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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Art Research Reflecting on the American Fighter Pilot

To Richard J. Olsen:

My research lately that has gotten very interesting. While searching through old brochures from the Art school over the years, I came across some newsletters that give me first hand reference to the ART X project. I am still trying to pin down exactly when the ART IN THE DARK program you were taught originated, but I have the record of an art teacher named Edmonson that supposedly set the program up originally at UGA after studying at Ohio State. My plan on that lead is to check the University Faculty records for grant applications and see if something solid comes up.

Central to my research is understanding concepts in learning and teaching specifically where they overlap with art and artists. The scheme for this is simple, if I can compile all the practical knowledge of how humans absorb, process, retain, and use information I can better create experiences for humans. That is the underlying goal of my version of ART X. I have to admit that this latest burst of exploration has drawn my attention to the field of academic research away from the feelings of the typical studio artist. Like you say, understanding drawing and painting will help you whatever you are meant to do.

More than one scholar and scientist I have come across in my recent study has used the example of a air force pilot to explain art. It was these examples that I felt compelled to share with you. The first example comes from Edmonston from the University of Pennsylvania (whose name is eerily similar sounding to our friend who brought the Tachistoscope-based program to us from Ohio State.)

This Edmonston who was a theorist in art education, began an essay by recalling his conversation with a fighter pilot in the Korean War. The pilot explained that though their planes were slower than their enemies, the American pilots had the advantage. In particular he recounted a manuever in which he would stall out his plane, alllowing his adversary to pass him and thus gaining the ability to shoot him down. He went on to explain that he got this idea from playing tag on the playground as a kid. Edmondston remarks that "creative play" is the cause of the pilot's survival. The essay elaborates that the construction of an airplane utilitzes countless collaborators to design and assemble a machine of aeronautical science, but it requires an artist to fly it, the final step in the collaboration.

The second reference to fighter pilots in conjunction with art education occurs with my investigation of the tachistoscope itself. This original machine, an automated slide projector that can project a slide at given intervals up to a fraction of a second was utilized by yourself and Michael Torlen to teach students how to draw, as a sort of exercise. Flashing images and shapes in the dark, you were training them to see in diferent ways. Apparently, the orginal use of the Tachistoscope, the reason it was developed in the first place, was to flash images of enemy planes and test to see if the pilot could recognize them quickly, as in battle conditions.

Parenthetically, let me add something about Michael Torlen, a current member of our UGA Board of Visitors and your colleage in the Tachistoscope/ "ART IN THE DARK" teaching. In an essay by Harold McWhinnie, he explains some of the theories behind and publication consequent of ART IN THE DARK. I need to share this article with you in it entirety, but in what little mention of Micahel Torlen the author includes that he woked with the concept of dynamic symmetry.

I have to thank you again, as always, because your insights have helped me understand so much. Your personal art history and legacy in teaching help me understand the connections between so much varied information. Lately, my work has felt like a jig saw puzzle that I have finally been able to begin putting together. Until now I could barely understand the overall shape let alone how the individual pieces might fit together. Your unique perspective acts like a light upon as well as table beneath to construct this image I hope to bring together eventually.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,


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