Saturday, September 10, 2011

best viewed distance

I was reading the most gripping book I have read in a long time, Brian Christian's The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive when something struck me about visual experiences.  I have been fascinated by "Zoom" or the subject of magnification or its opposite (shrinking? miniaturization?) for a long time.  I realized that even my poor drawing (rendering) skills could make an accurate drawing of something, provided I showed the view from very far away.  I don't have the skill or the patience to draw Michelangelo's David in a way that will make a viewer of the drawing look at my work and say,"Oh, that's the famous statue of David".  But viewed from the moon, the view might be simply a dot in the sky.  I could draw a dot and I did.  Just for fun.  Well, as often happens to artists, I got laughed at, vilified, scoffs all around, punctuated by smirks.

At the same time, I realized the view would also be within my skill range if I showed the view very, very close up.  At some point, the atomic or subatomic structure would emerge and that would have more detail and I don't know much about atoms and quarks.  Very close to the surface, the view would be a brownish or whitish eyeful.  I drew that, too.  

Doing so, I thought again of the book I enjoyed in the Rosedale Elementary School library in Baltimore County when I taught there.  It was called Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Steps by Kees Boek and is online here and here, too.

Since the same statue can be viewed many different ways, I wondered if the sculptor should issue a "score", like an orchestral one, for viewing instructions.  Then, I realized that The Most Human Human, Decoding the Universe and The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood all give the directions, in a sense.  The sculptor wants the statue viewed from the distance that gives the most information about the work.  Not a simple dot and and not a simple brownish square but the view that shows the efforts the artist made, the curves and details of that creation, not more and not less.

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