Inside and Outside, at the Same Time

Photo: From the Brooklyn Museum of Art

Another evocative passage by way of Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Eyes of the Skin. (More quotes from the book here, and more will be posted in the future since I have been in a state of awe regarding this book for some time.) The role of the hand and the body in creativity is not trivial and yet easily overlooked.

The computer is usually seen as a solely beneficial invention, which liberates human fantasy and facilitates efficient design work. I wish to express my serious concern in this respect, at least considering the current role of the computer in the design process. Computer imaging tends to flatten our magnificent, multi-sensory, simultaneous and synchronic capacities of imagination by turning the design process into a passive visual manipulation, a retinal journey. The computer creates a distance between the make and the object, whereas drawing by hand as well as model-making put the designer into a haptic contact with the object or space. In our imagination, the object is simultaneously held in the hand and inside the head, and the imagined and projected physical image is modelled by our bodies. We are inside and outside of the object at the same time. Creative work calls for a bodily and mental identification, empathy and compassion.

4 Replies to “Inside and Outside, at the Same Time”

  1. When we first started using computers for design work I felt this so sharply. My eyes were in one world, and my body in another. It hurt. And it was a great loss to the process, in terms of sensual vitality. Many designers still sketch and develop ideas in “meatspace,” but increasingly younger ones do not. Longer term, though, I predict traditional hand skills and classical drawing will be honored in the next swing of the pendulum.

  2. I just put together for next week a post about a fiber artist who speaks of handwork in the most spiritual terms.

    For a long time I couldn’t do my creative writing on a computer. I needed the feel of the paper and the sight of the words my hand put together in lines my mind dreamed up. Now, I quickly move from a scrap of paper on which I start a poem to the computer, where I’ll always finish it because there I “see” more clearly the images connections, know better how to break the line, achieve the music in my ear.

    I wonder, how does Pallasmaa regard the camera, which stands between the thing or person photographed and the maker of the image. The camera still requires a hand to make contact with the equipment through which the eye “sees” the image held in the mind and often in a way not “seen” by another? Some of the most incredible digital photography I’ve seen is by a friend in Seattle, who shoots images of old ferries and rusted hulls of ships, natural objects like scavenged wood and the like. What she sees in the photo she’s taken and then manipulated by computer can be astonishing. What she starts from is a deeply intuitive sense of and presence with her environment. Where she goes with the resulting image often is moving.

  3. Sally, this topic is of interest to me but I am not convinced of the either/or. Maybe it is a personality trait or proclivity?

    I am often reminded of Clay Shirky’s apt analogy where he pointed out that the technology of the printing press disrupted life for 200 years, and everything was reordered because of it. It may take 50 years, says Shirky for us to really see what this new technology has dislodged, replaced, refined. So I respond with that great catch all phrase of “We’ll see.”

    Maureen, interesting question. I haven’t found anything (not yet anyway) about cameras written by Pallasmaa but my sense is that he might classify it as a tool (much the way a pencil or template are tools and are used to do things much more efficiently than our just plain fingers might.) Like your friend and her photographic process, it can be used to produce so many different results. Plus it is held in the hand and manipulated by the body, not trivial issues.

    If I find a passage I’ll pass it along.

    Great comments, both.

  4. […] vision. (Other great quotes from Pallasmaa that I have posted here: Focused vs Peripheral Vision; Inside and Outside, at the Same Time; Mind and Eye;The Eye in the Hand; Human Rootedness; Fully Engaged; Sensory Intimacy, in Art and in […]

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