Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cognitive dissonance

I love no nonsense reference books like this. It's kinda like an old-timey professional recipe book that only gives you ingredients with no measurements (white wine, lemon juice, shallots, garlic, peppercorn, butter = Beurre blanc). No one's holding your hand here. You don't need the measurements because you're a pro and should know how to take it from here.

This book is exactly what you might expect, 240+ pages of expression reference from all directions. If that's what you're looking for... here it is.  

Facial Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists Check it out.

Now for...

Cognitive dissonance (and what it means to artists)

Why does opinion exist? Why do some people like chocolate ice cream when others like vanilla? Is it possible to eventually like something you don't like? Is it possible to get others around you to like something? I want to take a few posts to cover why people have strong opinions one way or another. I also want to cover why it's so important for an artist to know how to recognize when someone just doesn't like your work, and how you can move on from this or use it to your advantage.

But first, let me start with a quick story.

In 1913 composer Igor Stravinsky premiered The Rite of Spring in Paris to a large and passionate audience. The music and ballet was created to mimic the beautiful and ultimately harsh changes nature goes through using dissonance and strange limp dancing performance to give an uneasy feeling. The discomfort became so great that the audience rioted causing Stravinsky to flee the scene. 

What happened here?  It all comes down to how our brain has learned to perceive it's environment.  Whether it's trying to tell you there's one more step at the bottom of the stairs (while you look at your phone, tisk tisk), to listening to a song or looking at a painting for the first time, it's a prediction machine. You brain feels most comfortable when it recognizes stuff.

Stravinsky introduced something so bizarrely new to a captive audience, it literally did not match up with the minds of the people. They simply could not take it anymore and fights broke out.

As artists, what can we do about this? Well, we really have three options:
  1. Change peoples mind (fine/experimental art)
  2. Produce work that's easily recognizable by the masses as to not provoke anyone. (commercial/production artwork)
  3. Innovate. Take something people are familiar with and turn it on its head
What you decide to do is up to you. But if you work in a creative industry that requires a certain standard, you will have to be well versed in option 2.

So what ever happened to Stravinsky? He came back the next year to a packed audience who thoroughly enjoyed the show. He is now known as one of the great composers of the time and you might recognize his work in Disney's Fantasia.

Once the audience had time to acclimate to the strange art produced the year before, they where now free to appreciate what they once despised. If only people are introduced to something foreign in the right way, they're more likely to be open minded about it. Give that idea some thought and see where it takes you.  

Next week I want to cover why we need to listen to those pesky non-artists. Turns out we need them in more ways than one.

-Garret AJ


  1. Rock on, Garret! Great entry. I'm glad you are thinking of this stuff, because it gives me a headache. ;)