Thin lines

A confluence of issues

This Post introduces Chapter 22 from my book “Painting with Light and colour”. It uses one of my paintings to discuss many issues that relate to viewing conditions.  These all apply to all paintings, but it is difficult to find information about them in other books. Indeed, it was not until I began work on paintings including numbers of thin lines that I became fully aware of many of them. My awakening was a result of the coming together of many strands of the story I have been telling in my series of four books.

  • The dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (see Chapter 1),
  • The “systems” ideas of Michael Kidner (see Chapter 8 of my book on “Creativity“),
  • My interest in the debates relating to “illusory pictorial space” (see Chapters 7-10 in “Painting with Light”, the first part of this volume),
  • My interest in the Modernist Painters obsession with what they described the “integrity of the picture surface”* and its dynamic implications in the history of “Modernism in Painting**
  • The use of thin lines as a means of exaggerating and, thereby, exploring “simultaneous colour contrast effects” (see previous chapter).

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Important warning

In general, whenever images of paintings are transferred to the computer screen, many of their qualities are lost. Sometimes this can be an advantage, but never for paintings that follow the dogmas of Professor Bohusz-Szyszko. This is particularly true for the images using thin lines discussed in this chapter and the next. Often, you will just have to take it on trust that the effects discussed are as described.

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An image of a painting with twelve of orange thin lines

Pictorial space

CHAPTER 22 – MORE ON THIN LINES

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Footnotes

* If you ask Google “What is a Modernist painter”, you get the following excellet summary:  Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.” However, if you had asked Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh,  Matisse, etc., etc., whether traditions of the past had been thrown aside, you would find that it was by no means all of them.

** Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend this questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossiblilit of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours do not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out of any illusory pictorial space, which is allways behind it. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.

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Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

Painting with Colour: Introduction

The  first three sections:

As anyone who has clicked on my “Post Page” will know, I have written four books: one on “drawing”, one on “painting”, one on “creativity” and one on “the science of how artists use their eyes”, which underpins much of the originality of the other parts. The volumes on drawing and painting are both divided into two books. The one on painting is divided into  “Painting with Light” and  “Painting with “Colour”. I have already Posted all the chapters of “Painting with Light”. I am now progressing to “Painting with Colour”. This Post provides an “Introduction” to this second book within a book. It starts with a list of the three subdivisions:

  • Colour and feeling (Chapter 19).
  • Local colour interactions (Chapters 20-24)
  • Shadows, shading and highlights (Chapters 25 -28)

The final section of the book provides:

  • Concluding syntheses based on both “Painting with Colour” and “Painting with Light”( Chapters 29-31)

INTRODUCTION TO BOOK 2 “PAINTING WITH COLOUR”

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 1 : Colour, Light and shade : The Esplanade, Castelnau de Montmiral – Chalk pastel

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 2 : Colour and Light : Breath Pastel No 18

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 3 – Colour only – mixed media – Michael Kidner

List of already Posted chapters from “Painting with Light”:

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

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Optical mixing and its legacy

Lesser known outcomes

Ealier, in Chapters 8, 9, and 10, much was written explaining about how “optical mixing” was central to  Seurat’s ideas about “painting with light”. Here it is used to introduce lesser or unknown aspects of the subject of interactions between adjacent regions of  colour (the subject of this and the next four chapters). The more familiar aspects have been given less space because they have already been treated authoritatively in books by Joannes Itten * and Joseph Albers** of the Bauhaus,*** as well as in countless other books and magazine articles, with varying degrees of reliability.

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Detail from “La Grand Jatte” by Georges Seurat

CHAPTER 20 – A LEGACY  OF OPTICAL MIXING

Links to the three chapters mentioned above:

Like Chapter 20, these earlier chapters also take “optical mixing” as their starting point. However, their concern is not with contrast effects but with other topics:

Other earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”.

Footnotes

*      Johannes Itten

**    JosephAlbers

***  The Bauhaus

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Colour contrast effects

Simultaneous Colour Contrast

This Post introduces Chapter 21 of my book “Painting with Lightand Colour”. It focuses on a subject that is dealt within every book, every article and in every classroom in which the subject of colour dynamics is treated. It was first described by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1839. The name he gave to it was “simultaneous colour contrast“.

Its potential for use in paintings was popularised by Eugene Delacroix. It was picked from him by the Impressionists and many of their Modernist Painter successors. In the twentieth century when so many artists turned to non-figurative productions, it came to be treated as a subject in itself. A particularly influential part in this process was played by teachers at the Bauhaus. Of special importance were Johannes Itten and Joseph Albers, both of whom produced  books exploring the possibilities of colour contrast effects . Both had a widespread and lasting influence on artists and art education. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce their ideas as a preparation for going beyond them. Doing so will provide the subject matter for this chapter as well as chapters 22, 23 and 24.

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CHAPTER 21 – LOCAL INTERACTIONS

Three paintings exploring colour-contrast effects

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Joseph Albers : from homage to the square series

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Robin Denny: Baby is three

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Mark Rothko: Violet Green and red

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A lot more about colour-contrast coming shortly

Chapte 22 : Thin Lines

Chapter 23 : Viewing conditions

Chapter 24 : Colour and surface.

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Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

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Colour and Feeling

The role of the feelings in creativity

This Post makes available the Chapter 19 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. Its purpose is to confront the issue of “feeling” in the appreciation and use of colour in painting.

Although this is the only chapter in this book which uses the word “feeling” in its title, it is far from being the only place where the fundamental importance of the feelings in artistic creativity is mentioned. Even when it is not mentioned specifically, its importance is assumed.

Indeed, one of the key proposals that underpins the series as a whole is that the brain’s “feel system” is essential for ALL “learning” and ALL “creativity” and, moreover, that this is the case in ALL domains of human activity.

While it is common experience that the feelings play a key role in providing the  “motivation” that is necessary for everything we do or avoid doing, few seem to realise just how deeply  embedded it is in the way our brains work.  Above all, it is the arbiter that allows us to use “feedback”, a characteristic that means it is involved in determining the outcome of ALL decision making. Thus, it is inextricably involved in determining judgements between:

  • Each individual’s assessment of what is “Good” and what is “bad”,
  • Degrees of “Similarity” and “difference”.

(For more on this fundamental subject, use the two links at the bottom of this page (below the image of the Patrick Heron painting) to access two chapters from  of two of my other books. Both have much to say about the role of feeling, in all its manifestation, including ways in which the brain’s “feel systems” are involved).

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CHAPTER 19  – COLOUR & FEELING

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Three paintings

Colour and feeling
Francis Pratt : From the “Indian” series

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colour and feeling
Joseph Albers: From “Homage to the square” series

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colour and feeling
Patrick Heron – colour field painting

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Two chapters that focus on the role of the feelings, from my other books

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Chapters from Book 1 of “Painting with Light and Colour”

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“All you need to know about painting”-2

This Post provides a link to chapter 18 of my book, “Painting with Light and Colour”. It is the last of the chapters in the part of the book dedicated to “painting with light”. Its title, “All you need to know about painting-2” is almost the same as the title of Chapter 1, except for the number 2 tagged on at the end. The grandiose claim was made by my  teacher Professor Marian Bohuz-Szyszko, during a brief encounter on the very first day we met. He asserted that “all you need to know” can be summerised in two simple rules.

The purpose of the chapter  is to consider the plausibility of his assertion in the light of the ideas developed in the Chapters 2 to 17. These not only delve into the historical origins of the rules, but also provide scientific evidence of their power as tools for artists.

After the link to Chapter 18, I have added a slightly edited version of  its “Introductory”, as a means of better preparing you for its contents.

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about painting
An oil painting that follows the rules of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, by one his students, my friend Stefan Stachowicz.

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CHAPTER 18-ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PAINTING-2

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Introductory to chapter 18 of  “Painting with Light and Colour”

We have now come to the last chapter and the question as to how to make the best use of the information and ideas presented.

The first chapter introduces the five propositions of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, the ones that according to him constitute, “all you need to know about painting”. The chapters that follow provide an account of their historical and scientific origins and explain why they are so powerful. At the same time they point out some limitations. However, although the avoidance of repetition and the use of complex, complementary-containing colours can transform what artists can achieve, they certainly do not represent “all there is to know about painting”, not even with the modifications and extensions suggested in this book. Most notably, the Professor’s rules give short shrift to two subjects that many artists consider to be of the utmost importance Thus they: 

  • Have no relevance to the kind of “colour dynamics” that can be generated between juxtaposed colours (the subject of the following chapters)
  • Do not address what is perhaps the most important topic of all, namely the role of the feelings.

Although a full discussion of the importance of the feelings as a driving force in all domains of creativity is reserved for “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, it would not do at all to neglect them entirely in what follows.

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The  earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour

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An artist among scientists

Mutual benefits

During the twelve years I worked among scientists at the University of Stirling in Scotland, a transformation took place in my understanding of just about everything to do with the role of the eye and the brain in the organisation of the  the main perceptual and motor skills used in the making of drawings and paintings. PART 2 of my book “What Scientists can Learn from Artists” tells of experiments done by myself, colleagues and other scientists that made especially significant contributions to this exciting development.

Chapter 7, (accessed by clicking on link below) offers an autobiographical introduction the contents of PART 2 that gives a flavour of what I was up to in those years. A theme that runs through its pages is that the transformative learning was a two way process, offering benefits to all concerned. Time revealed many unexpected advantages in my being a combination of an experienced artist/teacher and a naive beginner in all the scientific disciplines in which I was to participate. My new colleagues found themselves faced with a drip feed of questions coming from unfamiliar perspectives that were to prove their value as catalysts capable of stimulating new ideas for a surprising number of highly expert scientists, working in a variety of disciplines. In return, their often participatory responses enabled me to put together the body of ideas that underpin the originality of my books, my teaching and, to an important extent, my work as an artist.

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CHAPTER 7-AN ARTIST AMONG SCIENTISTS

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artist aong scientists
Two stripy paintings, made while the story above was unfolding.

 

Chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

These deal in greater depth with subjects that feature in the other volumes

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More information on my main colleagues

 

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Delacroix and his mistress

Delacroix and Elizabeth Cavé.

Delacroix
A portrait of Elizabeth Cavé by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

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In an earlier Post I told of the teaching of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran and its widespread influence. In it I did not mention another important figure who also developed a method for training the memory. Her name was Elizabeth Cavé. Like Lecoq Boisbaudran her method eventually found favour with the establishment and was to some extent introduced into the national curriculum. She was also, over some 30 years, a personal friend and confidant, often described as “mistress”, of Eugène Delacroix, who was something of a Father figure to the young Impressionists, including:

Delacroix
Homage to Eugene Delacroix by Henri Fintin Latour, including fellow students of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran

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Why I wrote a letter to LRB

With all this information in my head, you can imagine how my interest perked up when I came across a quotation from Delacroix in an article by T.J.Clark, published in the London Review of Books in October 2019. In this Delacroix tells us that he experienced a paradigm shift in his approach to painting, from being “hounded by a love of exactitude” to employing his memory to sift out “what is striking and poetic”. He also states that this transformation occurred as a spinoff from his “African voyage” in 1832.

On reading this endorsement of the virtues of channeling experience through memory, I was immediately reminded of the philosophy of Lecoq Boisbaudran. From there my mind jumped to Elizabeth Cavé and to wondering whether Delacroix’s change of direction had any link to her teaching method. When I discovered that their liaison had started in earnest in 1832, I could not resist the thought that either she had influenced Delacroix or, perhaps more likely, vice versa. If so, there seemed to be quite a lot to add to what T.J.Clark had to say. Below is what I wrote.

The letter

T.J.Clark (LRB 10-10-2019) quotes Eugene Delacroix as dating a change from being hounded by a love of exactitude to making work based on “recalling” what is striking and poetic. He asserted that it came after his “African voyage”, which mean after his return from Morocco in 1832. When I read this I immediately realised that this date roughly coincided with the beginning of his relationship with Elizabeth Cave in 1833. Whether or not her ideas were influenced by Delacroix or visa versa , she published ‘Le dessin sans maître’, which received a laudatory review from her by now long standing friend (in the ‘Revue de deux Mondes’ of September 1850). In it, she explained her method of teaching drawing which, according to her, she had been practicing since 1847. Key to this was training of the memory. Two years earlier, in 1848, Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran published a compilation of two texts, ‘L’Éducation de la mémoire pittoresque’ and ‘la formation de l’artiste’, in which he explained his method, also based on training the memory. His connection with Delacroix can be inferred from the personages in the 1864 painting ‘Homage à Delacroix’ by his pupil Henri Fantin-Latour, in which we see others two students of Lecoq Boisbaudran, Alphonse Legros and Felix Bracquemond. Also in the painting is James MacNeil Whistler who is know to have learnt Lecoq Boisbaudran’s method from Alphonse Legros and who famously demonstrated it to a doubter. He did this, first, by looking at an unfamiliar landscape and, then, turning his back on it and painting it from memory (for more about the influence of Lecoq Boisbaudran and its plausible ramifications see < http://www.painting-school.com/horace-lecoq-boisbaudran-influence/ >).

So how does all this relate to the quotation from Delacroix? The clue lies in his youthful “love of exactitude” being replaced by a more mature approach based on “recalling what was striking and poetic.” What Lecoq Boisbaudran would surely have argued is that the great man’s earlier obsession with ‘accuracy’ prepared him for his later personalised use of memory with all its benefits, for this was exactly what his teaching method (and presumably that of Elizabeth Cave) aimed at achieving. The main differences, he could argue, lay in the shortness of the time in which his students were expected to make their transition and the methodical progression from simple to complicated that characterised the learning exercises that made it possible. Surely, both Delacroix and Lecoq Boisbaudran would have concurred with Edgar Degas, significantly a great friend of Alphonse Legros, when he said, “It is always very well to copy what you see, but much better to draw what only the memory sees. Then you get a transformation, in which imagination works hand in hand with the memory and you reproduce only what has particularly struck you.”

Delacroix
Rodin acknowledged the importance to him of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran’s memory training

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As well as the personalisation of artistic output, the method had huge advantages in terms of rapidity of information pick up. The famous late watercolours (‘Cambodian dancers’, etc) of Rodin, another student and a lifelong admirer of Lecoq Boisbaudran and his teaching, illustrate both these advantages. Likewise the post-African paintings and drawings of Delacroix. Also, I find it hard to believe that there is not some connection here with Delacroix’s famous assertion that “any artists worth his salt should be able to draw a man that has been thrown out of a sixth floor window before he hits the ground.”

PS. For your interest, I was teaching on much the same principles as Lecoq Boisbaudran for at leat 25 years before I learnt of his existence. These I derived from research done at the University of Stirling in the early 1980s <http://www.painting-school.com/the-course/the-course-director/>.

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Why read my science book?

A paradigm shift

Back in November 2019 I started posting chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”, the book which presents the research and the science based ideas that that lie behind much of the contents of my three other books: “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain”, “Painting with Light and Colour” and ” Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”. I set the ball rolling with with six of the chapters that describe research findings which were in large part responsible for:

  • Overturning almost all the preconceptions I had about the nature of visual perception.
  • Providing the building blocks required for replacing them with the coherent picture presented in these books.

When I first came across the material I have summarised in these chapters, their cumulative effect on me was more than just fascinating. It amounted to a paradigm shift. My hope is that reading them will perform the same service for others, particularly when buttressed by the contents of earlier and later chapters.

Below is an extract from the “Preface” to “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”, which summarises its structure. The chapters so far published in my Posts come from PART 2. In the next weeks I will be posting chapters from PART 1 and in the coming months chapters from PART 3.  I will wait to see the level of interest before I go on to PART 4, which I have reason to believe will be is considerably more demanding on non scientists.

Also below are links to already published Posts.

The structure of the book

Because the context of the knowledge of scientists and artists is so different, it seems prudent to provide a certain amount of background material which, while likely to be familiar to readers from one side of the arts/science divide, may well not be to those from the other. Thus PART 1 contains a number of general ideas both artistic and scientific many of which may well be familiar to one community and not the other, and PART 3 provides a basic introduction for non scientists to the nature of visual perception that emphasises the variety of visual systems involved in different aspects of visual processing. The function of PART 2 is to describe the main experiments used to underpin the theoretical speculations which lead to the general model of perceptual and cognitive processes that provides the subject matter for PART 4. Throughout the attempt has been made to present ideas in such a way that they will be understood by both groups.

Chapters from my book “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

These deal with subjects that feature in the other volumes in greater depth.

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A reminder

There are still places vacant for the 2020 sessions of the Painting School of Montmiral. Here a three photos to remind you of our idyllic setting and the seriousness of the teaching

book chapters
Castelnau de Montmiral from the South

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View from the breakfast balcony

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Out on the esplanade

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Me discussing student work

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Constraint in artistic aids and practices

Is constraint necessary for creativity?

The purpose this Post is to provide a link to “Constraint in artistic aids and practices , Chapter 9 in my book “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”. As in several other Posts that publish book chapters, I include a slightly edited reprise of its“introductory”, in the hope it will whet your appetite and encourage you to click on the link below. I am hoping that when you have read all the chapters of all my books, you will realise that the answer to the question posed in the heading to this section is “Yes”. The images below illustrate two methods of constraint favoured by artists in former centuries that foreshadow ones that are widely used today: For example, photographs, slide projections, and computer controlled images. All of these, whether consciously or not, make use of constraints, the possibilities of which have been developed by evolution over the millennia, such as standing still, choosing a viewing distance or closing an eye al of which constrain input to our visual systems and, thereby, enable learning and creativity, its corollary.

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constraint
figure 1 : Illustrates the lengths of which artists were prepared to go to achieve accuracy

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constraint
Figure 2 : Illustrates a “camera obscura”, a simpler solution to the problem of obtaining accuracy than the one illustrated in Figure 1. However, both imply artist’s mistrust of unaided analytic looking

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Introductory

If we want to be creative, we will have to free ourselves from the constraints of old ways of doing things in order to go beyond them into new territory.

In this chapter, we take a step towards the goal of a practical understanding of how this might be done. It starts with my telling how I stumbled on the intuition that constraint may be a necessary condition for exploring the unknown, and provides examples of how the community of artists, whether consciously or not, have made much use of this possibility. Eventually I found myself coming to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that constraint is necessary if we are to achieve either meaningful freedom or creative self expression. I also came to realise that the use of constraint is one of the guiding principles of our evolution as a species.

My approach to going deeper into the creative powers of constraint, starts with account of how I came to realise their central importance. I use the particularities of my own story because of the insights it furnishes relating to the creative process in general: long periods of gathering data, struggles with the confusion that they seem to engender, a sudden intuition that provides a lead on how order might be found and, finally, doing the work necessary to test its validity.

The inspiration for my breakthrough came when reading a book by J.J. Gibson, one of the most controversial yet influential perceptual psychologists of the day.

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CHAPTER 9-CONSTRAINT IN ARTISTIC PRACTICES

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Other chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

These deal in greater depth with subjects that feature in the other volumes

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