Essay, article:
How concepts can blind us to reality
By Rick Doble

See my full list of essays about contemporary and digital art.

At the age of fifteen, I knew that I loved music but I could not master reading the notes from sheet music. I asked my piano teacher to play a piece for me, so that I could hear it. He refused. In fact he became quite angry. He banged his hand against the paper and said, "This is the music -- play what you see here."

At the age of fifteen I knew that something was terribly wrong -- but I was not sure what. Here I was questioning an accomplished pianist who had taught hundreds of young people how to play. Who was I to wonder about his methods?

Yet the next year, when I had to decide which courses to take, I stopped taking piano. And I never took it again. At the time I did not understand the reasons -- just that it was not working for me.

But now -- almost fifty years later -- I do understand. And what I was trying to get my teacher to do required he cross a barrier that seemed impossible to him. Quite simply music is *not* a written score, music is what you hear. And I somehow knew that hearing the music would make much more sense to me -- give me a feel for the notes combined with the rhythm -- rather than trying to read it slowly and painstakingly as I struggled to finger each key.

I knew intuitively that I would learn better if I could hear the music as sound rather than try to piece it together from a printed page. And this understanding had other ramifications: I realized I could learn a foreign language better when I heard it and tried to speak it rather than working from books. And that I could learn to write better English simply by working to write as clearly as possible -- rather than trying to remember the rules of grammar as had been drilled into me by so many English teachers.

Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski stated, "The map is not the territory." By this he meant that we often confuse absolute reality or fundamental reality with a human abstraction of reality. And while these abstractions and concepts are very useful, they need to be kept in their proper place and proper perspective.

I am often astonished how preconceptions can blind us to things that are clearly in front of us. Or how scientists can discard well crafted research because they do not agree with the end result.

Let's take a classic example: Arthur C. Clarke wrote a detailed proposal for geostationary satellite communications in the magazine Wireless World in 1945. His idea was backed by solid calculations. At a specific distance from the Earth, satellites would orbit at the same speed that the Earth turned -- making them stationary in relation to the Earth -- and thus could be used for communications. At the time his idea was ridiculed. Now 60 some years later, the precise orbit that Clarke predicted is crowded with satellites that are used for communications and without which the modern world could not function.

While it is the business of scientists to question new ideas and to rigorously test them before giving them a stamp of approval -- in this case the math and physics were very clear. Yet knowledgeable engineers dismissed the idea and saw it as a flawed concept.

Now I too -- at the age of sixty-five -- am engaged in another battle of this kind. I have explained how photographs can be created in an expressive manner by using slow shutter speeds. The methods I use are purely photographic and involve no computer manipulation other than standard time-honored darkroom techniques. Yet I find I am hitting a barrier. Critics want to say that what I have shot is not photography. What they mean is that these pictures are not clear sharp photos of people and objects -- which is true. But photography is by definition the action of light on light sensitive material. Thus what I am doing *is* photography. In fact this work builds on and continues an effort by a number of photographers over the last century, from Alvin Coburn to Man Ray to Wynn Bullock, to work with light in and of itself in photographs.

So yes, my critics, my blurry slow shutter speed painting-with-light photographs *are* photographs. And to understand this all you need to do is look.

See The Painting With Light Photographic Exhibit

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© Copyright 2009 by Richard deGaris Doble
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