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Ask Derek: The Artful Brain: Neuro-aesthetics

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Dear Derek Russell,

    I am contacting you from Colgate University in Hamilton, NY where I am completing the first semester of my freshman year. I am currently taking a class called “The Artful Brain: Neuro-aesthetics” in which I learn about the visual system’s role in the appreciation and understanding of beauty in art….pretty cool right? Along with this being my favorite class, it also allows me to appreciate my passion for art. 

        As our final paper, my professor has asked us to pick any artist of interest, and write a paper that discusses the extent to which the artist’s work taps into some of the perceptual processes we discussed in class, and how the exploitation of those processes gives way to the aesthetic appreciation of this artist’s work. If you haven’t guessed it by now, I chose you as my artist and to study your work. I really admire your style and find each piece to be intriguing in its own way.

        My class studies various brain regions that appreciate the different aspects of art (color, line, massing, orientation, movement etc.) in an attempt to synthesize a system responsible for aesthetics. Because the field of psychology is still so undiscovered, we have been able to make our own opinions about the topic and speculate through extensive research and discussion.

        That being said, I wanted to ask you some questions about your art. Also, If you are at all familiar with or aware of the neural processes that your work taps into, I would love to hear your personal perspective on that.        

        So,

    1. Without a clear line drawing, how do you communicate an image through massing of color? What techniques do you use? 

    2. Do you think that the orientations of your brushstrokes alone create form in your pieces? Or does color play an equally important role in that effort?

    3. Do you believe that the lack of line drawing lends itself to an emotional experience? With line, would your work not portray what you intend it to?

    4. How have you used color to capture/evoke emotion in a work? In other words, do you use specific colors to create specific feelings?

    5. Finally, fauvism (as I am sure you are aware) deals with freeing color from form. Do you feel that idea applies to your work? 

    Thank you for your time, and any answers that you have would be helpful in my effort to write this paper.

    Sincerely, 

    Sarah 

    P.s. As I looked around your website, I can’t help but comment on your inspirational writing. After reading one or two entries, the next thing I knew I had read 10 and spent a great deal of time engulfed in what you were saying. You brightened my day and I wanted to thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts with me. Ill be sure to read the rest of the blog when finals are over.  :)


Hi Sarah

I’d like to share with you what I have learned over many decades of experience but not necessarily formal education. Much of what I do comes to me naturally, effortlessly really. When I am in a state of expression with paint brush in hand, the material world seems to slip away. The world of form (as seen as people, places and things) is still there but my own world does not even comprehend it. I connect with a higher vibration of energy, as I like to call it, a Divine Intelligence, and operate from this place of beauty and truth. All beauty is truth and truth is beauty. When we can see ourselves in this way, anything is possible. 

There is a consciousness shift that is taking place that focuses more on the intuitive nature of living and breathing with an understanding of higher vibrational frequencies. I feel we are moving out of the age of information and into an age of inspiration. Yes, you can still find anything you want with the touch of a button, you can “mask” any dis-ease with a pill…but more so than that, people are going to be able to tune into this genius within themselves to know so much more. To be able to know the answer to any question without needing to first research it. To be able to heal naturally without pills. When enough people learn and experience the amazing possibilities when we are in this field of intention, the gifts will unveil themselves.

Before I start any painting, I center myself. I balance my chakras. And I clear any energy out of me that no longer serves me. Usually this can be accomplished through mediation, intention, going outside in nature and/or Reiki. I communicate with the soul and many guides to lead me to where I need to go. I ask to be shown what colors to use. I ask that the process being intuitive, easy, and effortless. I ask that the energy from my work be for the greatest good of all. I see big things happening, and I trust the process.

If you are still reading, great, I’ll now get to your questions…I just felt guided to share the above with you.

Without a clear line drawing, how do you communicate an image through massing of color? What techniques do you use? Through the power of intention. I refer to photographs for reference. I experience life and observe nature closely. I stay present in each moment. I mass in large shapes and forms in one color, typically a burnt sienna. This step is critical to attain the likeness. Visually looking at what I do, I see the darks and lights jumping off the page. I adjust by adding more paint or diluting paint down. Sometimes I even remove paint to lighten up an area. 

Do you think that the orientations of your brushstrokes alone create form in your pieces? Or does color play an equally important role in that effort? If you were to convert my paintings to black and white, you’ll see more clearly that the shapes and intensity at which the paint is applied greatly captures the form. The movement, the passion, the balance of life is evident. By varying the brushstrokes, the painting comes alive. Yet, with the introduction of color an entirely new dimension gets added that speaks worlds. The energy of each piece is unique. vibrant color increases the expression. The black and white demonstration enables you to see depth of form that is created. the brilliant color gives you that freedom to feel the spirit of each subject. some paintings call for more color than others. 

Do you believe that the lack of line drawing lends itself to an emotional experience? With line, would your work not portray what you intend it to? An emotional experience can be had with anything. With a line drawing, far too many artists get stuck within the lines. They are afraid to step beyond the boundaries and experience the unknown. Once a line is introduced no one wants to cross it. Why is that? Why can we not grow? Why can things not change? It is about escaping out of the ego mindset that has trapped you from experiencing the beauty of creation. When you can surrender and let go of your need to be right and let the creation speak for itself, you awaken your creativity to live and love. 

How have you used color to capture/evoke emotion in a work? In other words, do you use specific colors to create specific feelings? Every one will feel something different when it comes to color. And when color is applied in various ways as it is in my work, the truth is told. I intend to create what the subject wants me to create. The emotion that comes from that is formless in the spiritual sense - the energy field. it takes form on the canvas. When I force colors, that is when I sense inside me confusion, doubt and frustration. It is me blocking the natural transgression of emotion. Yes, different colors do evoke different meanings. The combination of colors definitely will influence the feelings felt by the observer; this is why i allow my inner intelligence to guide me. i become one with the spirit that is creating and allow that flow to happen. it is when you become separate from source energy that you find fault and difficulty.

Finally, fauvism (as I am sure you are aware) deals with freeing color from form. Do you feel that idea applies to your work? yes absolutely influenced by this work. it is a personal journey and part of the journey for me was escaping from the known into the unknown and knowing and trusting that beauty and truth would prevail. vibrant & brilliant colors and what appears to be spontaneous brushwork have given me the freedom to be me and to paint my emotions and my world. 

Good luck on your paper. I’d love to read it.

Happy writing

Derek