Friday, September 11, 2009

Image and Text: Jerry Martin

The following text is an edited transcript of an interview I did with Jerry Martin in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Jerry Martin is a psychiatrist and painter who lives in Santa Barbara, California and Todos Santos, Mexico. Here, he explains the relationship of image and text.

At the bottom line it gets messy and inseparable; you can't separate text and image. When you are reading or hearing text there is going to be some stimulation of visual imagery that may not be attended to and or vice-versa. If you see an image, its going to spontaneously create text, all potentially in the unconscious and it seems to me that the real issue is a process of which text and images are two surfaces of the same underlying experience.

I think they are separate and parallel memory systems and one incorporates explicit memories, that would be the text, whereas the image would be an implicit memory, and that they are distinctly different entities but that they occur simultaneously and codetermine and procreate each other. And so in other words you are having the parallel process in these parallel memory systems, that the implicit memory is effecting the explicit and vice-versa. So it’s a reciprocal and mutually influencing system. As it goes along (even though each is a distinct system) the product-the image, at any given moment is available. The emergent characteristic, or the emergent state that comes forth from this process of the memory system can only be one image at a time and that can then be experienced more on a sensory motor, basically visual, but some contextual and kinesthetic and so forth, but on a visual motor level whereas the text is experienced on an explicit, more linear, whatever you want to call it, explicit imperative memory system.


But now, if you are shown the image of something and then you hear or see the word for that same thing, does it stir up the same concept in the head or is it accessing different...?

I think it basically stirs up the same concept. The way I would look at that is, wherever the input comes from or if I am even having just a daydream and I think of a tree, and I...or have a daydream and I image a tree, and presupposing that it's the same tree, let's say an oak in the early springtime with that color and so forth, either way that to me would evoke the same internal experience. I wish in my painting that I could image what I want to capture but it is more just a feeling. I keep struggling trying to find the image for it and in that struggle use the text in terms of what I've learned and what I've heard and what I've been told and the contextual, technical elements. And so one thing I get from it is I am pulled away from my thought processes and away from my usual way of reflecting on things and being concerned and worried or simply preoccupied, even in a positive way with an exciting concept and I sort of lose myself and will disappear from that thinking for a period of time.

It seems like you and I are very similar in that we have ended up trying to translate this boundary or this borderline between what you are referring to as text and image and what in my thinking about it is more in terms of what’s body and mind. I just, two weeks ago, gave a seminar in the biology of the self because there is so much data now about that. About which aspects of the brain and how they fire and this and that and the other thing...that it creates what we call a self. But that, which is really I think very similar to what you are interested in too in terms of image and text.

The neurophysiology does show that the development of the brain, which is a continual process throughout life, although early in life the brain is more plastic in terms of being able to change more easily but the...that it's always a mutually codetermined interaction between the brain and the environment. And that all of our behaviors and responses and the way we think about things is always context related.

You can't really examine brain function without at the same time examining the environment and also the past environment because of the programming or the template that has been laid down before it. If you look at trauma, I mean in terms of the question of how it affects the brain, one severe traumatic experience can literally change the biochemistry and the electrophysiology, as measured by PET scans and the different neuroimaging of the brain. And so certainly that would be true too with expanding and or contracting areas of creativity or being able to see what you see, what you think when you do see...It does have a lot to do with genetics. And that, just like some people are...there are all these different areas of the brain that are a little bit more formed in some people than others and not always does it mean a good thing because we certainly have a lot of models of "crazy" artists and "crazy" writers and so forth, I mean whether they seem to be...excel in one area and not another.

For any genetic propensity to become expressed, that is dependent on the environment. And so, I would guess that it's a wide spectrum that if you have enough genetic endowment it's just most likely going to be expressed, period, so probably Beethoven. On the other hand, if you have enough to be accomplished and even great, but there's not the environmental setting to either facilitate it or the struggle to need to compensate for something else, which I think is extremely important, in other words when people have certain deficits or struggles or crosses to bear or whatever, that then they will turn to what they are endowed with genetically and are able to do and maybe excel in that make up for feeling deficient in some other area. So, I think again it's...bottom line, it has to be an interaction between the individual and the environment. But, that without a certain genetic propensity, I can't really image that it would would be done.

Just as an aside on that, if you look at a lot of artists, I think I wrote this to you about Calder, which I found interesting. He like so many of these great people said things that predated any mechanical way of measurement to see if they were correct or not...I mean, like even Einstein for instance. But Calder, when asked why he worked in black or white mainly instead of also color, which he did less of: He said that the color was distracting and preempted the movement. Neurophysiologically now we can measure the introduction in the brain of the determination of color and the determination of movement, which are done in very specific areas of the brain and in different cells. And it in fact is true that color precedes movement by something like 50 milliseconds and would indeed be distracting then to movement. And so if they then, then these features...sorry, this was not done with Calder in mind; this research by the way, it was put together, the findings were put together later by a guy interested in the neuroscience of aesthetics, but anyway...and other studies show that if you do have movement and color that the movement, and then you subtract the color out of it and revoke the same movement and then look at it on brain scans, the movement is determined more quickly...becomes conscious more quickly if the color is taken out of it.

So, what I am saying by all of that is that here is an example to me of someone, Calder, who I think probably had an exaggerated...that little part of his brain was just more developed than most people’s and I would guess, looking at his family pedigree, that you would find some other people who were interested in movement or that were excelled in something having to do with that skill. That's my pure hypothesis, I mean, I have no idea if that would be true. A case could be made of course that that part of his brain was stimulated early by some event or another that allowed him then to develop it. And that may be the case too but for him to excel like he did, I would imagine it was a combination.

Where would you put form? When you say movement you actually mean something moving, such as Calder's mobiles...


But where would you put the shape of something? Does the shape of an object qualify as movement almost because your eye follows it, or is that...?

Shape doesn't really seem to get recorded in the brain as shape. It gets recorded as a series of diagonals and series of horizontals, verticals...but if we like look at a face, there's not anywhere in the brain that is a...I think it is called an ideogram, but you know a little, where it's symbolic of a face. What in the brain there is, is a whole bunch of cells reacting, some to the color, to the direction of the lines, to this that and the other thing, and so the overall form is really a...a confluence of all these other simultaneous inputs, or at least near simultaneous.

So it has more to do with positioning, or like the positioning of the eyes and...I mean where the brain would log all these different positions of the face?

Yeah. So, so it might see a horizontal line that is separated by a distance of five centimeters, this and that...

This particular conversation with Jerry, who is my uncle, was very important to me because we are genetically related and genes are a living example of this relationship I am trying to explore. Genes have a code to them. They have information, which is like text and yet part of their expression is entirely visual. One of the interesting things that came out of this project, which I didn't expect was that in the audio editing process, where the words appear in the program which I edit, as little blips, like on the heart monitor, and so you see these clusters of, of movement, of waves and you start to identify different clusters. So, for example, I was cutting out a lot of "umms" and "ands" and these were very obvious little blips, dense and well-rounded, which I could easily pick out and cut out.