zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Klimt under the microscope, then on to bigger things

Klimt under the microscope, then on to bigger things

[ by Charles Cameron – the “internal” complexity from which we relate to both the simplest and most complex issues and problems in the “external” world ]

The painting is by Gustav Klimt: your eye sees it, you know it’s a painting, reproduced here in pixels, you can read the text that accompanies it — a Nobel laureate wrote it — which describes just one chemical level of the complexity in you that responds to the painting, reproduction, pixels, blog post..

Viewing the painting, reading the accompanying text — they’re complex activities. You notice the woman’s head, “detached” for her body by that golden necklace, might see the beheaded head she’s holding almost out of the picture frame, lower right — might or might not know the story of Judith and Holofernes, which gives the painting a cultural intensity of particular interest to Israel under threat — Alexander Kafka sketched the background thus in the Chronicle article that brought all this to my attention today:

In 590 BC, to protect her besieged city of Bethulia, the alluring Jewish widow Judith drank with and seduced the attacking Assyrian general Holofernes. When he fell into a drunken, sated heap, she decapitated him with his own sword and displayed his head as trophy, rallying her fellow citizens to rout the Babylonians.

And if the writer hadn’t forewarned you, you might well have missed that echo effect of the beheaded Holophernes and the necklaced head of his beheader.

All of which touches on meaning, while Nobel laureate (and long-time Klimt collector) Eric Kandel‘s commentary deals in neurotransmitters: dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine


Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner have a fine book out called The Way We Think: Comceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities in which they lay out some fascinating aspects of how the brain builds for us the “blend” of different impulses, correspondences and perceptions that we consider to be “the world we live in”…

They quote Sir Charles Sherrington‘s celebrated description of the mind waking from sleep as an enchanted loom in his Man on his Nature:

The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.

And it’s with that “shifting harmony of subpatterns” within us that we meet and attend to the shifting patterns of the world around us — a world that features its own “complex, n-dimensional and constantly shifting” problems, which we seek to understand and resolve via insights and solutions %i(that would also make good tight soundbites) for the TV.


Indeed — are those two weaves of complex shifting patterns, within us and around us, distinct — or one and the same?


2 Responses to “Klimt under the microscope, then on to bigger things”

  1. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    “…the shifting harmony of subpattern” will move permanently into my collection of harmony quotes. I’ll send you the full quote I used via email. 

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Scott.
    I very much enjoyed your post, and think both the Ed H and Boyd quotes are keepers for my own purposes! 

Switch to our mobile site