Monday, 5 December 2011

A.B. FROST, BETWEEN THE LINES

The great A.B. Frost (1851 - 1928) drew a story about a man who wanted to learn hypnotism.  At one point, the man foolishly decides to practice on his wife:



Frost was a master at using the gaps between his drawings to imply a larger story.  People normally focus on Frost's visible lines, but today let's spend a little time focusing on the valuable real estate between the pictures.

Frost's line primes our imagination to fill in that empty space.  By setting our imagination to work, he can make a humble little line boundless.

This is a good example of how drawing can be superior to movies as an art form.  A movie doesn't leave the same gaps for us to fill.  At a rate of 24 pictures (or frames) per second, movies could effortlessly take up all the vacant space between Frost's first and second drawings, and give our imaginations a rest.

But that space performs an important function. As Debussy pointed out,
Music is the space between the notes.
As another example of the importance of empty space, check out the pacing of Frost's story of some local scamps who torment a homeless man looking for food:



While the dog keeps him pinned down, the boys have fun pelting the man with their slingshots

Frost carefully selects each moment to drop you to another level of the poor man's downfall.  Drawings spaced too far apart or too close together would not be as effective.  A movie could fill in all the details but it would likely reduce the artistry.  As Kathy Sierra wrote,
Comedians say that "timing is everything." But by "timing," they almost always mean "the pause." The pause is not merely a void between Things That Matter.
In the next drawing, note how the promise of a sneeze is more effective than if Frost had explicitly drawn a  sneeze:



Don't think we are talking merely about the gap between Frost's sequential pictures; it's also the gap between his pen strokes, the gap between an object and its representation, the gap between artist and viewer. Lots of important things take place in the apparently vacant parts of art.

Movies hug us close and in the future will hug us closer, invading any remaining gaps.  24 frames per second will soon become 48 frames per second. Scenes in movies are tailored in lengths that electronic brain scans show are optimal for keeping your mind from wandering. Improved IMAX screens thwart your peripheral vision from straying off the movie, and 3D effects pull you into that screen. Surround sound or earphones seal you off from distracting noises.  Even smell-o-vision or scratch and sniff invade your nostrils to make the movie a "complete experience."
 
People who like their art administered intravenously rarely exert themselves looking for invisible things in empty spaces, but I think they miss out on a lot.

After all, dark energy occupies more than 70% of the universe but scientists haven't been able to locate it yet. We can't touch or taste or see it but we know it's out there because of its impact on our universe. NASA reports:
the nature of dark energy is probably the most important question in astronomy today. It has been called the deepest mystery in physics, and its resolution is likely to greatly advance our understanding of matter, space, and time.
NASA even proposed to form a posse called the Joint Dark Energy Mission to track down the stuff. They want to look for it in all the obvious places-- abandoned warehouses on the far side of Saturn, or hanging out with the juvies around the pillars of creation in the Eagle Nebula, smoking Camels.

But personally, I'm guessing dark energy is hiding in that empty space between us and art. That's the only place big enough.