Drawings, especially the simplest line drawings, are anything but simple. They tap into deep mental constructs and trigger complex neural processes on the part of the viewer. Otherwise, how could a few brushstrokes suddenly summon to mind a familiar face? Words, spoken or written, invoke the same magic. Individual words tug on threads of associations --- "apple", "kiss", "golden" --- and sequences of words weave those threads into tapestries of thought, stories, and shared cultural experiences.
Art and language work via conventions, arbitrary mappings between patterns and meaning. Many conventions start out instinctive, firmware coded into the brain as an inheritance from thousands of naturally-selected generations: the diverse forms of physical attractiveness, the tastes of good food, the comforts of familiar surroundings, and the appeals (within safe limits) of novelty. As babies grow up they adjust and modify their perceptual processes, and learn (consciously or unconsciously) new conventions. Sounds and shapes are made into symbols for ideas. Scraps of cloth turn into scarves, swimsuits, uniforms, or flags, each with its own set of associations. A scent brings back old memories; a melody calls tears to the eyes.
Some conventions are private, or are shared only between lovers, within a family, or among clan members. Other symbol systems spread like wildfire, and then die out just as quickly: slang catch-phrases, æsthetic fashions du jour, best-sellers, must-see shows, and the like. Still other conventions grow imperceptibly over time, but have profound effects --- such as our evolving conceptions of justice, equality, peace, and freedom. How much farther can such good conventions go, and what new "conventional wisdom" can we hope to see emergent in our future?
Saturday, January 01, 2000 at 07:12:07 (EST) = Datetag20000101