I just finished reading the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. The gist that I got from it is that if you over think things or have too much information about something you limit your ability to use your intuition (which has been found to often be more accurate). Granted it’s a whole book and its not as straight forward as that, but this is what has got me thinking. All that follows could very well be me warping his ideas to fit into my brain, we’ll see. 🙂
In Blink, Gladwell talks about how verbalizing something, through talking or writing can actually impair your “insight” – your ability of rapid cognition, your understanding of things, or your ability to solve things. He says, “When you write down your thoughts, your chances of having the flash of insight you need in order to come up with a solution are significantly impaired” and in another section, “Allowing people to operate, without having to explain themselves constantly turns out to be like the rule of agreement in improv. It enables rapid cognition.”
Jonathan W. Schooler, calls it “verbal overshadowing”. The left hemisphere of our brain thinks in words, the right thinks in pictures. So asked to describe what happened or to explain oneself … your visual memory gets displaced. Your thinking goes from right to left hemisphere and it becomes your memory of what you said rather than what you saw.
Gladwell didn’t talk about this idea in relation to art making, but I wonder how or if it applies. If there is some kind of limiting or something that happens when we become too verbal about our pictures. Like say when writing about ones visual creations, or more specifically explaining one’s photography in an artist statement. This is something I have always struggled with (and in graduate school it REALLY felt like explaining yourself). I often come back to that idea, “If I could write about it I’d be a writer not a photographer”.
One thing I have found about myself is that I tend to take pictures as an exploration into something. I don’t necessarily know WHAT it is I am exploring when I start. But once I do know, once I have figured it out, the exploration is complete and then the project is sort of done. Also, I have often felt like the thinking academic part of me doesn’t really go with the visually creative part of me and trying to bring the two together often makes for some very controlled and boring pictures, or they get very literal or illustrative of the idea I have in mind.
So what I wonder is if by writing about your work in a sort of explanation of yourself and what you have done (artist statement about your photography), are you possibly taking away some of your “insight” from the photography? Or some of what makes it interesting? And would this be so only for you the creator or would it be in the viewer’s experience as well? And perhaps this would only be the case if you were still working on the project…maybe we should only write about the work after it is complete? Does the word thinking part of our brain play well with the image thinking part? I’m sure this has got to be different for everyone (though I get the impression that what the book is talking about is universal). Also from what I read, it is possible that if you make very logical photographs it may not get in the way at all to then explain what you did. In an experiment Gladwell discusses, they had people solve written problems of different sorts and they found, “with a logic problem, asking people to explain themselves doesn’t impair their ability to come up with the answers.”
So I thought I’d share a group of pictures that came out of a project where we started with a myth and made very illustrative/descriptive pictures of the story and gradually worked our way to something more intuitive or insightful. We started out with lots of words and information about the myth and made pictures, then from that point on we let go of the that stuff and just made pictures. I had thought I’d show you the first pictures, the over-thought-out ones, but I haven’t found them anywhere. They were photograms of drawings acting out the story. Anyway, the myth I started out with was Persephone and below is where I ended up. (The images are in black shadow boxes and are kinda dark inside so you have to really look into them to see)