Archive for March, 2011

Mysterious Rocks

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Have you heard of the sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa?

Racetrack Playa is a desert-looking place (apparently, a dry lake bed) that is littered with rocks.

The mystery is that these rocks move across the playa… seemingly on their own.

There are theories that the rocks move from wind, or ice, or animals. Go to the Wikipedia or articles for more information. (Wikipedia’s article is titled a more poetic “sailing stones”.)

I find the story fascinating: boulders moving across a dry, deserted lake bed seemingly on their own. And no one knows how it happens. The first part of the story makes it interesting. The second, that it’s unexplained, makes it really interesting.

My guess is that it’s the wind, maybe a combination of wind and ice, that makes the boulders move.

But I really don’t want people to figure it out for sure. I like that it’s unknown, because it allows for uncertainty and possibility.

Here’s to mysterious, sailing rocks!




Seeing Color

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

First, go to to watch Beau Lotto demonstrate how our perception of color depends on the surroundings.

Lotto’s his first illusion still dupes me, even though I know the answer now. I just can’t force my brain to perceive the “objective” truth. While we may fool ourselves into thinking we perceive the world as it is, Lotto’s illusions demonstrate how dependent we are on context to identify and distinguish color. In fact, Lotto suggests that humans’ ability to perceive color is a function of evolution. Seeing color became a means of recognizing and identifying predators before they made us prey.

You can see more of Lotto’s work at his lab, Lotto Lab.

Second, after looking at Lotto’s work, google Johannes Itten with the Google Images search function.

There you’ll find examples of Itten’s work on color. Itten was part of the Bauhaus movement and for a while taught the preliminary course at the Bauhaus school. He is famous for his paintings of simple geometric shapes that how colors interact. (Go here for Wikipedia’s article on Itten).

Finally, visit the Guggenheim Museum’s permanent exhibit of Vasily Kandinsky’s work as part of the Bauhaus movement. Or, if you’re not in the big apple right now, visit the Guggenheim’s Kandinsky webpage.

Whereas Lotto demonstrates some of the science of color and Itten explores color perception as it relates to artistic expression, Kandinsky, while scientfic and methodical as well, simply celebrates color.

His use of color is phenomenal. The colors are often bold, vibrant, and rich, and the geometric shapes, lines, and squiggles in many of his painting bring a balance that is breathtaking. I am surprised how a painting that could simply be bright and busy is moving, profound, and peaceful. Kandinsky is a master.