Friday, January 13, 2012

Sub Perceptual Construction

It's a common thing that people like things that are custom made. It could be something specifically tailored, or it could be something that's just intrinsically hand made, or it could be just pure luxury – something made with obsessiveness and care, but there's something to the idea that a thing, if it has been done or made with special care and attention, will have a quality that is perceivable and desirable, even if the qualities that create it are imperceptible. --That's all pretty standard stuff, I think. Lots of people think about that and study it. I don't know that I know the whys of it, but I've got some anecdotal examples to show, and more and more I'm thinking that it's important to do things at a finer level than is necessary, for some ultimately fairly straightforward engineering type reasons, rather than anything to do with philosophy or humanity.

Me thinking about this thing started with chili. I make chili that's got about about 300 ingredients in it, and it's good. Really it's just standing in the kitchen pitching everything that's about to expire into a crock pot, and then towards the end trying to balance it out with spices, but it's come up in conversations with chef friends of mine (and I'm not really sure even now on the chef/cook thing, sorry) that the difference between a good cook and an ordinary one is that the good cook makes a lot of interventions into the food. Tasting and adjusting. And it's not just the taste/adjust I would contend, but the number of them that makes the difference. A good cook is putting many many refinements and decisions into the dish, all of them, any one of them, minor. Where an ordinary cook will maybe taste and adjust once.

Why? Well, I think that there's something to the process, and also something to human cognition or perception at play. I think the process means that there is an accuracy based on perception and understanding and expertise of the cook, over time, as the dish develops, knowing the history of the dish, that makes the result just so. But also that there's a perceivability to the nuance that all the small ingredients, and steps in the final dish. When I was a kid, my mom would kid me because when I made spaghetti sauce, I always put in ¼ teaspoon of cream of tarter, and, she said, there was no way that made any difference in a half gallon of sauce. But now that I know better, I think maybe that amount of that ingredient in the dish when it was probably did have a catalytic effect, doing something to the tomato proteins probably. But maybe it was the taste of the stuff itself. Small, undetectable, but creating an in-between something on a taste-bud somewhere that wouldn't have otherwise been there. Something like that. I think.

What led me to this line of thinking was a) a link to a philosophy article that somebody sent me, and that I'm working on images in an exploratory kind of way (partly because of the topic of my last post here, and partly because I've figured out something that I've seen other artists do that I like, and it's one of these sub-perceptual things that are the topic at hand).

I've got four images here showing steps in a process, and what that process is is supersampling an image to give an oversized version, then applying a perceptual blur, and then reducing the image back to its original size. Why? Dunno, I just did it. And it took an hour, but here's the results.

(as I see these on this page, you'll probably have to go view the originals to see any differences. sorry)

2x no processing
2x processed
1x from unprocessed
1x from processed

And you can probably see a difference, and if you look really close, you might decide that the processing made it look blurry, or unclear, or less good, but that's what I noticed about some of these images that I admire, that up-close, they're not so great, but when you back off to normal viewing distance, they take on a certain character. You can't really put a finger on it, but it's there. It's an etherealness, or spookiness, I guess.

It's really not unlike an impressionist painting, just at a sub-perceptual level.

So? I don't know yet, it's just something I'm thinking about.

I've got notes for a lot more essay, but I don't want to do it right now. But a bookmark: I think this kind of characteristic is in play in a lot of situations. I think it's the difference between great athletes and performers and the merely really good ones. In fact: I think it may play a part in the differences between greatness and goodness in all sorts of applications.

Thanks for reading,
Dave DeHetre

ps: here's a pic that used the technique in a realistic situation: cows pondering

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