How Artists Can Add an Extra Dimension to the 'Real' World; Dr Thora Tenbrink, Reader in Cognitive Linguistics at Bangor University, Describes New Research Carried out Looking at How the Way Creative Types like Artists and Architects Describe the World around Them Differs from Other 'Non-Spatial' Types of People

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), July 18, 2017 | Go to article overview

How Artists Can Add an Extra Dimension to the 'Real' World; Dr Thora Tenbrink, Reader in Cognitive Linguistics at Bangor University, Describes New Research Carried out Looking at How the Way Creative Types like Artists and Architects Describe the World around Them Differs from Other 'Non-Spatial' Types of People


HOW often have you thought that somebody talks just like an accountant, or a lawyer, or a teacher? In the case of artists, this goes a long way back. Artists have long been seen as unusual - people with a different way of perceiving reality. Famously, the French architect Le Corbusier argued in 1946 that painters, sculptors and architects are equipped with a "feeling of space" in a very fundamental sense.

Artists have to think about reality in different ways to other people every day in their jobs.

Painters have to create an imaginary 3D image on a 2D plane, performing a certain magic. Sculptors turn a block of marble into something almost living. Architects can design buildings that would seem impossible.

Think of Edgar Mueller's famous street art. Or Michelangelo's Pieta. Or Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, which seems to defy physics. All of these people are (or were) experts in rearranging the spatial relationships in their environment, each in their own way.

This is a necessary skill for anyone who takes up these crafts as a profession. How could this not affect the ways in which they think - and talk - about space? Our recent study, a collaboration of UCL and Bangor University, set out to test this. Do architects, painters, and sculptors conceive of spaces in different ways from other people and from each other? The answer is: yes, they do - in a range of quite subtle ways. Painters, sculptors, architects (all "spatial" professionals with at least eight years of experience) and a group of people in unrelated ("nonspatial") professions took part in the study.

There were 16 people in each professional group, with similar age range and equal gender distribution. They were shown a Google Street view image, a painting of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and a computer-generated surreal scene.

For each picture, they were given a few tasks that made them think about the spatial scene in certain ways: they were asked to describe the environment, explain how they would explore the space shown and suggest changes to it in the image. This picture-based task was chosen because of its simplicity - it doesn't take an expert to describe a picture or to imagine exploring or changing it.

From the answers, we categorised elements of the responses for both qualitative and quantitative analyses using a new technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis with the aim of highlighting aspects of thought that underlie linguistic choices beyond what speakers are consciously aware of. We made a short film about the research which you can watch below.

Our analysis led to the identification of consistent patterns in the language used for talking about the pictures that were revealing. Painters, sculptors and architects all gave more elaborate, detailed descriptions than the others. Painters were more likely to describe the depicted space as a 2D image and said things like: "It's obvious the image wants you to follow the boat off onto the horizon. …

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How Artists Can Add an Extra Dimension to the 'Real' World; Dr Thora Tenbrink, Reader in Cognitive Linguistics at Bangor University, Describes New Research Carried out Looking at How the Way Creative Types like Artists and Architects Describe the World around Them Differs from Other 'Non-Spatial' Types of People
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