Perception, art, and the space between meanings

How much do we grow used to interpreting symbols around us? When it comes to understanding traffic rules for example, a red or a green traffic light is relatively easy to understand. Red means “stop”, green means “go”. The tricky bit is when your kid sees a green light but it’s for other road users.

Now arrows… arrows are tricky by default.

Perception: Meanings of an Arrow

Knowledge of specific conventions tell us what an arrow means.
[OCAL image]

  • It’s up to you to gain enough general knowledge about the world and our conventions to recognize the shape of an arrow, and to understand that arrows point in a direction,  that it’s the pointy bit that does the pointing, and that there’s a reason for it to point.
  • Your next hurdle is understanding that you need to look around you to see what the arrow is doing in its context – to find the reason for the arrow. Why is it here, what is it supposed to show you, is it even there for you – or for the car in the lane next to you?

Just to point my own arrow at a minor detail here: you’re an expert in a lot of ways without realizing it. You just read the stuff I wrote about arrows and conventions like traffic rules, and you’re still here. Now let’s move a step further.

The effect of learning in professionals

I’ve taken a quote from an interesting post about learning and its effect on us: “…once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see.”

It’s easy to point at stuff you’d like to learn – but you can’t point at things you’re trying to forget AND succeed at forgetting them. What if you told someone “Right now I’m trying not to think about those purple bears over there, hanging out on the beach drinking pink-and-green cocktails with fake strawberries on straws in them. And they’re wearing high heels, which is no joke for a purple bear on a beach.” Check out the size of that arrow 😉

The author of the quote goes on to list examples of how designers, artists, and other professionals cope with the gap between their trained professional self, and their untrained clients. Like I stated in an earlier post: un-learning is possible, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s a lot harder to forget or ignore specific bits of knowledge that have become entrenched in the corners of your brain, than to focus on learning them. (The one example I’ve run into of people being unable to step away from what they’ve learned is not so much designers but IT professionals. We’re all guilty of being an expert at something.)

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

Some things mean everything to us, and nothing to the person standing next to us. This is particularly clear when art is concerned. A piece of art is filled with meaning by the artist. Compositions as a rule don’t drop from a handy cloud. Details don’t miraculously pop up in a painting. A work of art is constructed, and its details are where the artist put them for a reason.

The way we perceive any piece of art is defined by our personal experience. Our general knowledge of the world. Our knowledge about other works of art and any convention we have grown used to. If our personal knowledge overlaps to a great extent with that of certain artists, we’ll perceive their art much the way they intended. On the other hand, if there is little to no overlap – say you’re admiring a 16th-century Italian painting and you’re

  1. unfamiliar with classical mythology, and
  2. not a religious person,

it’s going to take some explaining to get even a rough sense of what you’re looking at and what story the artist wanted to tell in that painting. That artist was creating a work of art with a specific audience in mind. I guess it’s safe to assume you’re not the audience he (probably not she) was thinking of at the time.

Read more:

Do you watch (your) kids learn about the meaning or meanings of the things around them? What do you make of perception, art, and the meanings of familiar symbols?

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Blogging impressions: how to change your journal into a blog

This post is about me. And perhaps it’s also about you… When I started blogging I refused to explore the question who I was going to write for in detail. So now maybe it’s time to make up for that.

Who am I trying to reach? Who is my audience?

Well, for starters:

  1. People who have a brain, and are not afraid to use it. If that’s you, consider it a compliment 😉
  2. People who like to learn, and who don’t mind reading stuff that’s about different topics so long as it’s written for non-experts.
  3. People who share one or more interests with me.
  4. Experts who like to extend their own thinking on various topics.
  5. In other words, I aim to blog for people with room in their heads for new ideas or new takes on things they know (although, if they read a lot, I may not always be able to surprise them). I blog for curious people.

Change your Journal into a blogI’m writing for people who are, in a way, like me. It’s quite possible that I’m writing for me. Which I reckoned was fine when I started blogging. After all, I’m my own best-known audience. I know what I like. If you blog for a specific audience without doing research into your intended audience, chances are that you’re blogging for you. If that wasn’t your intention, all I can say is: Oops.

Does all of the above mean you’re looking at my journal right now? Yes and no… So how do I write my posts for you on this blog of mine?

How to change your journal into a blog written for an audience

Unless my planning gives me a topic to write about up front (I’ll admit I’ve been too busy lately), I start out writing about something that’s either fascinating me, or frustrating me, or worrying me, or…
I start writing and keep writing for a while, exploring the topic as I go.
Until the bloggers’ inquisitor drops in. I keep this creature outside on a leash for my ‘raw’ draft so it doesn’t chew on the furniture or drool on my keyboard while I’m busy.

The blogger’s inquisitor is that nagging feeling you may know – that may creep up on you when you’re writing… asking:

  • Why would anyone be interested in your problems?
  • What’s in here that could actually solve someone else’s problems?
  • After all you’re not so unique that you could be the only person in the world who has this issue. Are you?

Turning…

At this point I snap out of journaling mode and start writing for YOU:

  1. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of pasting “you” where I was (yes, and the verbs too).
  2. Sometimes it means I look at the issue I’ve described in a whole new light.
  3. And I start describing details of what you might run into.
  4. Then I add tips to counter some of those issues.
  5. A key issue is that I can’t pretend to have an answer for you if I don’t have one. But as a part of my blogging activities I can look for an answer and present it to you in my resulting blog post.
  6. Or I can think about what might work for you, even if I don’t know if it would work for me.

Think about it for a minute. There’s a HUGE difference between a journal and a blog.

What is a journal about?

A journal is essentially about you. It’s where your write about stuff you run into. In the case of an online journal, it allows your readers to recognize, sympathize – sometimes have a lot of fun reading about your musings. Some of your readers may take heart in the fact that you’re experiencing the same problems they’re facing.

What is a blog about?

A (business) blog is – has to be – about your readers. Whatever you put in should be written to benefit them in some small way. That doesn’t mean you should leave out your point of view – that’s the point of it being your blog – right? I’d say it’s impossible to leave yourself out – but you can suppress your presence to the point of squeezing the last bit of life out of your blog. Please don’t.

Painting the picture more clearly…

Compare writing to painting. Turning from journaling to blogging doesn’t mean you stop ‘painting’. All it means is you don’t do self portraits anymore – most of the time.

Your work still shows your choice of topic, your structure, your style, your preferred colors and details. It’s just that your readers are no longer inspecting every pimple on your nose anymore (metaphorically speaking – I hope). Instead, your readers are exploring the world through the words you paint onto the canvas of your blog.

Read more storytelling and blogging:

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Blogging impressions. You may find previous episodes here and here. And finally, leave your thoughts on journals, blogs and (your) blogging audience in a comment!

When creating your LinkedIn profile, bring your pineapple

If you’ve read my posts about LinkedIn in the past two weeks, the title of this post may puzzle you – so I’ll explain. In a way your LinkedIn profile is a lot like the elaborate self-portraits from centuries ago. That’s my background in art history popping up – just in case you’re wondering 🙂

Show off your expertise: this is how you do it

A portrait that showed what you were about, what you did – and what you owned – was an absolute must-have for wealthy Dutch people in the 17th century. This painting of Agnes Block and Sybrand de Flines tells us a few things about Agnes even without any previous knowledge about her story:

Portrait of Agnes Block and Family

Portrait of Agneta Block and family (1694) | Amsterdam Museum [click to view site]

This is very much a painting about Agnes (or Agneta) as everything she valued is collected around her. It shows Agnes seated at the center, with her (second) husband Sybrand (Sijbrand) de Flines at the right. In the background are details which set the scene at her country estate “Vijverhof” growing exotic plants and keeping birds. Agnes was a horticulturalist, and a good one – in the Dutch republic, she was the first who managed to grow a pineapple plant that bore fruit. We can admire the result in this painting, on the far left.

Agnes is also known to have made drawings of plants and birds. She was an artist and a patron – which explains all the arty attributes in the painting (aside from her husband’s interests). On Historici.nl this painting by Jan Weenix is dated around 1694. This would mean we see Agnes at the age of 65 (she lived from 1629-1704). I’ll bet if LinkedIn had been around she’d have put her pineapple in her summary, job experience AND in the section “Honors and awards”! As it was, it was probably a bit of a struggle to avoid over-cluttering the composition.

(In case you wondered) What about the children in the painting?

Two children accompany Agnes and Sybrand in this painting – their identity is uncertain but it’s assumed they are relations of Agnes. Agnes was married twice, but she never had children. Sybrands daughters, from his first marriage, would have been grown women by the time this painting was made. The girl by Agnes’ side is wearing a dress that looks rather more fancy than the garment worn by the other child, who may in fact be a young boy – if you’re curious about that you may like this lengthy post I found about children’s clothing in the 17th century. However the examples in this post don’t show any difference in clothing style between boys and girls, whereas there is a clear distinction between these two children.

How does Agnes’ portrait relate to your LinkedIn profile?

Nowadays few of us would consider having a painting made like Agnes did, or even having our photograph taken together with all the attributes that show off our skills and experience. At the same time we do something very similar when we present the results of our efforts on our blogs or via our presence on social media. Think WordPress, Flickr, Facebook and LinkedIn. I would say LinkedIn most resembles a painting – I’ve seen the others used as a portfolio.

How to put the pineapple into your LinkedIn profile

If you decide to get your LinkedIn profile assembled, identify your pineapple and see where it should go:

  1. Take inventory of ALL your achievements whether they are related to your professional life, volunteering, study or even your private life.
  2. Make a selection of things to include in your profile (from must-haves to nice-to-haves)
  3. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like and would like to turn one of your hobbies into a career at some point in the future, the least you can do is list it as one of your “interests” and include any skills you have related to that hobby to your “skills” section.
  4. Whatever else you do on LinkedIn, remember to find and show off your pineapple! I’m serious 😉

Creating a complete and accurate portrait of yourself as a professional means you need to include your ‘professional attributes’ – your skills, experience, strengths and personal achievements in the best possible way. Don’t hide the things you’ve worked hard to accomplish!

Note: This post was getting longer while I got the feeling Agnes, and this painting, deserved more. So I’ve decided rather than letting this post turn into a ‘miscellaneous subjects’ post I’ll let her have a separate post, if I can dig up more information about the painting.

Until then, you can read more about Agnes on:

If you enjoyed this post, please share it! Or you can share your thoughts about LinkedIn, art, and Agnes right here.