Friday, 27 December 2013

2014 - Year of the Horse

Recently I have been enjoying looking at medieval art.  Amongst the manuscripts I have looked at is an interesting series of 40 illustrations set out in comic book style that tell the story of a horse that became a bishop. I later discovered that behind the origins of these illuminations was a deeply moving love story, one that makes an ideal beginning for 2014.  The love story started in 1324 between a 12 year old English prince and an 11 year old Belgium princess of Hainault and then lasted until their separation through death over 40 years later.

The illustrated story of the horse has a satyrical text of 258 lines in octosyllabic verse authored by Raoul le Petit and written in the old French dialect of Picard.  The Text is known as Dit de Foveyne or Histoire de Fauvain.  The main character is Fauvain, a dun-coloured she-ass or horse who is the metaphor of mean-spirited hypocrisy which has usurped the forces of Justice and Harmony.  During the course of the story Fauvain gathers on her back a group of sycophants and goes off to murder Truth or Loyalty.  There are many Medieval manuscripts with illustrated stories involving wicked animals, like the well known text of Le Roman de Renart which is about a duplicitous Fox, but others illustrate stories have been lost, for instance the stories behind the numerous marginal illustrations made by monks that show bunny rabbits hunting dogs or the pictures of knights at war with giant snails (I have gathered a collection on my Pinterest site).

 Bunny hunter on dog back with a snail as a hawk

This horse series is unusual in being so long and having a commentary. A Classic French medievalist has promised me an accurate translation of Dit de Foveyne and when it arrives I will use to update to this post.

The Dit de Foveyne is tacked to the last few pages of  an otherwise a long French translation of Le Pseudo-Aristote, Le Secret des secrets, Oraison du d├ępart and some Motets.  The folio is presently held in a French museum where it seems to be largely ignored and forgotten.  I have downloaded the full series of drawings and have published them all at the end of this article. A translator of medieval French is presently working on a full and accurate translation which I will add when it arrives.

A Wedding Gift of Horses to the Kindest of Princesses

 

Fauvain sticks his tongue out

The folio which includes the illustration above is part of wedding gift given between royal childhood sweethearts. The long marriage that followed in the wake of their first meeting took place when the age of chivalry was giving way to the new brutal age that started with the Hundred Years War between England and France. It is wonderful to think that the royal couple, who lived through such barbarity, never lost their love for each other and that the Queen generously shared this love with her people.  

The Little Princess who came to London
The little princess who was given the folio was brought up in the long forgotten Belgium kingdom of Hainault which was then renowned for its culture.  Her name was Philippa, which comes from the Greek word Philippos, lit. "horse-loving" or "fond of horses".  Perhaps this connection with horses is why Prince Edward, later to become Edward III, arranged that the boring Aristotelian text of his noble wedding gift should finish with a series of amusing illustrations.  It is not difficult to imagine how the young couple,both in their early teens, might have sometimes pulled out this folio to laugh together at the imaginative drawings of a foolish horse who broke all the rules and conventions of the world.

Phillipa was the second daughter of William the Good. A few years before she was married the English Court had sent Bishop Stepledon of Kent to make a report. This is his brutally frank description of the eight year old princess of Hainault

"The lady ..... has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is clean-shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that it is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub-nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full, and especially the lower lip. Her teeth which have fallen and grown again are white enough, but the rest are not so white. The lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen. Her ears and chin are comely enough. Her neck, shoulders, and all her body and lower limbs are reasonably well shapen; all her limbs are well set and unmaimed; and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is of brown skin all over like her father; and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us."

Just four years later, in 1326, Prince Edward visited Philippa for a few days.  They were there because his power hungry mother (Queen Isabella) and her ruthless lover (Roger Mortimer), were seeking an alliance with the court of Hainault to usurp the rule of her husband Edward II. 

 A 15th-century depiction of Isabella

Edward was just 12 and the little Princess Philippa, who was by then 11, were old enough to fall in love.  It is recorded that the young princess cried when it was time for them to say their goodbyes. 

 The return of Isabella of France with her son Edward in 1326

Princess Philippa had reason to worry since young Prince Edward was being used by his mother, sometimes known as the She-Wolf, as an object in her power games. 

The Defeat of Edward II at Bristol

After their return Queen Isabella and Mortimer, with a small mercenary army, easily defeated King Edward II at Bristol because his own army had already deserted him.

Isabella's crowned her 13 year old son Edward III. Less than a year later Princess Philippa arrived in London as the bride to be of the new King.  There is a picture of her arrival.

 Philippa of Hainault is shown seated under the canopy

Edward and Philippa were married at York Minster on January 24, 1328.  For the first three years of their marriage Edward was fighting Scotland with his young wife travelling by his side and her  coronation was delayed because her mother-in-law did not want to relinquish her title as Queen.  Queen Philippa's coronation finally occurred on March 4, 1330 by which time the 16 year old princess was heavily pregnant with her first child. The child was later to become known as The Black Prince.

As Edward III grew in stature he took power away from his mother and executed Mortimer for treason.  Isabella was safely banished from Court, but the kind Queen Philippa never stopped treating her estranged mother-in-law with dignity and respect.

During their marriage Philippa had fourteen children, three of whom were swept away by the black death. She is also remembered for her cultural interests which included a collection of manuscripts (amongst those manuscripts is the recently rediscovered "Unicorn Cookbook" at the British Library)

 Detail from the Unicorn Cookbook (British Library)

Queen Philippa gave herself to this country, and unlike most other foreign Queens of her era did not surround herself with a retinue of  servants from her own country.  This endeared her to her people. Philippa is also credited with the foundation Queen's College, Oxford and bringing the weaving trade to Norwich.  She was also brave, at one point leading an army on a white charger against the Scots  because her husband was away in France.

Queen Philippa on her white charger

But more than anything it was her kindness that set her apart and caused the people to love their Queen.

A Queen Celebrated for her Kindness

Joshua Barnes, a medieval writer, said "Queen Philippa was a very good and charming person who exceeded most ladies for sweetness of nature and virtuous disposition." Chronicler Jean Froissart described her as "The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days." (Wikipedia). 

There are many stories about how Queen Philippa used her power to exercise mercy and fairness.  In 1328 she used the royal prerogative to secure a pardon for an eleven-year-old girl who had been convicted of a robbery and then again in 1333 she saved a pregnant woman who had stolen a surcoat and 3s. at York. This pattern of concern for the less fortunate continued throughout her life, for example; in March 1365 at Nottingham a pregnant woman condemned to be hanged for stealing was shown clemency at her entreaty. She displayed a similar care for those in her family and household circles by writing a stream of petitions to the pope requesting indulgences or promotion for members of her chapel and household, .

In 1331 Queen Philippa had narrowly escaped an accident when the viewing stand collapsed at a tournament at Cheapside, London.  Queen Philippa and her ladies, which included her mother who was visiting London, all escaped unhurt, but her husband was full of rage and wanted to punish the carpenters.  They were only forgiven by the King after the Queen had gone down on her knees to beg for clemency.  

Queen Philippa accompanied her King on his travels, even when he was at war.  She was there to steady her husband's temper and enhance his reputation. The most famous occasion was after the siege of Calaise in 1347, when the Queen, who was again far advanced in pregnancy and again on her knees, begged the reluctant Edward to spare the lives of six principal bourgeois who under the treaty of surrender were about to be executed.  Edward III's act of clemency is still celebrated and remembered outside the houses of parliament by Rodin's statue of the event. 



Edward visited his Queen at her deathbed and took her hand and asked her what her final wish was. She requested that when he died, he be buried next to her. She died on August 15, 1369 and was buried with all splendors in a fine tomb in Westminster Abbey. Immediately after her death a series of detailed instructions, designed to ensure the continuing welfare of her servants, was carried out by the King. When Edward died eight years later, he fulfilled her dying wish and was buried next to his beloved Queen.

The tomb of Edward III in Westminster Abbey

Drawings of the effigies and Edward and Philippa

The Gift of Horses

These are the illustrations.  Please let me know if you have any special insights into the meaning of the story they tell. (See updates added in red, most of the information came from this website which is Google translated from Dutch to English - the updates should be taken with a pinch of salt until I have receive an accurate translation from the original text)


 Obviously the tree means something, and the horse is anointed?

UPDATE:  


Pic 1
The Author (Roule le Petit) introduces the series of drawings with a  hand gesture towards an oak tree which is the symbol of a good king which being cut down and replaced by another tree - a beech (Fous in medieval French) - takes the place of the oak tree. Fau has a double meaning of vain (or faux - a in fake?)  So the good king is being replaced by a vain fake.

Pic 2

Fauvain (The name of the Horse), who had reached the pinnacle of secular and ecclesiastical power and is now sticking his tongue out at at the author (Roule le Petit).

Pic 3: 
 Fauvain embraces a fake devout, disguised as a saint.

Pic 4:  
Fauvain and his two acolytes accomplice, Ghille et Barat

(A thief's name from the fabliaux), drinking from the chalice of hypocrisy.



 Pic 5
Fauvain is appointed executor testamentary of a rich man who is dying
Pic 6. 
He collects the inheritance his minions put their hood full of them. (Bags do not exist ...)

Pic 7
 Fauvain refuses to give alms to the poor;
He turns back on them and said to them, "Go!" 

Pic 8
 Fauvain bends reeds saying:
"Many people bow themselves (to me?) like reeds in the wind..."
 
 


 Pic 9
Fauvain shows a list of his privileges 
Pic 10
?
Pic 11
 A creditor of Fauvain comes to claim his money in court.

Pic 12
Fauvain come to trial?



Pic 13 - 15
The trial of Fauvain?

Pic 16
Fauvain is found guilty and ordered to return the money

Pic 17
 Shaven headed Fauvain refuses to pay, instead he fains contrition through a pilgrimage of Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem to generate compassion from others.
Pic 18
 A servant comes with a list of his privileges which aquits Fauvain of wrongdoing and condemns the prosecutor  for his wrong verdict
Pic 19
 Bishops, abbots and clerks flatter Fauvin by braiding his tail.  (This is where the English phrase to curry favour comes from...originally it was to Curry Fauval (or Fauvain) or flatter a horse.  Later, as the meaning of Fauval fell into disuse, the term was changed to favour which made more sense) 
Pic 20
The Clergy mount Fauvain
 

Pic 21 
Fauvain kills Truth (or is it Loyalty?)

Pic 22 and 23
Rather than Mour Truth they get drunk 

Pic 24
 Two lawyers regret that they have not known Truth find comfort in Falsehood and hypocrisy



Pic 25
Fauvain tempts a hardworking carpenter into idleness
"Let's rest, please, lets enjoy the sunshine..."

Pic 26
 he encourages his children to hypocrisy

Pic 27
 ?

Pic 28 
 Fauvain lying on a bed and dying refuses to confess his sins;
his successor is already there ready to drink from the bowl of hypocrisy.
 


Pic 29  30
The ill Fauvain gives his successor his recipe to succeed in the world: betrayal, cheating, wickedness, deceit.

Pic 31
Fauvain's departed soul leaves his body from his mouth and received by a demon from Hell

Pic 32
?



Pic 33 - 36
Fauvain's soul is taken and cast into the jaws of Hel


 


Pic 37 - 40

Truth is restored, a new Oak tree is growing

Remember the context: This is a wedding gift by the 13 year old Edward III to his new 12 year old Queen Philippa after the reign of Edward the II had been brought to an abrupt and sudden end by the invasion of an army led by Queen Isabella (Wife of Edward II and mother of Edward III)






 

 

Bibliography

http://www.oxforddnb.com/templates/article.jsp?articleid=22110&back=
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippa_of_Hainault
http://www.medievalists.net/2013/10/01/philippa-of-hainault-queen-of-england/
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84510972/f301.zoom.r=%20La%20somme%20le%20roy
http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=nl&u=http://www.viviennestringa.com/pages/middeleeuws-dierenboek-c.html&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dla%2BRoman%2Bde%2Bfauvain%26biw%3D1374%26bih%3D730 
 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MQoKeohhNkMC&pg=PA648&lpg=PA648&dq=Raoul+le+Petit,+Dit+de+Fauvain&source=bl&ots=M3dVvzC7Jr&sig=ThUTulQ5M8s0h5m6j9Rg63E1DLA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Y5nKUr6pM46M7AbdzYCwCg&ved=0CGwQ6AEwDQ#v=onepage&q=Raoul%20le%20Petit%2C%20Dit%20de%20Fauvain&f=false
 http://archive.org/stream/philippaofhainau00harduoft/philippaofhainau00harduoft_djvu.txt

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Chapter 5: Nature's Boundaries of Wellbeing and Selfhood

Links to Other Chapters in this Series

Chapter 1: A First Lesson in Drawing
Chapter 2:  Introducing the Dynamic Workspace
Chapter 3 : Words - Plastic Facts
Chapter 4 : Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness
Chapter 5: Nature's Boundaries of Well being and Selfhood

Chapter 5 Nature's Boundaries of Wellbeing and Selfhood 

Why line drawings work

Suppose I want to tell a friend what a little porcelain fish looks like.


 I might make a line drawing like this




You will notice that the drawing is made up with just lines without shading, yet somehow it is enough to convey the identity, individual character, shape and form of the complex object, but it fails to tell my friend anything about the colour of the object.  Marks on the  dynamic workspace mimic how the brain works.

There is a simple way to trick our minds into showing us the subconscious mind at work.  All you need to do is hold an object a few inches in front of your right eye, but not in front of my left eye. 

I did this with my porcelain fish, at first my right eye saw the complete fish.


But after one or two seconds big holes appeared and I was looking straight through the object, except where there are strongly contrasting borders of colour and tone.   This is my picture of what my fish looked like after the holes appeared


The mind strategy is to work with the very minimum amount of new sensory data at the same time as not  compromising  our ability to make accurate high value predictions about what the eyes are seeing.  It does this by looking for important borders which are what these stripes of colour follow, the data being collected follow the same arrangement as the lines in my drawing.  Line drawings simulate the code the retina uses when it presents visual information to the subconscious mind, which is pretty damn near my definition of Active Drawing.  You can try this test for yourself by holding a coin in front of one eye and you will  see a big round hole through the centre.  

You will notice that the image that is created in our minds uses coloured lines.  Painters sometimes colour the inner edge of objects, but leave large holes in their centres.  This information is enough to to give the illusion of solid colour.  Here is a sketch by Paul Cezanne using this technique to draw fruit. 

Sketch of fruit by Paul Cezanne

Our subconscious minds are obsessed with borders because they are an energy-saving method of dealing with the raw data of sight.  The physiological mechanism by which the cones of the retina find the borders of objects is already well understood, but we still do not understand how the mind is able to work with the plasticity of shapes and patterns.

Plasticity of shapes

In earlier chapters we looked at the plasticity of a smiley face.  You will remember that it is possible to give personality and identity to a Smiley by changing the shape of the circular outer border.  For instance some of our friends have very round faces and weak chins, whilst others have long faces with pointed chins. Our brains are extremely good at recognising the shapes of things and organising  objects of the outside world into classes of objects. 
 
All these patterns are morphed using plasticity within the limits of the rules of a Smiley (see chapter 1, NB I cheated on the buttterfly allowing the mouth to has switch to become abdomen.)  Two patterns belong to the class human face, we have no trouble seeing which two are human.  All the others are part of the class "animals"

All these patterns are derived from the smiley pattern

Amongst the animal faces two are of the same class "rabbits", again we have no trouble identifying them, all the others belong to singular categories of animal; there are a cat, a lamb, a puppy and a butterfly (class insect). We have no trouble distinguishing patterns that belong to a common class (humans and rabbits) from patterns that are in a unique class of there own (cat, lamb, butterfly and puppy) or we can divide the group in other ways, maybe between Mammals and insects. This may seem a very simple task for us because we take for granted the miraculous way our subconscious brain handles and categorises patterns.  The pattern recognition abilities of the brain are impossible for a modern computer to replicate, so understanding how the brain organises and manage pattern recognition is one of the unachieved goals of research into artificial intelligence.

Intuitively we like to think that computers and the mind have a lot in common, in fact they have completely different ways of working with data. Neurones can reset themselves a mere 200 times a seconds, which is five million times slower that a transistor in a modern computer which will reset itself more than a billion times a second. The 5 million times faster computers find it difficult to recognise the shapes of letters against a background noise.

 

For the moment I want to leave this subject of how the brain works, this chapter is about borders, and how they are intimately implicated with our sense of self and spirit. 

The Well-being of Selfhood

Nature is dumb, breaks all the rules of rationality and objective truth, but ends up designing life forms which are self reproducing, self healing, self aware and able to fly.  We know Nature's success is largely down to the use of plasticity which enables evolution and adaption, which is a most cruel method of development that depends on ruthless competition to benefit the fittest and drive failure to extinction.  The irony is that from the heartless melting pot of plasticity Nature has given us the  most ethereal of gifts; the invention of well being and self.  Nature's benign concept of Self happened right at the birth of life because it is critical for the evolution of all life forms, without knowledge of Self an organism cannot know what is to be preserved and reproduced.  Self is also the necessary first step along the way to creating the most fundamental and most taken for granted of all our senses, a feeling of wellbeing and of our own substance in the world.  As we move forward with visual grammar we will find that understanding drawing cannot be done without understanding Self, and that understanding happens through the maintenance of a constant dialogue between mind and body.

An Aeroplane, like other inventions of science, are a collection of parts fitted together. When one part breaks the pilot tells the engineer who diagnoses the cause and changes the worn out bits.  The machine knows nothing about it.  Our bodies are different because we are a community of 100s of billions cells, each and every one of which has to be kept in good condition or the whole body will die.  This means Nature's machines work on a different paradigm, like and aeroplane each part of the machine has to be maintained and contribute to the smooth running of the whole organism, but the difference is that the whole organism has an equally important contract to look after the well being of each and every cell.  The cells have to tell the body when they are under stress or unwell, and the body has to respond with treatments, supplies of nutrients, energy and stable temperatures.  Our sense of well being and Self-hood is dependent on the maintenance of this balance between the interests of the cell and the interests of the whole body, and to keep this happening there has to be a constant two way dialogue between the cells and the whole body.

Nature has a habit of making borders round its creations.  Even the simplest single celled organisms like bacteria and algae are bagged inside membrane sacks which make a continuous porous border where transactions between what goes on  inside the cell walls and outside world are regulated.  Inside the living structures life preserves itself by providing the optimal conditions for the maintenance and nourishment of the tools of reproduction and selfsufficiency (homoeostasis), at the same time the organism has behaviours that identify and exploit the resources it needs to find and take from outside world. Floating in the cytoplasm of cells are even smaller bagged structures which have their own DNA and their own independent ability to reproduce, these structures are collectively called organelles.  Organelles include mitochondria which are the power stations of bacteria, and plastids which convert sunlight into energy.  So we have bagged structures within bagged structures

It is obvious how using membranes and skins are important to keeping the integrity of the plants and animal together.  I am going to introduce you to an observation that is harder to explain; the virtual world of Visual Grammar operates very similar systems of putting inanimate things, or parts of inanimate things into virtual containers.  The things that are bagged in this way are then thought of as objects.  This is sort of puzzling, what is even more puzzling is the way the mind then gives the inanimate objects it has artificially created names, emotions and spirit.

An example an object that has a name, emotions and spirit is Mount Fuji. This object has become a national symbol of Japan.  The objective truth of science tells us that Mount Fuji is a large lump of lifeless rock and earth, on its surface is a very light sprinkling of vegetation and snow.   The weather at the top of the lump is extreme and on the lower slopes the land is useless for farming  If we ask ourselves where the base of the lump begins or ends we do not really know because there is no real boundary between the ground and the lump.  From a practical point of view Mount Fuji is a useless and dangerous lump of rock that we have to drive around.

This picture describes how we feel about Mount Fuji; serene, majestic, reliable and beautiful.  This fantasy about a living mountain is every bit as extreme as Emily Dikinson's poem about corpses talking to each other about the nature of truth.  So why do we do it?


To create a mental concept of Mount Fuji we must first conceive of the mountain as being an object, this entails separating the lump from the landscape it is part of.  We need to decide where the arbitrary division lies between the part of the rock which is mountain and the part which the land on from which the mountain is growing.  Without making these mental lines Mount Fuji cannot be seen as object in our minds.

Perhaps I can explain this in another way.   If I ask you to think of your "right arm"  you will think of a limb with a hand at the end it it, you will not think of your chest or feet which are also part of your body.
When we think of a hand thoughts of the rest of the arm become out of mind

If I then ask you to think of your "right hand" you immediately put your elbow and the rest of your arm out of your mind, you cannot think about the rest of your arm whilst you are focusing your thoughts on thinking about your hand.  To create your mental picture of your hand  you have mentally cut the hand away from the limb.  To think of Mount Fuji you have to do a similar mental trick of cutting mountain off from the landscape on which it sits.

The details of the separated object become more vivid and detailed

To think of an object we have to separate the item from the rest of the world, the surrounding world become out of mind and the object becomes more vivid and detailed.   But why, after we have made a mental object, do we then give it spirit?  In an earlier chapter I mentioned the way our brains can be divided into two component, the oldest being the limbic area which uses emotions to create behavioural responses, and the newer component being the Pre Frontal Cortex which is a later bolt-on unit that applies rational thought to override the excesses of our emotional responses.

Our relationship to objects are like our relationship with words, (or perhaps it should be stated the other way round, but that is a diversion).  All words, especially nouns, are saturated with emotional associations and memories. Sometimes seeing an object will bring associative thoughts of well being, at other times the same object will appear menacing and make us feel fearful.  I have created a visual example to show this process at work.  In this first picture the room is a happy place of tidiness and harmony with flowers on the mantelpiece, there are a cat and a broom that we assume belong to the owner.  Imagine you were a child in this room and you hear someone approaching the door from outside, your heart might leap with delight because the things in the room make you expect the return of a kind and pretty young girl called Cinderella.
Here is an almost identical picture with the same broom, but this time the room has dark and untidy feel with dead bats and dusty old bottles with potions.  The broom triggers us to think of witches and a child left in this room would become frightened and leave the room before the owner returned.


The broom is the same in both pictures, but it  triggers different emotions in different situations.

The relationships we have to Mountains are similar to our relationships with broomsticks.  We know the extreme weather and sudden snow storms at the summit of mountains are very dangerous and volcanoes smoulder and can erupt at any time.  Other days the mountains around our homes beckon us with their serene beauty in the landscape  giving us feelings of peace, safety and well-being.  .

These changeable attitudes and behaviours are not as impractical as they seem.  The complex ever changing emotional relationships we all have with mountains engender behavioural responses that protect us against being foolish with dangerous objects.  Some days our limbic system will read the mood of the mountain as being dangerous, and set our body into behavioural "fear of the mountain" mode.  On these days we will not climb the mountains..  Other days, the limbic system judges the mountain to be no threat, the sight of the mountains will lift our spirits and guide us back to our homes.  Our subconscious selves, particularly the limbic system, read the behaviour of the mountain as if it were a person with moods, and uses this information to guide our decisions.  Reading the "mood" of dangerous inanimate objects is every bit as important to our survival as reading the mood of our living enemies.

Putting Objects on the Dynamic Workspace

It is time to apply my theory of boundaries against how we draw objects.  Throughout modern history people have been drawing objects.  I have chosen this drawing of flowers by Leonardo as an example of a drawing by a master


There is no doubt in my mind that this is the work of a very great artists and active drawer.  It is an image made by an artist who has fused a rational enquiring mind with freedom of line.  It is accurate and complete in what it set out to achieve which was to produce an 3D image of the flowers and leaves with the boundaries of the objects very clearly clarified.  An image like this begs the question "Nothing is missing, it says everything there is to say about the subject. "  My reply is that it says everything Leonardo wanted to say about the subject at that moment in time, which is quite another thing from being everything about a subject.

When we make a drawing of an object on the dynamic workspace we make a statement about our attitude to the object in the world at that precise moment.  Included in the drawings we make are our values and our focus on the object at that time.  Leonardo wanted to know how things worked, he wanted to understand their structure and how they are made.  This drawing is an enquiry into finding the answer to questions his mind was looking for.  The marks create and occupy space on the Dynamic Workspace, the drawing is correctly proportioned and captures the delicacy of the shapes of the leaves and flowers, but it tells us nothing about their colour, their softness or what they might mean emotionally to Leonardo.  This is not the fault of the artist, it is the focus of an artist who was intent on defining a flower in terms of physical reality in space.  Leonardo was living in a time when the rationality of Pre Frontal Cortex thinking was gaining the upper hand over old fashioned plastic truth, and his goal was to define the plants with objective truth.

But focus is always double edged, it involves dropping attention from one thing to apply it to another.  Earlier we saw how when we focus on our hand we drop our attention on the rest of the arm, when we focus attention on smell we drop attention on colour, when we focus on shape we drop attention on size.  This is because sensing is a sequence of thoughts not a momentary action, it is a collection of thoughts that happens over time which turns into a highly unpredictable selective journey across the landscape of our innermost remembered experiences.  Afterwards, through the principles of plasticity of oneness we think the sequence was a single complete thing, but that is not Humpty Dumpty's view of things.  He said words mean what he wants them to mean, he said this for a very good reason, a word can only mean what your mind is focused on at the time you use it, you can never think in totality because your thoughts have no completeness.  It is the same with drawing objects, the drawing will always be about what we want the drawing to be about.  Humpty Dumpty would not have been in awe of Leonardo's genius, he might not even have been able to recognise it.





Sunday, 17 November 2013

Visual Grammar - Chapter 4 - Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness


Links to Other Chapters in this Series

Chapter 1: A First Lesson in Drawing
Chapter 2:  Introducing the Dynamic Workspace
Chapter 3 : Words - Plastic Facts
Chapter 4 : Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness
Chapter 5: Nature's Boundaries of Well being and Selfhood

Visual Grammar - Chapter 4 - Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
In this chapter I am going to work through the issue of how an Active Drawer places patterns on paper (the dynamic workspace) in a way that represents objects from the outside world.  We are now entering into the world of visual nouns.  

If you have been reading earlier chapters you will know that I have described an Active drawer as someone who is skilful at speaking in the unreachable language of the subconscious.  As a start to understanding how an Active drawer does this we have to understand how "an object" is being represented in the subconscious mind. This may seem a question that might have a simple answer, but there is a problem, the problem is with the word "an". 

"An" implies the mind sees an object as a single thing.  We have already discussed how scientists are besotted with oneness, for instance they have a rigid definition of what a bird is which is related to their bloodline and genes, and a thing is either a bird or it is not a bird. The mind has a similar fixation with oneness, but for the mind oneness is a very plastic concept.  The mind's concept of what a bird is has no borders, it can include bees (chapter 3), but it also can be super-restrictive and exclude flightless birds like ostriches as not being proper birds.  As Humpty Dumpty so eloquently pointed out, words mean what the speaker chooses them to mean.

The mind loves to pull things together and make them into a group, and then label them as a single object.  This is done to facilitate fast and accurate thought. .  For the mind oneness is a convenience of thought that helps the subconscious mind  quickly classify and predict the behaviour of things in the outside world in a useful way. Only after the subconscious mind has done its work is the conscious rational mind of the prefrontal cortex allowed to comment and amend.

A stool can be a table, and a table can be a stool. We have a choice when we come across a piece of furniture that might be a table or a stool: If we choose to think of the object as a stool we sit on it, if we see it as a table we put food on it. The non-rigid way the mind sees the furniture enabled us to use the object in a multude of useful ways.  Plasticity is built into everything Nature makes, which is quite different from the products of science which are designed and built for specific purposes and are not expected to adapt to new circumstances.  Aeroplanes are built to fly people across continents, they have a rigid use and will never be used as submarines, but a flying bird has the possibility of change because built built into its DNA is the plasticity to evolve into a penguin if that is where its future lies..

The Plasticity of Oneness

We must always be on our guard when in our thoughts come across the word "one", the mind might be using the word in an illusive way for convenience.  We might intuitively believe in the oneness of an object but the oneness may not exist in reality.  An example is when we try to define of the oneness of our personality, our soul and identity  When we try to catch the shape of these "unified" things we find they have no fixed shape, the oneness we feel intuitively seems to slip through our fingers like fine dry sand.  The same thing happens when you try to find the oneness of everyday objects.

We think we know exactly what we mean when we speak of one sheep


and we are familiar with collective nouns, where 11 sheep become one flock

But already the oneness of a sheep has become the oneness of eleven sheep.  Suppose the farmer sells one sheep, we are not left with "a flock of sheep less one sheep" ?  No, the farmer still has a flock of sheep.  Collective nouns have plasticity, we all know about this from experience.

It gets really interesting when we look at complex objects like Noah's Ark.

There were of course two of every animal on Noah's Ark, but we do not see them all in this picture. There are no sheep, but in our minds we know they are there, they are often just hiding somewhere in the boat.  This is similar to knowing about the the eye and wing on the other side of the bird (Chapter 3).   They exist somewhere out of view, out of mind whilst still remaining in our minds eye. Noah's Ark is a single object made of many, many different things, some of which are in our mind's focus and others that are in some sort of lobby of the mind; there but out of mind.

If Noah asks the sheep to leave the ark it still remains Noah's Ark, but without the sheep, which was in our mind's lobby, out of sight and out of mind anyway.  So when the sheep do leave we do not notice anything has changed.  Unless it is brought to our attention it makes no difference to our image of Noah's Ark whether the sheep are on board or not.

When the animals are all together in a single menagerie on the Ark  they all share a common destiny.  If the boat drifts westward the giraffes go westwards, and the elephants go westwards, and the sheep go westwards.  So it really makes sense for the mind to lump all these different objects with a common destiny into one thing - like we do when we have a lot of sheep in one field and call it a flock.  In this unique case we have no collective name for a boat load of animals, so we give the collective object a unique name: Noah's Ark.  Oneness is extremely convenient because when Noah's Ark goes westwards all the things that make up Noah's Ark go westward too. 

So is Noah's Ark a single object?  How about after the floods subside and all the animals get off the Ark and the tigers go to the jungle in India and the sheep to graze on the hillsides of New Zealand. The object has disintegrated into parts with different destinies, and the Ark ceases to exist in the real world, unless you change the meaning of Noah's Ark to mean an empty ship lying abandoned on the side of mount Ararat.   Perhaps in our imagination it lives on as it used to be when it was floating on the water with all the animals on board.  

There is only one Noah's Ark, but the oneness of Noah's Ark is very plastic; sometimes it is floating on the water full of animals, sometimes it is lying abandoned on the side of a mountain.  When Humpty Dumpty says "Noah's Ark" he decides which way he is using the word.  Alice has to guess how he is using the word.


Active drawing, like conscious thinking, is never independent of the workings of the subconscious mind.  By definition Active drawing reflects the activity that goes in  the subconscious before it arrives in our conscious thoughts.  If the world of subconscious thought is plastic and without rigid definitions, then so will the drawings created from its processes.  Drawing does not see objects like science, unless informed by the rationality of science it has no knowledge of the bloodlines of birds.  The objects created by Active drawing are plastic and this plasticity of objects is reflected in how we draw an object.

 Implications of Plasticity for Active Drawing

All I have written about the plasticity of oneness is uncontentious.  It is largely information we are aware of, but perhaps have never given much thought to.  Looking at these mechanisms of thought have big consequences for the Active drawer because the Active drawer does not imitate the raw data that arrives in their eye, instead they make marks that reflect what is going on in their heads.  If you want to Active draw it is a good idea to be super-aware of how things are being organised in your head because knowing this information will improve your drawing technique.  I am now going to demonstrate how these mechanisms affect the outcome of a drawing.

Generally speaking Active drawing is quite impulsive and fast, whether the drawing is completed in one minute or two hours, it is a fact that time passed whilst the drawing was being constructed.  In terms of thought processes 60 seconds is a very long period of time, much longer than we are ever capable of remaining focused on one idea.  Our thoughts do not stop to let us get the drawing down, a stream of thoughts is always there having something to say and contribute to the drawing as it progresses.  The inspiration with which the drawing was started will be quite different from the thoughts that are happening as the drawing is completed. 

Suppose we are drawing Noah's Ark.  The normal starting point would be to create a boat shape, so whilst drawing the mind thinks of the shapes of boats and hulls floating in water. This provides the platform on which to place the animals.

The next stage is to add some animals, usually the larger animals would go in first, maybe a pair of elephants, rhinos, tigers, or pandas.  The choices are plastic, one day you may decide to choose a panda, the next an elephant, a common choice would be to have two giraffe heads sticking out of the window.  Sometimes the rhino will go at the front end, other times the back. Which animals are where on the Ark is very much in the gift of the moment, and what was going on in the artist's head as they reached that point in the drawing.  When I came to the second window it came to my head to add Noah and his wife looking out (I would have liked to make them wave like they were leaving on holiday but this idea was not included because I did not have space).

As the space on the ark becomes restricted the opportunities for adding new animals becomes restricted.  There are all sorts of animals still not added, how about a monkey, where shall I put the monkey?  Answer I will add a mast.  Now I have a mast I can add two birds which I had forgotten to include. And if I add more windows in the hull of the ship I can get even more animals into my picture

And then the drawing is nearly complete, but the composition has areas where the white space is dead (white space is a big subject for later). The artist might add some clouds, the sun, birds in the air and fish in the water.  Once I think of fish my mind starts racing again; how about an octopus? and a sword fish and two sharks fins?  This is not sea water, but my ideas are plastic and they sort of add fun to the picture.

Throughout the process of the drawing my ideas have flowed and ebbed.  The construction was a sort of interaction with what has already been written on dynamic workspace.  The window stimulated some subconscious memories of old films of holiday makers waving as they left on steam ships for America, which is why Noah and his wife are in that space. Some of the choices were influenced by things that might have happened in the real world whilst I was making the drawing; some riders passed my house which caused me to put horses looking out of the window on the lower deck.

The end result of a drawing will always be unique because they tell a story of what was going on in the mind of the artist whilst the drawing was being made.  Every time an artist starts a drawing they cannot  quite know where it will lead because they cannot predict the thought processes of their subconscious minds.  Every drawing starts with blank workspace and ends up in a unique collection of ideas.

The Role of the Viewer 

The image was of course made to be seen by an audience, people to whom the artist will show your drawing.  A good drawing should include a visual path through which the image can be read.  In the case of the Noah's Ark it goes something like this.  The immediate impression is of a boat floating on water, this is very quickly  followed (maybe instantaneous) by the realisation that it is Noah's Ark.  The viewer then looks for interesting features, and their eye will pick out the biggest most well drawn features which are the larger animals, after digesting this information they might go on to look at the fine detail, such as the little animals squeezed into the windows which were an afterthought.  Some artists include little pockets of interest, jokes and sub-plots, which are a sort of reward to viewers that are kind enough to give the image more time.  In my case I have made teh water around teh ark shark infested and added an octopus. 

Drawings are often designed to be read like sentences.  Time passes as the artist creates the picture and time passes as the viewer is lead around the picture.   If the artist is skilful the structure of the image will follow a path taken by the artist while they were constructing the picture, the net result is that the viewer shares an emotional journey already mapped out and experienced in the head of the artist.

This is an engraving by Rembrandt, the eye is directed to the main subject of the picture which is an old man receiving a messenger 




Did you look at the picture long enough to be led round the picture and rewarded with a sub plot and joke? 

The Porous Boundaries between complex objects

We think of a cat as one thing, and in the physical world it is one thing, a bit like a word is one thing.  Very often, especially when a cat is not the main subject of a picture, the drawing of the cat will be little more than an iconic shape.  The cats on the back of this envelope are sub-plots; iconic black cat shapes


But like with words our internal images of what a cat is has a lot of plasticity.  Humpty Dumpty said words "mean just what I choose", can artists make similar claims about the images they make of things? Let us look at the plastic oneness of cats.

A cat is like Noah's Ark, it consists of many objects: four legs, two eyes, twenty claws, five hundred whiskers, a tail, a nose, thirty teeth, fur, head.....and there are conceptual things to be added to the objects that cats are made of; they purr, hunt,  smell and make cat noises.  The list can go on and on.  You may say "but they are all part of the singular thing we call a cat, it is not like the animals on Noah's Ark who after the storm was over could leave the boat to go and live independent lives.  A cats leg can't go walking off on it's own!".  This might be true in the physical world, but in the world of our subconscious all these elements have independent lives and identities.  Remember how lips of the dead in Emily Dickinson's poem go on talking until they are finally sealed with moss, the subconscious mind has no problem imagining the lips still talking after the bodies to which they belong have been laid to rest.  In the Humpty Dumpty world of our subconscious minds two cats legs can go off for a walk without the rest of the cat, this is not a problem for our imaginations because legs are entities in their own right, and we associate them with walking and moving as well as with cats.   If your imagination fails you here is a drawing of such an event.

Making this drawing took very little imagination.  The image, like Emily's talking dead, of walking cats legs seems sort of natural.

The list of things that are needed to make a cat are plastic too.  Components can be added and subtracted, yet the meaning of the object still remains "cat".  This is true both in the real world and in the mental world, but in our mental world there is even more plasticity.  My wife's Manx cat has no tail, but it is still a cat.  African lions have manes but no stripes or spots, but they are still cats. 

In the mental world of our subconscious mind, where anything can happen, the boundaries are even more plastic.  Looking for images of cats on Google images I came across this cartoon from 1949 that I enjoyed very much.


This picture is a masterly.  In the centre of the picture is the biggest eye pulling wink, the artist has taken a lot of care to make the mother cat look and walk like a cat.  Because the artist has made it the first thing we see we are immediately told that we are observers on to the world of cats.

Having got us into the right frame of mind the artist lets plasticity rip, the errant father who is the major sub plot, is a half human lout half cat creature.  He is a cat mixed with loutish human personality, but we hardly notice the transition from a picture about cats to picture about human behaviour (the father even winks in a knowing loutish way).  The mini sub plots, and last thing we notice in the picture, are the kittens which are drawn almost carelessly.  The artist is capable of making the kittens look kittenish but he does not need to.  The last kitten looks like a half kitten half sheep creature, but the artist knows this will not bother us.

I would guess this image was drawn in the same order that we view it as observers.  I also believe the journey we experience, as we travel along the pathway so carefully constructed inside the structure of this image, is the same pathway experienced by the artist as he made the drawing.   This path is what creates compelling narrative, as if the artist were with us telling us about what was going on in his head when he had this idea in 1949

This is another Cartoon I found in Google images.  

The two animals are so similarly constructed,  there is no difference between a cat and dog foot or nose, but we recognise immediately which is which.  We look at the cat with just two whiskers on one side of his face instead of fifty on each side, and with an uncatlike striped back and know it is a cat.  The dog with floppy ears and patch on its back.   What is interesting to me is that by changing just few critical objects on almost identical scaffolds the artist can switch a drawing of cat into a drawing of dog.  

Singular Objects

Science has a rational idea about what an object is, our minds have a plastic idea, they are very different from each other.  Our mental images of objects feel like they are singular things, but in reality they are ever variable concoctions of mental experiences. The boundaries between mental objects are porous and mingled with concepts shared with other objects.

Active Drawing belongs with the plastic world of the mind which is far removed from the objective and rational reality of science.  To draw even simple objects involves a dialogue between a stream of mental experiences that go on whilst the drawing is taking place and the activity happening  on the dynamic workspace where the image is being constructed. 

In the next lesson we will sail into interesting water where we will begin to explore how the concoction of mental experiences are drawn together within porous boundaries.  Before we move on I want to reassure you that whilst we may be talking about techniques used in childish drawings of Noah's Ark and Cartoons on rude 1940's postcards, which some snobs do not regard as high art, these same methods were understood and embraced by the greatest artists in history.  This is the image by Rembrandt I was looking for earlier.


This image illustrates many of the ideas I have introduced in Chapters 1 - 4.  The image is built around a stern faced Smiley with a strong nose and clearly directed gaze out of the picture (gaze is another big subject) .  The face is the super strong wink that dominates the image and says "I am the face of a strong personality with deep thoughts". The character of the smiley is further enhanced by the strong drawing of the hat and collar which are sub plots that tell us about the lifestyle of the owner of the face, and to a lesser extent the front of the doublet, which looks as if it is made of sturdy material, is another sub plot. The further you go from the face the more the image disintegrates; if you are tempted to look at the hands you will be disappointed, they are either not there or a meaningless mess of blotches, and as you move further down the figure everything that seemed so solid dissolves into nothingness  (what happened to his legs?).

This picture has a very strong narrative; "Look at my face, keeping looking at my face, don't look away from my face" It is a figure that seems to be of such solid singularity, but it is a oneness that is  merged with the outside world.  One wonders if perhaps this is how Rembrandt experience the presence of this man whilst he drew him.