what
is visual representation? Alan: Well this is an ideal place to explain it. This is the
house that belonged to Jim Eade, who was the first curator of modern art at the Tate Gallery
in London. His house here in Cambridge, he used his personal collection to explain to
Cambridge students about theories of art in a painting. On his walls, we have examples
like this painting by Christopher Wood, of a snow scene in Paris. Rikke: You chose this
painting. Why did you choose it? Why didn t you choose a photo, which seemed to be a
bit of a representation? Alan: Sure, there are other ways I could use technology to give
us an impression of where we are. I could use Google Earth for example, or I could come
right here on Google Maps. We could say, here we are at this house. Rikke: There seems to
be more acreage. Alan: Well it is, but a map is on kind of an image of a place. It doesn
t really give you an idea of what it is like to be here. To some extent, he is giving you
a picture of what it is like to be here. Of course, with technology, we can do much better
than that. We can take a photograph. This is a great image showing just what it was
like to be here. The question is, why didn t he make something as good as a photograph,
because surely already Leonardo DaVinci or Michelangelo or Rembrandt, they could all
really make very realistic paintings. Why are we here looking at this painting that
just seems to be a not very good painting of Paris? Well, I am going to show you some
other paintings here, to explain what it was that he was achieving. Rikke: Yes, let’s go
have a look. Allen this painting looks like it has been drawn someone without artistic
training. Alan: Yes, all of these paintings are by Alfred Wallace, who was a fisherman
in the Cornwall, where the early 20th Century British painters were based, including Christopher
Wood, whose painting Paris in the Snow we have just seen. Wood discovered Wallace s
work and they were very impressed because the way that he had managed to represent aspects
of Cornwall life. As professional trained painters had not managed to. If you look at
this though, the perspective is extremely unusual. It looks almost childish in fact.
There are no real rules about perspective. Perspective is any system by which you take
a two-dimensional surface and use it to represent a three dimensional scene. The camera picture
that I took of you just before, that is camera lens perspective in a particular distinct
way. They have their own schemes. Most periods in history are in different kinds of perspective.
Wallace was completely self-taught. He invented his own perspective and painted in much the
same way that children do to show things that are important and the things that interest
them. In fact, you can instantly recognize when you go to Penzance Harbour, you can recognize
where this is. You can see what kind of lighthouse this is. You can see what kind of ships these
are. Most importantly, you can see something that is very characteristic about his life
as a fisherman. He was remembering as he sat at his kitchen table after he retired, drawing
pictures like this from memory. Here we can see a ship coming in stormy waters on a dangerous
day, true as stone sea break. It is an exciting, thrilling, probably dangerous and worrying
experience. If you have been in a ship in those sorts of conditions. The ship is tilting
to the side. That piece of perspective is showing you just what you need to know to
understand what Wallace is representing, which he is not representing a place. He is representing
a memory. What he is showing us here is the authentic memory of a fisherman experiencing
being in this situation and not being childish actually showing us with a novel sophisticated
perspective. Exactly the kinds of ideas that he wants to communicate. Rikke: How do you
take these principles and apply them when deciding technical products? Alan: Well, in
fact this is directly relevant to something like the scene that we see on the screen of
our computer. When you see the Windows screen, the Macintosh, or the Xerox start. What they
do as this painting does, they are representations of the important things. Some of them are
memories, some of them are ideas. They are arranged on the screen that shows you the
things that are important. They are a kind of perspective, but not a pictorial perspective.
We need to be aware of those options. There are ways that we can arrange the graphical
elements in our two dimensional scene to carry different meanings. There are other paintings
in the collection here that show us other ways of arranging marks. Shall we go and see
how that can be done? Rikke: Definitely. Allan what are the graphical techniques on this
portrait, which we can use when deciding. Alan: This is a great example of something
that would be very easy to do on a computer. In one way because it is just simple black
and white. It is just done with black ink and a brush. You can see the ways that the
simple marks are conveying so much. Partly because we can detect the expression. The
brush stroke here sweeping around the eye. It gives you a force of personality coming
out through the spectacles of the Poet Ezra Pound, the subject of this portrait by Henry
Gaudier Brzeska, or the playful little twiddle of his beard. The fact that we can detect
the evidence of the brush strokes, this is what tells us that we have personality here
that we are communicating human to human. It is not just machine marks. In fact, it
is not that easy to achieve with a computer. One of the things that we want to be thinking
about is when we put marks on the screen, where is the humanity that we can detect in
the marks that we use. There is another painting, also by Gaudier-Brzeska over here, where we
can see a completely different set of marks. Rikke: Yes, let’s have a look. Alan: We can
see that he has made a two dimensional picture of a three-dimensional object. He is not using
perspective, but there is a lot of very machine like straight lines here. These marks are
clue to the reader based on our knowledge of previous technologies. Because we know
about the history of copper plate etching and printing, we know that when we see straight
lines like that this is the way that you represent shadows in drawings. We can interpret what
the three dimensional object is because we see the conventional depiction of shadows.
When you are designing visual representations, you need to know about history of representation,
in order to give your audience the clues of how to read what they see on the surface.
Rikke: What is this? Alan: In fact, the object that this is a representation of is also right
here in the museum. Let’s go take a look at it. Rikke: So this is the sculpture that we
saw in the drawing? Alan: That is right. Gaudier-Brzeska was making a drawing of his own sculpture.
You can see that he has made a very good job. The lines that we saw have given us a two
dimensional visual representation, which has very clearly depicted the three dimensional
shape of this object. Rikke: But it still is a little bit difficult to see what it is.
Alan: Well of course, this sculpture is also a representation. Perhaps as a clue, I can
tell you its name is Bird Swallowing Fish. This is a sculpture of a bird swallowing a
fish. Although, even that is a little hard to see. Introduction to Visual Representation
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Legendary interview
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