Interval [ ] Attention

Current cognitive research suggests that our perception of the world is never seamless; inbuilt into our attentional processes are discontinuities. Attention is episodic, so although our visual system is capable of extreme focus, interruptions or gaps mark the fluctuations between temporal episodes of attention (1). These almost imperceptible blanks in attentional processing are exposed by the phenomena of attentional blink, miniscule time lags in visual processing and evidence of attentional capacity reaching a limit (2).

Visual attention is necessarily selective, as though we cut out a frame of focus from a wider visual field. Selection provides an edge...

Models of Attention

In this paper the question, ‘what is the mode of thought of which painting is the stake?’from Yves Alain Bois's Painting as Model (1990) is shifted to what is the mode of attention? Informed by current cognitive and neuro-psychological research, paintings combative art history is assessed through the lens of attention. The unravelling of modernist painting is proposed as a conflict between models of attention, and divergent attentional expectations. Modernist values of immediacy, presentness, wholeness are considered conditions of an ideal attentional experience, one that attempts to hold back a partial, fragmented and distracted counter experience of modernity. ‘Painting as...

Constraints between Picture and Painting: Some considerations at a distance

This article considers a series of constraints active in the abrasive interface between picture and painting. The term constraint is used in reference to Margaret Boden’s research into the computational mechanisms underlying creativity, constraints understood as productive limits that test a given field or convention. The space between picture and painting is full of strongly defended divisions, and inevitable overlaps, and it can be a cluttered and contentious field for a practitioner to negotiate. The aim is in part to bypass an oppositional mindset that cuts off descriptive and imitative impulses for painting and picture from abstract positions and to access the constructed forms of...

Depth as breadth in rotation: Tableau as holding apparatus

In 'Phenomenology of Perception' (1945) Maurice Merleau-Ponty warns against considering depth and breadth as interchangeable. Rather than following Merleau-Ponty's thinking, this article considers the productive potential of equating depth with breadth, citing works by British painters Jane Harris, Beth Harland and John Wilkins. The tableau is proposed in this context as a holding apparatus, one that facilitates and contains a switch and shift between positions and dimensions. Holding is considered in three key ways: holding back, holding fast, and holding attention, each one describing both the internal workings of the tableau and its external relations with an observer. This holding...

A Sort of Night to the Mind, A Kind of Night for Our Thoughts: Illusion and Materiality in Painting

Honoré de Balzac describes in his introduction to the short story 'The Purse' how at twilight the materiality of a painting diminishes. Evidence of making, the skill of material manipulation, the physical sense of stuff on a surface gives way and illusion is realised, 'In the half light the physical tricks used by art to make things seem real disappear completely, … At that hour illusion reigns supreme; perhaps it comes with the night? Is not illusion a kind of night for our thoughts, a night which we furnish with dreams?' (1) Balzac's account of illusion opens up a world of imagination made possible by fading light, 'a kind of night for our thoughts', or variously translated as 'a sort...

Painting: A Space Drawn in Ratio

Using the term painting draws an imaginary line around a set of practices. Where that line falls depends on the art historical moment, on diverging and converging ideas of what might qualify a work within the category painting. The imaginary line encloses a space and immediately puts into play other spaces that border or overlap or run parallel to a space that might be considered painting. How one approaches thinking about painting is worth examining. My visualisation of a line enclosing a space functions like a diagram of painting. As it attempts to describe what painting is like, it is also like a painting. The space it describes is conceived on a plane surface and the devices used:...