Artists as “the Antennae of the Race”

26Apr14

Artists are the antennae of the race but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists. - Ezra Pound

Marshall McLuhan wrote in his Introduction to the Second Edition of  Understanding Media:

“The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. In this century Ezra Pound called the artist ‘the antennae of the race’. Art as radar acts as ‘an early alarm system,” as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic, contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. If an art is an ‘early warning system,’ to use the phrase from World War II, when radar was new, art has the utmost relevance not only to media study but to the development of media controls. 

When radar was new it was found necessary to eliminate the balloon system for city protection that had preceded radar. The balloons got in the way of the electric feedback of the new radar information. Such may well prove to be the case with our existing school curriculum, to say nothing of the generality of the arts. We can afford to use only those portions of them that enhance the perception of our technologies, and their psychic and social consequences. Art as a radar environment takes on the function of indispensable perceptual training rather than the role of a privileged diet for the elite”.Gordon, W.T. (2003). Understanding Media Critical Edition. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, p. 16

I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.  - Marshall McLuhan
A BBC Radio article reports on recent research that provides evidence to explain why artists have such perceptual abilities, what McLuhan called “integral awareness”:

By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC Radio Science

Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists, a study has found.

Participants’ brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery.

The research, published in NeuroImage, suggests that an artist’s talent could be innate.

But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors report.

As in many areas of science, the exact interplay of nature and nurture remains unclear.

Lead author Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium, said she was interested in finding out how artists saw the world differently.

“The people who are better at drawing really seem to have more developed structures in regions of the brain that control for fine motor performance and what we call procedural memory,” she explained.

In their small study, researchers peered into the brains of 21 art students and compared them to 23 non-artists using a scanning method called voxel-based morphometry.

These detailed scans revealed that the artist group had significantly more grey matter in an area of the brain called the precuneus in the parietal lobe.

“This region is involved in a range of functions but potentially in things that could be linked to creativity, like visual imagery – being able to manipulate visual images in your brain, combine them and deconstruct them,” Dr Chamberlain told the BBC’s Inside Science programme.

For the full report, listen to Inside Science on BBC Radio 4

Participants also completed drawing tasks and the team looked at the relationship between their performance in this task and their grey and white matter.

A changing brain

Those better at drawing had increased grey and white matter in the cerebellum and also in the supplementary motor area – both areas that are involved with fine motor control and performance of routine actions.

Grey matter is largely composed of nerve cells, while white matter is responsible for communication between the grey matter regions.

But it is still not clear what this increase of neural matter might mean. From looking at related studies of other creative people, such as musicians, it suggests that these individuals have enhanced processing in these areas, Dr Chamberlain added. Read the rest of this article here: http://tinyurl.com/o88tcls )

alt

A Dew Line Radome, 1956

I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it”. – Marshall McLuhan

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3 Responses to “Artists as “the Antennae of the Race””


  1. 1 Media Ecology, Brain Plasticity, and Imagination
  2. 2 Margot Metroland, "The Conundrum of the Kipling: Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936" | Counter-Currents Publishing
  3. 3 10 Authors Who Only Became Famous After Death | Books on the Wall

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