Category Archives: visual experiments, my art

Ugly Beauty?

Dave Goldthwait helping the artist realize a dark vision in the journey from disorder to pattern.

Dave G. helping the artist realize a dark vision in the journey from disorder to pattern.

The question is. . .



Is this too grotesque?

Dave and I mused together about how the reality of his beat-up thumb and its fleshy coloring stick out amidst the surreal scenery of the photograph. My own sense is that the photograph is powerful, it looks wonderful printed to metallic paper, but, it is very grotesque, and this quality literally sticks out like a sore thumb!

Yet, I can fix this problem and amputate the thumb.



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The Stack of Symmetry

All Hail the Center Pieces (S. Calhoun, 2015, 24x48h")

All Hail the Center Pieces
(S. Calhoun, 2015, 24x48h”)

Over the past few years I have not combined a vertical with a ‘flipped’ horizontal symmetry so as to synthesize the above stack.

Presumably, there is a transcendent function hidden in my (a) intention, or, (2) unconscious urge, because it goes from the two via the processual three to the whole four.

Two, plus two, next four.

odis tamquam fures et homicidas, tamquam specula celesti fulgore micantia mirare cogeris et amare.46
(you hate them as robbers and murderers; you love and worship them as mirrors reflecting a celestial light)
dialog of Ficino

My artistic sensibility admits as much, so, not surprisingly, the visual result is completed by the viewer, and, as well, the dialectical stasis captured in the moment of the viewer’s experience is also ‘half’ in the sensibility of the viewer. I term this: diastasis. The basic formulation could be enumerated, one, two, three, four; so this is most simply: creation, field, experience, engagement. The hidden bridge in the (social) cybernetic sense is the viewer’s abduction, which is the means for the viewer ‘reason-experiencing’ to the best explanation of their experience of the forms hidden in plain sight.

As the creator, I do not code those abductions into the visual field (piece.) Rather, their animation is contingent on the four-fold, as is this ‘adding up’ to: mirrors reflecting a celestial light.

This is, from certain perspectives, a very serious business!



Engagement (transcendent function)

(I would use different terms than Adorno, yet it is self-evident to me that the viewer completes the engaging experience with her own cultural conditioning. Because my aesthetic is intentionally underdetermined as a matter of the constitutive generativity underlying both creative process and artistic product, my aesthetic also greatly underdetermines the programmatic encoding. I like to think this lack of masterful coding sets the piece free from being only a simple message.)

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Friendship: Negative Capability, Unfinished Impositions, Irony

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

The Caller, Stephen Calhoun (2013)

Loss of a person, of a close frriend or of a family member, presents a challenging process which won’t let go as it impels me through its requisite travail.

At the same time, the outward conventions of concern and courtesy basically allow for a restoration of human contact in the collective terms of concern and courtesy, and, sure, in the terms of grief and mourning.

These expressions are helpful, even as the expressed kindnesses and concerns seem to me to reach around the really bare, and profoundly forward-pitched facts. Of course, I would do the same thing, in approaching somebody’s loss, in approaching a ‘death in the family.’ Except, at the same time, I would be always holding back my usual, or my habitual, curiosity.

I would reign in my researcher’s soul.

What is actually going on?

I previously mentioned, or I think I did so, that in the weeks between meeting Ken for the first time and our second meeting, he reported to me that he had read my entire web site and blog. At the time he made this report, I didn’t know really what kind of ‘reader’ was Ken. Still, I was very impressed because he had begun what we came to call, ‘the forensics;’ and I had begun the same process. Furthermore, apparently, we shared this similarity, we both knew more data is better than both a little data, and, the thin positive capability through which a little data and bad guesswork are joined together.

Gone! Okay, what is actually going on with you Stephen? This is the question that can be addressed to me.

I do bring in, and try to warmly receive, the heartfelt substitutions for this non-obvious question. Oh, it was not a non-obvious question to Ken. When my mother passed away in early 2012, he asked me,

“What is going on?”

And, he kept asking. I’ll miss his researcher’s tenacity! If somebody doesn’t ask me this question, he or she is missing the boat. I’m not missing it, I’m in it.

I have put much of the actual goings on ‘with me’ in the aftermath of my loss, ‘out there,’ here, on my blog. (This blog is iteration number three, begun five months after meeting Ken in the fall of 2004.)

To review:

1. Shocked!

6. interlude: what you don’t know, give into
7. interlude: process and reality

Ken would have appreciated why the number of posts is eight. Hey, I’m throwing out clues here!

He and I agreed on a great great deal, although as I have tried to make clear, Ken was entangled by his enthusiasms, whereas I am mostly afraid of my own; (so, I trained myself to be a fallibilist.)

Also, I feel as if I need to be careful. But, it isn’t also true that anybody should feel he or she is to be a second fiddle. Heck, go for it. Life is unpredictable. And, you’re unlikely to figure out in advance when your last breath is steaming down the tracks.

Close relations are my second highest value–and are so for reasons I’m able to express. Ask me. Go for it.

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

The Green Man (Stephen Calhoun

Ken and I spent a lot of time deconstructing what to us–to maybe only us–was the single most bloody problem in the ‘scape of modernity, (that:) the fundamental problem is relational incapacity, not deficits in rationality or critical thinking.

Note, the structure goes from Shock to Negative Capability. It goes from oh no, shit! to soul!

Yes, it was terrific and quite medicinal, perhaps even karmically medicinal, to feel really extremely thoroughly known by Ken, yet, I’ve mapped out the foundation to be: going from the LOVE BASIS to the COMBINATORIAL. Ken and I were sensemakers, this is what we did over many thousands of hours. Why?

What is actually going on?

Why? …such a good question. We never discussed explicitly dialogical recognition (Charles Taylor,) yet when we together took up the cause of the noetic public library we sorted out a deep congruence about the micro problems come to coalesce around the macro problems of–within the pragmatics of praxis in a library–reification, instrumentalism, objectification, dehumanization, and, well, how it is, apparently, easy to rip the fucking heart of a library out of its cavity, and place in this cavity a bunch of 3D printers.

Similarly, most societal problems at the scale of the kind of civics citizens actually can effectively practice, are initiated in the first order by the atrophy of the human ability to actively know one other. Ken and I understood our diagnosis would deconstruct this order of knowing. Then, for the sake of reanimating the civic heart and civic capacity for making sense, we worked over how in a city or in a library how citizens might collaborate on a new, deeper (3rd) order of interpersonal and intrapersonal knowing cum relationship.

In the light of the ideal of authenticity, it would seem that having merely instrumental relationships is to act in a self-stultifying way. The notion that one can pursue one’s fulfilment in this way seems illusory, in somewhat the same way as the idea that one can choose oneself without recognizing a horizon of significance beyond choice. Authenticity a picture of what a better or higher mode of life would be, where better and higher are defined not in terms of what we happen to desire or need, but offer a standard of what we ought to desire. (Charles Taylor)

Ken and I spent zero time slapping each other on the back when we discovered, for example, we both were familiar with Paolo Freire. It was all matter-of-fact because it is who you are, not what you know, and, so, study for the love of the quest. Train first! Deploy, drill down, together stick our hands in the muck.

What is actually going on?

When we turned this around, our critical chops came to meld Ken’s learned Saturnian thrust with my edge-seeking Promethean swing. Ken possessed this aspect, one that was like the boy with a hammer, the boy who would swing his hammer at everything; and, I, an actual complexed puer, possessed a kind of penetrating Apollonian cynicism, and, also I, a Batesonian, was able to stand back a bit. (Well, I didn’t want to get accidentally rapped by the hammer.) Yet, when we got going. . .

we’d cover stuff very very quickly. ‘Marx was not even a horrible psychologist, yet Russell was on the money in noting Marx was a Christian heretic.’ ‘Jung only had an inkling that he had birthed a psychology and its daughters from his lapsed Lutheran brow, and that his psychology’s wider applications were somewhat covertly undermined by this creation story.’ ‘There are short paragraphs in the Tibetan Canon, or the best haiku, which could right now replace and improve every word Ken Wilber has ever scribbled.’

‘cover’ doesn’t mean getting it correct.

Ken, by the way, fulfilled the demands of authentic relationship with many many people. He and I were in a synergistic profoundly complementary relationship, and spent no time gratuitously or otherwise aggrandizing how great was our relationship, except we did once briefly consider some of the contingencies and fortuities and errors which had to slowly collapse, like a holy wave function organizing its effective reality, or ‘reality,’ and do so over two lifetimes, all for the sake of being able to efficiently and cleanly deploy together the practical and/or explosive tools our dialectical instigations, spontaneous poetics, and channeled intuitions, came to evoke and muster.

Did it help our effort that we happened to have both traveled through some of the same ideational and metaphysical lands? See: Interlude #3 tomorrow.

Nevertheless, our learned congruency was like a picture pasted to the jig pieces of a puzzle. With time, and it still is going to take time no matter what, two people working together can piece the puzzle together without having to refer to the ‘parted’ picture on the surface of each piece.

What Ken and I disagreed about: particular ramifications. For example, the ramifications implicitly of this perspective:

Ken, you should just give up trying to trick me.

Ken respected where I could not go. I had occasion to remind him earlier this year that “such respect then leads irrevocably to my Promethean liberation of Astrology and Psycho-astrology,” (and how I came to amputate various fixities from their thin causal relations.)

I had planned to take him (this summer) through The Reduced Bateson Set. (Oh well.) We had begun to recast some of the developmental fixations in learning theorizing and in specific theories, like the theory of my friend, David Kolb. Obviously, to where the action learning of our entwined dialectical picking and drumming would have led to, is about as unknowable as an unknown could be.

I had submitted a Cube-O-Probe, as a visual poem, to House Organ. Ken rarely specified the ways in which our workplay was influencing his numerous other projects. But, he was a boy with a hammer! He took his set #2 of Cubes and fearlessly interpreted their message on behalf of astrologers, poets, and nieces.

Kenneth Warren
One deep congruency we arrived at, we came to right at the beginning. Love basis.

Another lesser, and vital congruency, brought forth one of the essential fundamentals able to support our mindful and creative travels: as it happens, an exquisitely sensitive humane esotericist breaks bread with a mercurial edge-seeking flatlander because the whole cause of inverting assumptions and sometimes having to mulch them is shared and equally served by two radically different sensibilities–except for, as Rumi noted, our “fleshy hearts.”

We traveled and never went anywhere. We made a road trip to the Target in North Olmsted for the sake of a veteran who had just rented a crib in Lakewood but didn’t have a bed.

h/t Lakewood Observer

h/t Lakewood Observer

We made a bunch of trips to Wadsworth in support of our fellow traveler, Daniel and his public library.

“Ken, would you please try to keep at least one hand on the wheel?”


When I had reason to remind Ken that I am, by disposition, a “deep ironicist,” he told me this assertion perplexed him. I told him,

“Come on Ken, you’re the one who titled me, Dr. Puck.”

Then, I explained to him what imperatives are driven by chops, negative capability, good/bad fortune, large collections of devices and heuristics, multitudes of perspectives, plus the ability to rappel down to the “meta,” and, I went on,

“then there are also all those just-in-time intuitions blowing into your scheme like neutrinos stream through the material world, except you and me grab at ’em and we bring the intuition back alive, from wherever was its ‘wild,’ and you stick ’em to your wall, They always seem to stick.”

“Yeah, Ken, your sort of an ironicist too.”

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Interlude #1 Perfume

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Bardo, A (Stephen Calhoun, 2015)


Forgive & let go
open the head
free the heart

be wary of vengeance
a life for a death

if you can’t
see anyone entire
there’s no one

not even you
aha aha

death is a giving up
risen as having gone
to be

the theatre of art
the spirit of fact

what you don’t know
give into

what the mind thinks

(Vincent Ferrini, The Pleroma, 2008)
Kenneth Warren wrote the Introduction.


A young man had finished his schooling and thus was hanging around the house.

His mother told him, “It is exactly the right moment to figure out what you are going to do with your life.”

The young man nodded his head. He also decided to get out of the house and spend more time in the village and observe what was going on every day there–because he hoped he would discover a clue about what he was to do.

For most of the next month he did exactly this. Over those weeks he found himself gravitating to a healer, a specialist in the ills of the back and spine. He observed people barely able to make it through the front door because their pain was so bad. He observed people returning after their treatment too. He figured these were follow up visits. These people were apparently free of back pain.

One day he announced to his mother,

“I’m going to ask the good back doctor, Dr. Fine, if he will take me on as an apprentice.”

His mother turned to him and nodded.

The young man felt good about his decision. One morning he knocked on the door moments after he had observed Dr. Fine arrive for the day’s consultations and treatments. He asked the doctor if he might need an apprentice. The doctor thought for a long moment and replied:

“Yes, you can join me as a student. All you’ll be required to do is watch closely, and, hold all your questions until I come to feel you have spent enough time watching.”

The young man thought to himself, ‘Simple enough,’ and nodded, and told Dr. Fine,

“Thank you very much!”

Over the next several months, the young man arrived everyday at the same time, put on a white lab coat, and, dutifully watched Dr. Fine work with, and on, his patients. As his time being watchful grew, the young man’s list of questions began to shrink.

Then one day, a middle-aged gentlemen somehow dragged himself into the examination room in a terrible state and in pain so great it was hard to watch. But Dr. Fine took a history, had the man lie down and rest, and then sent him home after asking him to make an appointment for a week later.

The young man was surprised by this case. All the previous worst cases looked the same: Dr. Fine would take a history, do an examination, have the patient lie down and rest for an hour, and then he would give the patient a quarter of a pomegranate. He would direct the patient to eat a tenth of the pomegranate each morning. Finally he would schedule a follow up to take place three weeks after the ten day course.

The young man had been Dr. Fine’s watchful apprentice long enough to see how wonderfully effective the pomegranate cure was for the persons stricken with the most terrible back afflictions.

This case was different. At Dr. Fine’s request, this same patient came back three times, and, each time he was sent away without the curative pomegranate. Finally, on the fourth visit, Dr. Fine gave the man the usual course of pomegranate.

A month later this same patient strode through the door for his follow-up appointment. He declared himself ‘a new man,’ and Dr. Fine nodded his affirmation.

The young man bit his tongue. Still, when Dr. Fine closed up for the day, as both stood on the small front porch, the young man turned to Dr. Fine and put to the good doctor his very first question,

“I have to ask this question, for I am disturbed to observe you give your worst cases the pomegranate medicine on their first visit, yet this patient today was made to wait a month. Why?”

The doctor put his hand on the young man’s shoulder,

“You see, every case is actually different, and is unique in its own way. The patient today presented a very difficult case and, likewise, the treatment recognized this, for where many unique cases are resolved by the pomegranate and healing regimen, in this man’s case, his difficulties could only be resolved by time and pomegranates.

With this, Dr. Fine, nodded, turned in the direction of walk home, and departed for the day.

(Adapted from a cassette recording of a presentation of Idries Shah.)

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How This Artist Thinks III.

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist

Mythic Figure – direct printed to aluminum – the artist in the preview gallery of Gray’s Auctioneers, Detroit Ave, Clev.


There was a point last month when I ran out of cell phone minutes for the first time ever. It came at a critical juncture. At the time I was coordinating printing of my pieces by Stan Bowman in Ithaca and trying to identify how the pieces were to finished by their being mounted on some substrate. Plus, I was trying to get them to the auctioneer in a timely manner. All of this was accompanied by my trying to–over the phone–learn and unlearn and take into account and discount, all the information I was obtaining, while seeking to inform myself about how/why to make the several final decisions, while, at the same time, predicting how the final production processes will cough up two finished pieces.

Sometime before, in early March, Kate of Gray’s, kindly provided the critical clue, yet, it took me a month to integrate it. She told me. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the artist to figure out what it is that makes for a completed piece.”

I ended up getting this, and, I made the final decisions. I did the successful experiment of having the pieces reprinted directly on aluminum. I kept the faces open, glassless, and, organic. My process wandered in a kind of wilderness for a month, but I got to the end of the day. The results are fantastic.

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How This Artist Thinks II.

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Congratulations, You’re the New Head of Customer Service (2015, Stephen Calhoun)

Dream, actually a solid anima dream, from January 2014:

People are walking through a gallery of art.

I’m off to the side watching the people stop and look at the art pieces.

To myself I muse, ‘I’m the only one here who knows who is the artist.’

(The pieces are my own.)

Soon enough a very old lady is helped along by a young woman in a maid’s outfit.

They stop at the picture I’m standing to the side of. The young girl lets go of the old lady and steps close to the picture.

After a while, the girl says out loud, “Oh, I like this one very much.”

The old lady responds in a grumpy, raspy voice, “Then, he should sell it.”


I asked the probe with Ken as the witness, “What should I investigate to acclimate myself to the public for art,” and, presumably to the segment possibly interested in my art. As always, the Probe tells no lies. Its suggests looking deeper into the mercurial shadow quadrant where the indication is that (my) listening and receiving feedback will be crucial. Crones Says is synchronistic verification and it also echoes my late mother’s aperçu from ten years ago, “I have figured out you have the soul of an artist!”

The last two months have been, for me, completely different from my “norm.” I’ve had to steward two pieces through printing and media finishing processes, and, in the latter stage, I encountered several dramatic bumps in the road. I learned a lot, and I’ve learned to trust my somewhat innocent judgments about technical matters, even as I negotiate the first stretch of a big learning curve.

The biggest difference in my daily program has been how much time I have devoted, and devoured, in going back into the archives of unfinished pieces and old experiments, and reanimating a string of pieces that I set aside because I didn’t want to proof them at their optimal display dimensions. See the earlier post on this.

My normal, light, scattered days, usually spent pursuing my feeling for experiences–be it studying various subjects, or contemplating or investigating or making music or doing visual experiments, or talking up friends, colleagues, projects, or designing experiential tools–has been set to the side as I’ve thrown myself into what I can call the maiden dream.

Crone Say, indeed!

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How This Artist Thinks I.

Stephen Calhoun  fine artist

Mythic Figure (2013) || Come to the Mardi Gras (2014)

(The above picture is my own assembly; and it is not a picture of an actual installation. It aims to show the scale of the two pieces.)

Two of my procedural pieces were invited to, and now are placed, in the May 6 Auction of Modern and Contemporary Art, presented by Gray’s Auctioneers, Cleveland’s principal international auction house. The auction preview and virtual bidding phase began April 6.

Come to the Mardi Gras (40w x 58h”) -2014- Lot 103

Mythic Figure (32w x 48h”) -2013- Lot 104

Among several distinctive modal differences of the digital realm, this difference between the scale of the original computer file and workspace and the final formatted production piece presents challenges. My current pieces are, with respect to this, built to be large, with a minimum of 36-44 inches on the shorter side. The original printable proof in its initial digital stage, prior to dimensional enlargement, is sized to the longer side at 11 to 19 inches.

Although my display and proofing environment is calibrated to unity, the display size is maxed out at roughly one foot on the longest possible side on the dispaly (screen.) This means I’ve had to develop the ability to translate the feel of this screen into a vision of the final physical piece. In working to finalize large pieces, this means I am working on images that are not ever greater than 20% of the size of the finished, large piece.

My recent work is all about the grabbing the viewer and bringing the viewer into the image. I have lots of ways of describing this objective, but the simplest appeal my work makes is concerned with the truth of the viewer’s imaginative experience of the piece rather concerned with the transmission of an aesthetic or programmatic value.

I’ve been working diligently and tenaciously on pieces with this experiential goal in mind, and, to support it, I’m making the pieces really large, large enough to take over a wall, and, to take people on a trip of their own devising.

stephen calhoun, fine artist

Sun Ra In Heaven (2015) 44 x 66″

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Luck and Creativity

The Cheap Seats (S.Calhoun 2015)

The Cheap Seats (S.Calhoun 2015)

Today, I grabbed by DSLR and took some photos of the early spring ground at locations where ‘complexity’ of the certain sort my symmetry-based photographic art is founded upon could be found and captured. The above image is a quickee.

I updated my Artist’s Statement at My Naive Art online gallery site.

Here it is, although I hope you’ll follow the link and check out my gallery.


Creating visual pieces is a musical process. My guiding intentions are to learn by doing experiments, discover unique territories by implicating factors of serendipity and novelty, and, enjoy my adventurous creative process.

My art’s goal is to first grip the viewer, and next draw he or she into exploration and into surprising experience. This comes to a fine confrontation between apprehensive sensibility and artwork in my recent symmetry pieces. These have been described as approximating the effect of a Rorsach pattern. Yes!

Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data.

It is by my artistic intention that I aim to evoke a moment of psychological discovery to be waged in the representational folds of the symmetry pieces. So it is: I hope for the viewer to inhabit an evocative experience of Pareidolia.

Echoing both my research interest in serendipity in adult development and my musical aesthetic as an improvising composer, the raw exploration involved in seeking out a compelling artistic production is deeply woven betwixt intentional technique and generative/stochastic procedures. The aim is to capture an opportunity for myself and viewers of pure experience.

As pianist Paul Bley aptly said of jazz, ‘it is composing in real time.’ In my visual realm, I compose in serendipitous time.

Stephen, March 2015

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Visual Experiment: Character Mandala No. 1c

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Character Mandala No.1c (2015, Stephen Calhoun)

my art online:

My Naive Art

Symmetry Hypothesis

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Views From Above, Mirrored

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Where In the World? Series HGN#2

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Where In the World? Series HGN#1

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Where In the World? Series HGN#1

Where In the World? Workshop Series. Deploying Google Earth as a source of overhead urban images of sufficient complexity and character to further work via manipulative mirroring routines; and, also using Photoshop actions to further manipulate the look.

These three images, then, represent different experiments. My perspective is similar to that of the great jazz bassist Charles Mingus, who characterized his musical explorations as being “incomplete and unending workshops in sound and organization.”

These three experiments reflect screen captures of overhead views of a particular city that is known to me and would be a puzzle to resolve, for the viewer.

Gallery of my visual experiments, 1998-.

Symmetry experiments at symmetry-hypothesis@tumblr

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Going Down, Going Deep

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist
Going Down – 14×11″, from a photograph, 2015, Stephen Calhoun – my symmetry experiments on tumblr


Coral City from The Creators Project on Vimeo.

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Cold Baby


The studio on the third floor of our century home is rarely the warmest location in the house, but, whereas the first floor had settled in at 56–as our gas furnace just couldn’t keep up–the studio in the attic was at 66 degrees!

I worked on some music, then worked on a remix of the famous Nile mosaic.

fine artist Stephen Calhoun, Cleveland Heights

Egyptian Mandala Version #1 (2015, S.Calhoun) remix of the Nile Mosaic

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Heironymus Bosch remixes


My series of experiments visually remixing Peter Brueghel the Elder by using symmetry manipulations led me to my next subject, Hieronymus Bosch.

Extraction of the Stone of Folly

Extraction of the Stone of Folly

Here are several keepers




Very little is known about Bosch, which somehow seems fitting since his work is so enigmatic. We know that he adopted the name of the Dutch town of s’Hertogenbosch (near Antwerp) as his own, that he belonged to an ultra-orthodox religious community called the Brotherhood of Mary, and that in his own day he was famous. Many of his paintings are devotional, and there are several on the theme of the Passion. He is specially famous for his fantastic, demon-filled works. (src)

Hieronymus Bosch, the Trendiest Apocalyptic Medieval Painter of 2014
The Garden of Earthly Delights is now on leggings, in children’s books, and getting name-checked by cool bands. Why?

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The Pen

The Pen

The Pen – 12×12″ – from a photograph – S.Calhoun

Although it is evidently visible yet there is no one there who sees it. Amazing!

Even though it exists in everyone everywhere yet it has gone unrecognized. Amazing!

Nevertheless, you hope to obtain some other fruit than this elsewhere. Amazing!

Even though it exists within yourself and nowhere else yet you seek for it elsewhere. Amazing!


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Generative Alchemy

Brueghel - The Alchemist

Brueghel: The Alchemist

Calhoun Generative Art
The Alchemy of Symmetry – Excerpt from Brueghel’s The Alchemist
S.Calhoun (2014) 10×10″

This piece is part of a large series that will likely be presented in a short film. The film is intended to show the interplay of manipulations and recursions involved in generating different pieces.

I dedicate this new series to Ms. Uidhi. (I may be one of a handful of artists, or pseudo-artists, focusing on creative luckiness in the context of a post-academic post-scholarly focus on the situation of serendipity in adult development. This could include meandering into philosophical swamps.

IP LAF Forum: Christy Mag Uidhi on Artistic Serendipity vs. Artistic Luck, 25 Sept

Tuesday 23 September 2014


Thurs 25 September 2014, 4.00pm
IP London Aesthetics Forum: Room G34, Senate House, WC1
Artistic Serendipity vs. Artistic Luck
Christy Mag Uidhi (Houston)
Supported by the British Society of Aesthetics

It is standardly thought that artworks may gain and lose art-relevant properties over time (and thereby may also admit of similar gains and losses in artistic value). From this it follows that insofar as such gains and losses may be well outside the control of the artist, we ought to expect any minimally adequate theory of art and its value as such to come with (or at least be amenable to) some minimal notion of artistic luck and artistic achievement (such that ascriptions of the one undermine ascriptions of the other). In this talk, I’ll sketch what I take to be uncontroversial minimal accounts of both artistic luck and artistic achievement. From these I show it to follow that if artworks must be products of intentional action, then there can be no such thing as artistic luck (either descriptively or evaluatively). I claim the only formative role luck might play in our understanding of art and its value as such is to provide the means by which we may productively carve out an informative sub-class of artistic achievement: specifically that of artistic serendipity.


[My bold.] Intention, serendipity. Intentional serendipity is pseudo-serendipity. It is a kind of search routine. I don’t subscribe to the idea that intentionality is properly monolithic or exclusionary. But, I concede that psychologizing the artist’s creative process may take my own considerations and sensemaking out of and away from a proper philosophy of aesthetics.

Nor do I know what Ms. Mag Uidhi has in mind to flesh out the intriguing precis.

For my own part, there is so much in my creative process that permits creative intention-up-to-the-point of pulling the curtains away, and, thus includes less discrete combinations of intention and, fundamentally, hope about the unknown!

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Between Heaven and Hell

Hell, S.Calhoun (2014) symmetry experiment

Heaven and the Garden of Eden, (2014) S.Calhoun, symmetry experiment

Without contraries is no progres-
sion. Attraction and repulsion, rea-
son and energy, love and hate, are
necessary to human existence.

From these contraries spring what
the religious call Good and Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys reason;
Evil is the active springing from

Good is heaven. Evil is hell.

Energy is Eternal Delight.

Those who restrain desire, do so
because theirs is weak enough to be
restrained; and the restrainer or
reason usurps its place and governs
the unwilling.

And being restrained, it by degrees
becomes passive, till it is only the
shadow of desire.

The history of this is written in
Paradise Lost, and the Governor or
Reason is called Messiah.

And the original Archangel or pos-
sessor of the command of the heavenly
host is called the Devil, or Satan, and
his children are called Sin and Death.

But in the book of Job, Milton’s
Messiah is called Satan.

For this history has been adopted by
both parties.

It indeed appeared to Reason as if
desire was cast out, but the Devil’s
account is, that the Messiah fell, and
formed a heaven of what he stole from
the abyss.

This is shown in the Gospel, where
he prays to the Father to send the
Comforter or desire that Reason may
have ideas to build on, the Jehovah
of the Bible being no other than he
who dwells in flaming fire. Know
that after Christ’s death he became

But in Milton, the Father is Destiny,
the Son a ratio of the five senses, and
the Holy Ghost vacuum !

Note. — The reason Milton wrote
in fetters when he wrote of Angels
and God, and at Uberty when of
Devils and Hell, is because he was
a true poet, and of the Devil’s party
without knowing it.

excerpts from William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (fulltext)

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Creative Workflow – Cat Trying to Swallow Its Own Tail

In the Tariqa note

In zoom mode in Photoshop, while preparing a large new piece to be reduced to a PNG for publishing on the gallery blog, an interesting overall configuration of small details in the edge style of the digital image file.

Edge style

Because I’m nowadays very sensitive to the level of complexity a possibly worthwhile mirror transformation requires to hopefully capture an intriguing symmetry, I moved around the small scale details looking for a candidate. The first image shows the workflow and the second image above is the detail I discovered.

The result is a symmetry I like. (more I like)


The actual details of the 300dpi original are too small to really see in the 16×10″ proof.

The two hallmarks of my creative ethos and artistic experimentation are: generativity and recursion. I work toward a surprising conclusion by implicating those two procedural factors. In the visual realm the manifestation of both is very clearly exemplified in the above example: the discovery of a small scale within the large scale provides a recursive capture and the mirroring manipulation generates the symmetry. I act as a spotter.

Interestingly, the small scale details result from generative manipulations of the original piece, and the original piece itself is the result of blending two layers both captured in different generative procedures that are keyed by programmed search routines. Those generative instrumentalities, then, represent a recursive routine in their own right.

The final recursion is: this all evokes Gregory Bateson. (see: Peter Harries-Jones: Gregory Bateson, Heterarchies, and the Topology of Recursion. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 12(1-2): 168-174 (2005))

Among Bateson scholars, Peter Harries-Jones (1995) is notable for looking at Gregory’s “ecology of mind” in the context of his mature work, using terms for it associated with that period, “recursive epistemology” or “ecological epistemology.” The processes with which Gregory was concerned were essentially processes of knowing: perception, communication, coding and translation. Ergo epistemology. But basic to this epistemology was the differentiation of logical levels, including the relationship between the knower and the known, ergo a recursive epistemology. Ideally, the relationship between the patterns of the biological world and our understanding of it would be one of congruence, of fit, a broader and more pervasive similarity than the ability to predict in experimental contexts that depend upon simplification and selective attention. It seems useful to refer to Gregory’s ecology of mind as an epistemological ecology to contrast it with the largely materialistic ecology of academic departments. It seems essential to underline that recursiveness is a necessary feature of such an epistemology (and perhaps of every epistemology, since every effort to know about knowing involves the cat trying to swallow its own tail).

Bateson was haunted in his last years by a sense of urgency, a sense that the narrow definition of human purposes, reinforced by technology, would lead to irreversible disasters, and that only a better epistemology could save us. Certainly irreversibilities lie all around us, many, like global warming, the decay of the ozone layer, and the movement of poisons through global food chains, set on courses it is too late to change although we have yet to suffer their full effect. Still, the situation has not worsened as rapidly as he predicted and perhaps he sometimes succumbed to the lure of dramatizing a message in order to get it across in ways that later undermine that message. But the habits of mind that he described can be seen in every newspaper or newscast: the search for short term solutions that worsen the problem over time (often by mirroring it, such as violence used to oppose violence); the focus on individual persons or organisms or even species, seen in isolation; the tendency to let technological possibility or economic indicators replace reflection; the effort to maximize single variables (like profit) rather than optimizing the relationship among a complex set of variables.

Mary Catherine Bateson – new Introduction to Step to An Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson, 2000)

One last recursive piece – that can be thought of as recursive in a second order, thus by way of duplication and “re-relation.”

The Pir x Eight
The Pir x Eight – (2014) S. Calhoun – 17×11 proof for giclee

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Amusement Park

Amusement Park

Amusement Park – S.Calhoun 2014 – 14×11″ – from a photograph

Of course there’s a giant genre of youtube videos featuring point-of-view roller coaster rides. For me, nearing sixty, the scariest thing about a roller coaster is waiting in line for a couple of hours.

Camus’s would-be favorite:

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Teaching Story – The Great Warrior

Kabuki symmetry

Kabuki Warrior (S.Calhoun-2014)

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

from: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

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Artist’s Way of Flow

Alchemical Function versions

The first example is the final version. Second is the original photograph of lilies taken in our backyard, and then follow several versions. Recently, I’ve taken my one year+ experiments in applying symmetry translations to photographs and other sources in a new direction by applying additional generative content to the pre-mirrored raw sources. If that content is itself a symmetry, then I can mirror the symmetry in the mirroring of the conjoined source.

Alchemical Function

2014 – Alchemical Function – 18×12″ proof

The final version reflects–pun intended–the layering of a pattern over the photo of the lilies. This pattern was derived on the iPad using an app, then mirrored, enlarged, layered at partial opacity over the photograph and mirrored a last time.

symmetry experiments: tumblr

my naive art: online ongoing gallery

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