Introduction to Visual Representation by Alan Blackwell - Video 1

Uploaded by InteractionDesignOrg on 01.12.2010

bjbjq Rikke: Welcome, today we are at the Kettle s Yard Gallery in Cambridge. We are
meeting Alan. Alan is going to tell us about visual representation and how we can use it
when designing engaging products. Alan, what is visual representation? Alan: Well this
is an ideal place to explain it. This is the house that belonged to Jim Eade, who was the
first curator of modern art at the Tate Gallery in London. His house here in Cambridge, he
used his personal collection to explain to Cambridge students about theories of art in
a painting. On his walls, we have examples like this painting by Christopher Wood, of
a snow scene in Paris. Rikke: You chose this painting. Why did you choose it? Why didn
t you choose a photo, which seemed to be a bit of a representation? Alan: Sure, there
are other ways I could use technology to give us an impression of where we are. I could
use Google Earth for example, or I could come right here on Google Maps. We could say, here
we are at this house. Rikke: There seems to be more acreage. Alan: Well it is, but a map
is on kind of an image of a place. It doesn t really give you an idea of what it is like
to be here. To some extent, he is giving you a picture of what it is like to be here. Of
course, with technology, we can do much better than that. We can take a photograph. This
is a great image showing just what it was like to be here. The question is, why didn
t he make something as good as a photograph, because surely already Leonardo DaVinci or
Michelangelo or Rembrandt, they could all really make very realistic paintings. Why
are we here looking at this painting that just seems to be a not very good painting
of Paris? Well, I am going to show you some other paintings here, to explain what it was
that he was achieving. Rikke: Yes, let's go have a look. Allen this painting looks like
it has been drawn someone without artistic training. Alan: Yes, all of these paintings
are by Alfred Wallace, who was a fisherman in the Cornwall, where the early 20th Century
British painters were based, including Christopher Wood, whose painting Paris in the Snow we
have just seen. Wood discovered Wallace s work and they were very impressed because
the way that he had managed to represent aspects of Cornwall life. As professional trained
painters had not managed to. If you look at this though, the perspective is extremely
unusual. It looks almost childish in fact. There are no real rules about perspective.
Perspective is any system by which you take a two-dimensional surface and use it to represent
a three dimensional scene. The camera picture that I took of you just before, that is camera
lens perspective in a particular distinct way. They have their own schemes. Most periods
in history are in different kinds of perspective. Wallace was completely self-taught. He invented
his own perspective and painted in much the same way that children do to show things that
are important and the things that interest them. In fact, you can instantly recognize
when you go to Penzance Harbour, you can recognize where this is. You can see what kind of lighthouse
this is. You can see what kind of ships these are. Most importantly, you can see something
that is very characteristic about his life as a fisherman. He was remembering as he sat
at his kitchen table after he retired, drawing pictures like this from memory. Here we can
see a ship coming in stormy waters on a dangerous day, true as stone sea break. It is an exciting,
thrilling, probably dangerous and worrying experience. If you have been in a ship in
those sorts of conditions. The ship is tilting to the side. That piece of perspective is
showing you just what you need to know to understand what Wallace is representing, which
he is not representing a place. He is representing a memory. What he is showing us here is the
authentic memory of a fisherman experiencing being in this situation and not being childish
actually showing us with a novel sophisticated perspective. Exactly the kinds of ideas that
he wants to communicate. Rikke: How do you take these principles and apply them when
deciding technical products? Alan: Well, in fact this is directly relevant to something
like the scene that we see on the screen of our computer. When you see the Windows screen,
the Macintosh, or the Xerox start. What they do as this painting does, they are representations
of the important things. Some of them are memories, some of them are ideas. They are
arranged on the screen that shows you the things that are important. They are a kind
of perspective, but not a pictorial perspective. We need to be aware of those options. There
are ways that we can arrange the graphical elements in our two dimensional scene to carry
different meanings. There are other paintings in the collection here that show us other
ways of arranging marks. Shall we go and see how that can be done? Rikke: Definitely. Allan
what are the graphical techniques on this portrait, which we can use when deciding.
Alan: This is a great example of something that would be very easy to do on a computer.
In one way because it is just simple black and white. It is just done with black ink
and a brush. You can see the ways that the simple marks are conveying so much. Partly
because we can detect the expression. The brush stroke here sweeping around the eye.
It gives you a force of personality coming out through the spectacles of the Poet Ezra
Pound, the subject of this portrait by Henry Gaudier Brzeska, or the playful little twiddle
of his beard. The fact that we can detect the evidence of the brush strokes, this is
what tells us that we have personality here that we are communicating human to human.
It is not just machine marks. In fact, it is not that easy to achieve with a computer.
One of the things that we want to be thinking about is when we put marks on the screen,
where is the humanity that we can detect in the marks that we use. There is another painting,
also by Gaudier-Brzeska over here, where we can see a completely different set of marks.
Rikke: Yes, let's have a look. Alan: We can see that he has made a two dimensional picture
of a three-dimensional object. He is not using perspective, but there is a lot of very machine
like straight lines here. These marks are clue to the reader based on our knowledge
of previous technologies. Because we know about the history of copper plate etching
and printing, we know that when we see straight lines like that this is the way that you represent
shadows in drawings. We can interpret what the three dimensional object is because we
see the conventional depiction of shadows. When you are designing visual representations,
you need to know about history of representation, in order to give your audience the clues of
how to read what they see on the surface. Rikke: What is this? Alan: In fact, the object
that this is a representation of is also right here in the museum. Let's go take a look at
it. Rikke: So this is the sculpture that we saw in the drawing? Alan: That is right. Gaudier-Brzeska
was making a drawing of his own sculpture. You can see that he has made a very good job.
The lines that we saw have given us a two dimensional visual representation, which has
very clearly depicted the three dimensional shape of this object. Rikke: But it still
is a little bit difficult to see what it is. Alan: Well of course, this sculpture is also
a representation. Perhaps as a clue, I can tell you its name is Bird Swallowing Fish.
This is a sculpture of a bird swallowing a fish. Although, even that is a little hard
to see. Introduction to Visual Representation
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