Thought-provoking Tuesdays

Tuesdays tend to be the days when I feel like my mind and body are worked to its limits. Perhaps because I’ve got three full lessons (two of which are core modules, 3 hours each) crammed into a day. And also because Mondays tend to be content heavy. And Wednesdays too. So Tuesday is the day of romping through the thickest part of the jungle, brambles and all, with insufficient rest.

But it is also the day when Astrid introduces us to the depths of history, not solely constrained to graphic design, because design is never separate from society or the time it was set in. In fact, it has proven, so far, to be a reaction to something. Take William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, for example. Morris was reacting to the ugliness of mass produced goods. Similary, Art Nouveau was also a reaction against academic art. And today, as Futurism and Dadaism was introduced to us, we learn that the former was rejection of the past, paired with a love for the technological advances they saw and foresaw. Likewise, the latter, Dadaim, does not stand detached from everything and anything, contrary as it is, but is set during the world wars –a time of great chaos and turbulence– which is arguably reflected in the style. The International Typographic Style (ITS) as well, developed as a means to solve the mess leftover from war in an neutral and objective manner, exemplified by its highly mathematical and logical approach to design.

Before I ramble on though, I have a Mind and Meaning quiz tomorrow. Which is why my brain right now feels a little bit like potluck, with part of me fresh from a graphic design lecture, and another part of me trying to recall information from Mind and Meaning.

One of the more recent lectures discussed basic psycholinguistics: the brain, left/right hemisphere dominance, how the brain processes language, and which hemisphere seems to be more involved with logic/math while the other more concerned with creativity/expression. Lateralization (or dominance). Not complete control. The hemispheres don’t solely do one or the other. (I’m troubled when people say “the left hemisphere is for logic, the right for art”. I’d prefer if they are aware of the nuance that should come with it. When I was much younger, I read a book on the brain -which I positively loved-. It told me the same things: left hemisphere for logic/science/math, right hemisphere for creativity/music/the arts. No disagreements then. But somewhere between then and now, articles and stuff everything all beg to differ. The hemispheres aren’t independent entities, otherwise, like the lecturer says, it’ll be like “having two brains instead”. Okay end of rant.) Back to the original topic, we also learnt that the convention (i.e. for most people) is that the left hemisphere is where language processing takes place. Regardless of the form of communication -written, spoken or signed-, they are processed in similar areas. The form of input is different, but the meaning conveyed is the same. Hence, to understand language requires some rather complex mind acrobatics of logic that happen to (for most people) sit in the left hemisphere. Now here comes the crux of this post: what if the input is form?

During one of our lectures today (typography or graphic design), we talked about El Lissitzky who uses shapes, numbers and a limited palette to develop “a language to form instead of letters” (quoted from lecturer) because of the wide audience he was reaching out to (i.e. both literate and illiterate populations). Here are a couple examples of his work:

el01 el04

Here, you see type as image, type taking form not as letters and alphabets, but becoming a system where meaning can be graphically communicated. Just like written language, one has to read it, but in this case the image is mostly iconic to what it conveys, much like sign language. In a sense it is like emojis as well! Though emojis are much more emotive (and they recall the days past of pictographs).

So here is the crux of the whole post: since the saying is that this is a “language of form”, does this mean that it is also being processed in the left hemisphere?

As a “language of form”, it is more iconic than arbitrary. Yet, it must be processed to be understood. (This is on the assumption that the graphics are meant to communicate and are not for a purely aesthetic purpose, in which case, it’ll be like listening to a conversation in a language one doesn’t understand, and meaning gets thrown out the window and prosody is processed much like music.) Extrapolating this, would this “language of form”, which is art, be processed similarly to how one interprets a mathematical graph or scientific diagram? (and another question: do we process these graphs and diagrams with the left

Here, the lines between “art” and “science” are being blurred. Certainly, the hemispheres do not function separately, they can communicate via the corpus callosum (yes, I’m taking the chance to revise for tomorrow’s quiz right now, thanks for putting up with it), identifying what is seen, what is could mean, and finally what the meaning should be. Then again is there a false dichotomy between the arts and the sciences? Or are they two sides of the same coin, both vital to our interpreting, understanding and discovering the world? Language itself can be considered both an art and a science, anyway. And both are equally interesting, no?

Well. I might not have made much sense (yet again). Maybe I should go and check the terms I’ve used hahahahahaha but if you’re like me and functioning on less than optimal sleeping hours…

Yes, you do understand, don’t you! 🙂

Then again, a round of applause for you! Most people aren’t particularly interested in this topic, so reading ’til the end is a feat? And my writing is probably more of an obstacle than anything else. Apologies. *bows* pray I’ll be more organised/structured while writing next time!


The intersect between Survey of the History of Graphic Design and Linguistics

That said, as I try to reconcile the information from the classes yesterday, I’m reminded of how amazing people are. Consider how mankind has managed to transmit knowledge learnt from generation to generation. It’s why we have cars today, because our ancestors made tools that have been handed down and developed over time! During History of Graphic Design (DV2003) taught by Astrid Kensinger (who is also teaching Typography I), she spoke of the start of graphic design in pictographs and ideographs, both symbols to represent objects/things and ideas/concepts respectively. Evidently, this was a huuuge leap in thought for mankind.

In the beginning, people carved past events, their hunting expeditions, tales of epic hunts on walls. It was a narrative of sorts, of someone and something. One can understand from the art on the wall that a “gigantic bear attacks hunters”.

Then, it became more stylised. We might start getting symbols for hand, paw, teeth. So the action can be conveyed in writing as “gigantic bear attacked hunter with paw and teeth”. More specificity can be expressed through these simpler symbols. Ideographs, symbols that convey concepts and ideas further enrich the written language. So we can express “gigantic bear attacked hunters unexpectedly”. Intangible things like emotions can also be expressed, such as “hunters were surprised, raised spears and fought”. Chronology, past, present and future ideas might also be expressed! Symbols might even be put together to form a new meaning! Like 木, 林, and 森; wood/tree to forest.

Please note that I am not expert in the development of these things, okay! The above is how I understand petroglyphs, pictographs and ideographs. In fact, the written word could be far more complex and elaborate, like the Cuneiform below:

cuneiform and it's translation
cuneiform and it’s translation

Astrid mentioned that people who could read and write such as scribes, were the elite, and considered magicians of some sort. Being literate was power. Well, given how complicated their writing system is, it’s understandable.

Oh! Here’s a really helpful presentation online that distinguishes pictographs from ideographs. (It’s where the featured image is from)

I think this really ties into HG1001 Mind and Meaningbecause how do we look at words, read them, and actually understand what it means? The word is merely the vehicle through which we understand an idea, which is why “happy” can be expressed as 开心, 楽しい, onnellinen, ευτυχισμένος, سعيد. (Google translate was used for quite a number of the above translations: Chinese, Japanese, Finnish, Greek and Arabic), which (I assume) means about the same thing, just in different languages. Fascinating!

That’s about it for now. Class will start soon.


A few more cool ideographs from the Internet:

ideograph 2

ideograph 1


Because I have been convinced

Yes. The nice OSS ladies have persuaded me to believe that OSS will be a good platform to keep my progress/research. And well, considering how scatterbrained I get sometimes, OSS might just be the solution;) Thus, this post is here. It’ll be more of a thought diarrhoea though. So it’s not really a “work” per se. Just random thoughts.

Confession: LMS (NTU) rejected my application and appeal, which was what landed me in ADM. I fretted over not getting into the course, and worried over how I’d fit into ADM. Looking back, I’m very grateful for the initial rejection. Especially because the lecturer of HG1001 Mind and Meaning has very, very generously granted a couple of us entry into the foundation LMS course, meaning then that I can pursue both art/design and linguistics. My current goal is to somehow marry these two diverse and fascinating studies together!

I attempted it last semester for 4DII, but I feel that it was a work that didn’t do sufficient justice to either. You could even call it a rather unromantic arranged marriage. Sighs. I’m very sure that it can be a super meaningful and satisfying one though! (a post/reflection might come up when there’s time, but this semester will be ridiculously busy so it’s not in the foreseeable future…yet) So, imagine my euphoria upon being accepted into HG1001 to study linguistics alongside current/future linguists!

On to what spurred this post. Lecture 2’s topic is on Animal Communication. This caught my eye:

a lexigram, taken from
a lexigram

This is a lexigram. It is one of the medium through which researchers have been teaching primates to communicate with humans. These symbols are on buttons which the apes press to input them. What’s surprising about this artificial language, called Yerkish, is that the buttons have to be pressed in a specific order, much like how humans speak. The reason why this is so fascinating is because such structure in speech is not natural for apes (it might be debatable if this is natural to humans too). In fact, when taught American Sign Language (which had limited success so far), the chimp signing “Bob tickle Ali” and “Ali tickle Bob” could mean that either Bob tickled Ali (Ali being the victim), or Ali tickled Bob (meaning that Bob was victim to Ali’s amusements). So the fact that chronology can be imparted and expressed is quite interesting.

It helps also that the symbols are highly visual and very abstract. It is one thing for the chimp to learn the symbolic vocabulary for objects, but expressing their own emotional state is another matter altogether, because it first requires reflecting on oneself, understanding that emotion, and connecting that intangible, invisible emotion to the appropriate symbol for others to see. Which is actually some pretty big leaps that we often take for granted simply because it comes so naturally.

The above image is taken from Art for Bonobo Hope.

Anyway, I haven’t completely processed most of the information. It’s too late in the night to do that after a full day of school. Nerdy me is looking forward to lecture tomorrow though haha!

Until next time;)


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