University Professor Rebecca Zorach Publishes New Book: The Passionate Triangle
Triangles abounded in the intellectual culture of early modern Europe - the Christian Trinity was often mapped as a triangle, for instance, and perspective, a characteristic artistic technique, is based on a triangular theory of vision. Renaissance artists, for their part, often used shapes and lines to arrange figures into a triangle on the surface of a painting - a practice modern scholars call triangular composition. But is there secret meaning in the triangular arrangements artists used, or just a pleasing symmetry? What do triangles really tell us about the European Renaissance and its most beguiling works of art? In this book, Rebecca Zorach takes us on a lively hunt for the triangle's embedded significance. From the leisure pursuits of Egyptian priests to Jacopo Tintoretto's love triangles, Zorach explores how the visual and mathematical properties of triangles allowed them to express new ideas and to inspire surprisingly intense passions. Examining prints and paintings as well as literary, scientific, and philosophical texts, "The Passionate Triangle" opens up an array of new ideas, presenting unexpected stories of the irrational, passionate, melancholic, and often erotic potential of mathematical thinking before the Scientific Revolution.
Rebecca Zorach is associate professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and coeditor of The Idol in the Age of Art: Objects, Devotions, and the Early Modern World.
Available through the Seminary Co-Operative Book Store at the University of Chicago http://www.semcoop.com
University Alumni Collaborate—Video Artist Julia Oldham (MFA 2005) and Experimental Physicist Eric Corwin (Ph.D. 2007)
Julie Oldham, MFA ’05, stands poised on a moving Lazy Susan, a Granny Smith apple in each hand, carefully observing her diminishing momentum. Her project? Weighing the planet. In her 2010 video collaboration with fellow University of Chicago graduate Eric Corwin Ph.D. ‘07, “Weighing the Earth,” Oldham is using her body as both a scientific and artistic apparatus. By replicating the Cavendish Experiment, the two work at the edges of their disciplines, seeking moments where the concerns of scientific and artistic inquiry are either transparent or at tension with one another. Their co-location of artistic and scientific aims stakes out new possibilities in collaboration between the disciplines, reflecting the mission of the University of Chicago’s new Arts and Sciences initiative.
Together Oldham MFA ‘05, Corwin Ph.D’07, an experimental physicist, collaborate with theoretical physicist Maxime Clusel to pursue a subjective and aesthetic exploration of physics. In their videos they translate historical experiments and theories into sensual visual narratives that examine the boundaries of art and science. Oldham, Corwin, and Clusel feel their collaboration reconnects physics and art, two fields that were once intimately linked. As recently as the 19th century, artists and physicists worked very similarly, exploring innovative ideas in privately run workshops, funded by patrons or wealthy practitioners. There was, and continues to be, a shared interest between physicists and artists in analyzing and interpreting the world that surrounds us. Their collaboration is at the interface between what is real and what is abstract. Their respective fields are bound together by a curiosity about the mysterious and elegant nature of the universe.
Dawna Schuld (Ph.D. 2009), Art History
My primary aim is to develop a methodology that allows us to include and examine first-person experience as a constitutive part of art and art-making. My dissertation (“Nothing to Look At: Art as Situation and Its Neuropsychological Implications,” 2009) dealt with the ways in which parallels in art and psychology in 1960s Southern California had significant implications for how aesthetic experience is represented and understood. (Lost 2010) In that context developments in both physics and the cognitive sciences were challenging traditional interpretations of reality, and artists like Robert Irwin and James Turrell drew from both scientific fields to develop a new “conditional art” (more frequently referred to critically as “light and space”). Their assertion that consciousness itself functions as an artistic medium coincided with—and drew from—the beginnings of a phenomenological turn in the cognitive sciences, when experimental psychologists like J.J. Gibson sought to make an objective study of subjectivity.
My current research develops from that beginning, but focuses on the relationship between the use of voids in light and space art and the role of viewer disorientation in constructing a singular aesthetic experience. Recent neurological research on orientation helps us to understand how the viewer derives a coherent experiential event from a situation that apparently offers no salient cues. (Mou et al. 2006) Absent discernible features, the void collapses the coherent separation of viewer and object. The work literally becomes self-centered (ego-centric): the viewer must attend to her own perception and physiognomy as cues to establishing a relationship to her surroundings. Artists Maria Nordman, Eric Orr, and Doug Wheeler were interested in so conditioning viewer response. In the work of all three, sensory deprivation techniques specifically attuned to undermining and/or de-stabilizing vision play an essential role in re-shaping the viewer into an active participant whose conscious grappling with the situation transforms it into an aesthetic experience.
Dawna Schuld is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art at Indiana University Bloomington, Ind.
David Bashwiner (Ph.D. 2010), Music Theory and Neuroscience
I wrote my dissertation (Bashwiner 2010) on music’s capacity to arouse emotion (see also Bashwiner, forthcoming). I did so because I had been composing music for films, and I was struck by music’s capacity to influence film meaning. In seeking to understand this effect, I came to believe that music influences meaning in film by modulating the viewer’s emotional state as he/she tries to make sense of onscreen drama. I thus determined that to understand music’s influence upon film meaning, I first needed to understand its influence upon the emotions.
Does music arouse emotions? Skeptical philosophers continue to argue that it does not (Kivy 2002, Zangwill 2004), but neuroscientific data suggests that it does. The same regions of the brain that are activated by food, sex, and drugs, for instance, are activated by pleasurably familiar music (Blood and Zatorre 2001). Permanently dissonant music activates the amygdala region, linked throughout the scientific literature with fear, anger, and other high-salience emotions (Koelsch et al. 2008). And even for those not enculturated in the Western musical tradition, minor and dissonant sounds are more readily associated with negative emotions, major and consonant sounds with positive emotions (Fritz et al. 2009). Consonant and dissonant chords even appear to be processed in different brain regions (Blood et al. 1999; Pallesen et al. 2005). Music thus appears to have some automatic emotional effects-which may even be universal, and thus innate.
What does this mean for the discipline of music theory and analysis? In my view, we have come a long way with regard to understanding the syntax of musical structure, but when it comes to understanding musical “semantics”-including emotion and meaning-we are still somewhat in the dark (see also Neumeyer 1991). We tend to attribute semantic effects to high level mechanisms, such as association, resemblance, and even propositional inference. I would posit that, in each of these scenarios, while high-level processing may be active on the surface and even be at the forefront of musical experience, the root causes of emotion and meaning may lie far deeper. Such root causes, I posit, include the most basic properties of sounds, which are frequently if not consistently ignored in musical analysis-loudness, roughness, suddenness, periodicity, and so on. Such phenomena produce notably biological effects in listeners, including startle responses, attentional shifts, and changes in hormonal and neurotransmitter levels. Neuroscience can track such changes, and such changes are in turn likely to induce altered states of musical processing. Musical experience, while undoubtedly cognitive, is also biological, physiological, hormonal, and emotional. Musical analysis should find a way to account for this bodily aspect in addition to-and of course in interaction with-its mental aspect.
However intuitive these statements may seem to the reader, they are discordant with traditional musical analytical practice, and they contradict whole traditions of philosophical reasoning. Thus to make such claims, I stood on shaky ground unless I could base them in a knowledge source that was not strictly introspective/humanistic. My turn to neuroscience thus allowed me to make claims that were relevant to a humanistic discipline but which were difficult to support by purely humanistic means. It is in such ways that the humanities and sciences can work productively together to generate knowledge that is relevant to both fields but is not necessarily in the purview of either.
David Bashwiner is currently an Assistant Professor in Theory and Composition, Department of Music at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.