Indigenous peoples’ music and biology


This 2016 video says about itself:

One of the best experiences in Bolivia is an Amazon jungle tour in Madidi National Park. There are not many places on earth where you’ll find such a large number and diversity of animals and plants.

With eco-tourism you support the local communities and your visit only has a limited impact on the rainforest. Which is why we stayed at the Madidi Jungle Ecolodge, a fantastic experience.

From the University of Helsinki in Finland:

Music is essential for the transmission of ethnobiological knowledge

September 26, 2019

Summary: Songs are a storehouse for ethnobiological knowledge and a means to construct, maintain and mobilize peoples’ relations with their local environments.

Music has been a long-standing focus of scientific inquiry. For instance, since the 1850s, the evolutionary function of music has been a subject of keen debate. More recently, ground-breaking work from multiple scientific disciplines is unveiling the universal power of music. It is central in supporting expressions of emotion that transcend cultural divides and it has the ability to foster communication with non-human life forms.

Scientific research shows that ethnobiological knowledge is transmitted through song, and how music has the power to express and enforce the intricate relationships among humans, other beings, and their ecosystems.

“For many Indigenous communities, the land and the songs associated with it are intimately connected. Music can trace Indigenous Peoples’ experiences and relationships to the lands in which they have historically lived,” says Dr. Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.

Dr. Fernández-Llamazares has been co-editing a special issue in the Journal of Ethnobiology that celebrates the place of song in maintaining, sharing and enhancing ethnobiological knowledge. “This special issue is a heartfelt compilation of nine articles from different corners of the world and features rich accounts of Indigenous Peoples’ time-honoured music-making traditions, ranging from women’s totemic songs relating to wild seeds in Central Australia, improvisational singing traditions in north-eastern Siberia or the use of turtle shell rattles in the United States.”

Besides writing the Introduction to the special issue, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares has also co-authored one of the papers, which looks at hunting songs from the Tsimane’ hunter-gatherers of Bolivian Amazonia. “Since 2012 I have been working among the Tsimane’ people in the depths of the Amazon rainforest and I have always been fascinated by the breadth and depth of their ancient songs. During these years, I have been able to compile much information on the social and ecological contexts in which songs are performed and transmitted,” he explains. “Our research shows that music is a timeless prism for looking at human-wildlife relations in all their complexities and magnificence.”

The special issue shows that music is an essential constituent of the diversity of life on Earth, which is genuinely enshrined in the concept of biocultural diversity. The idea of biocultural diversity emerges from the observation that biological and cultural diversity are deeply intertwined, possibly co-evolved and threatened by the same driving forces. “Just as the biosphere is being degraded, so too is the ethnosphere, most probably at a far greater rate,” adds Fernández-Llamazares.

The papers compiled highlight that many traditional music-making systems are being eroded primarily due to changes associated with globalization. “While traditional music is certainly under risk of attrition in many corners of the world, the extent to which traditional songs continue to be honoured and celebrated attests to their incredible resilience. We hope that we can help to support revitalization efforts for simultaneously safeguarding musical heritage, ethnobiological knowledge and biocultural diversity at large,” he reflects.

Origins of religions in ancient societies


This 2017 video from the USA is called 10 Egyptian Gods and Their Origins.

Over 5,000 years ago, the area which is now the Libyan desert became drier and drier. This made it impossible for the hunter-gatherer people living there to continue their old ways of life. They moved to the Nile river valley, starting a new economic, Neolithic, later Bronze Age, later Iron Age, system of cattle raising, agriculture and handicraft. The surplus produced there was appropriated by a new ruling class. Instead of the equality of small hunter-gatherer bands, there came country-wide royal dynasties and their ministers, high priests, priests, commoners and slaves.

The non-ruling majority might have risen up in revolt if the ruling class would have told poor peasants: We have better food, better housing, etc. than you, just because we feel like it and we like grinding you down. No, there came a different ideology: in heaven, in the underworld, in invisible worlds, there are gods determining the rules on earth. The representative of these gods on earth is the king, the pharaoh. The pharaoh, in turn, appoints priests all over Egypt to represent him. A revolt against the priests and the pharaoh would not be just a revolt against fellow humans. It would be a revolt against men of the Gods. The gods would punish such a revolt terribly.

This is not just about ancient Egypt. Similar things happened in other ancient societies in many countries.

From Nature, 20 March 2019:

Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history

Abstract

The origins of religion and of complex societies represent evolutionary puzzles1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. The ‘moralizing gods’ hypothesis offers a solution to both puzzles by proposing that belief in morally concerned supernatural agents culturally evolved to facilitate cooperation among strangers in large-scale societies9,10,11,12,13. Although previous research has suggested an association between the presence of moralizing gods and social complexity3,6,7,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18, the relationship between the two is disputed9,10,11,12,13,19,20,21,22,23,24, and attempts to establish causality have been hampered by limitations in the availability of detailed global longitudinal data. To overcome these limitations, here we systematically coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions9,12,16,18, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people. Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established.

Belgian (Roman Catholic) daily De Standaard writes on this research (translated), 25 March 2019:

Rules first, then gods to supervise

God only sees us when we are many

Which came first: the advanced human civilization or the almighty god? It is a question that scientists studying the origins of civilizations and religions have been thinking about for some time. Did people first start living together and then gods were created to keep everyone in line, or were those punishing gods there first and did people then develop a society to serve them?

A team of researchers from ten different countries says they have found the answer to that question: complex civilizations precede the emergence of gods who oversee the rules. The researchers come to this conclusion after studying 414 different civilizations, which have existed for 10,000 years in thirty regions around the world. …

Karma in Buddhism

Many scientists endorse the hypothesis that social cohesion and harmony in beginning states requires a moralizing god or supernatural punishment. An example of the first phenomenon is the god of the Old Testament, who prescribes people what to do and punishes them if they break the rules. Think of Sodom and Gomorrah. The principle of karma in Buddhism is an example of the second phenomenon: those who misbehave are presented with the bill in this life or the next. The idea is that without this kind of supervision from above, people would be less inclined to abide by the rules that made a society livable.

Dear Roman Catholic Belgian daily: rules making a society livable for everyone? Or making it especially livable for privileged ruling people?

The researchers conclude that this almost always happens after a state has developed into a “mega society” with more than a million inhabitants. The first moralizing god they encountered was Maät, who appeared in Egypt around 2800 BC. This was followed, eg, by Shamash (around 2200 BC in Mesopotamia) and Ahura Mazda (around 500 BC in Persia). Of the societies that did not develop a moralizing god, only the empire of the Incas succeeded in reaching the milestone of a million inhabitants, without subsequently having another moralizing god. It seems, therefore, that such gods are not a condition for the emergence of a great empire, but that they are necessary to hold such an empire together.

Trump’s deportations damage children


This April 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

President Trump has issued executive orders to aggressively find and remove undocumented immigrants. Now even those merely suspected of a crime can be deported, along with those who’ve been following the law by checking in with immigration authorities. AJ+‘s Dena Takruri visited an Arizona community living in fear of ICE arrests.

These two videos are the sequels.

By Meenakshi Jagadeesan in the USA:

Report details psychological and health impact of deportation on children

17 February 2018

Last August, the medical journal Frontiers in Pediatrics published an academic report entitled “Fear of Massive Deportations in the United States: Social Implications on Deprived Pediatric Communities” which details long-term health consequences of stress suffered by children whose parents are at risk of deportation. The report, written by Marie Leiner, Izul De la Vega and Bert Johansson, provides a systematic and chilling summary of the socio-psychological impact of mass deportations on millions of people. The report comes amidst an intensified crackdown on immigrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) boasting a staggering 30 percent increase in arrests from 2016, totaling at least 143,470 arrests in the 2017 fiscal year.

Leiner and her co-authors point out that regardless of whether the children might be living in the country legally or illegally, their parents—usually the intended targets of immigration raids—tend to use “negative coping mechanisms” to deal with the persistent stress and depression engendered by their situation. Because of the constant fear and insecurity, parents—and by extension—children “will experience limited access to the pillars that sustain society, including access to education, protection by law, basic needs (e.g., food and housing, health care) and opportunities to plan for the future.”

In real terms, this means parents who fear deportations stop taking their children to school, children fail to report family abuse, and parents stop seeking help in acquiring food, shelter or health care, both preventative and urgent, for themselves and their children. Above all, the environment of fear and instability prevents not just the parents, but also children from making any plans for the future.

As the report explains, each of the behaviors outlined above has an even more ominous consequence for childhood development. Missing school means that the children inevitably fall behind their peers; the continuation of abuse leads to a devastating physical and psychological fallout that will create lifelong scars.

Additionally, lack of access to basic needs and preventive health care will inhibit growth and brain development, and the inability to envisage a secure future makes children potentially prone to “many physical, mental and emotional problems.”

What adds to the danger is the fact that the targeted communities also generally tend to be the most economically disadvantaged. Some of the earlier studies on the subject quoted by the report have detailed findings on how living in poverty affects the brain development of children, leading to “decreased reading/language ability and executive functions,” as well as “behavioral, cognitive and emotional problems.” Children of immigrants dealing with the looming threat of deportations thus face double the structural barrier to a healthy life.

While the long-term effects of massive deportations on children have yet to be studied, Leiner and her colleagues point out that the situation they face is not fundamentally different from those faced by children living in condition of systematic “generalized fear.” Studies that have dealt with such conditions—whether due to immigration raids or violence that is the result of terrorism, war or organized crime—have all concluded that it is the main trigger for negative outcomes.

Based on these studies, the conclusion reveals that the long-term effects of the ongoing massive deportations yields a terrible societal consequence. The report notes that the “feeling that society has failed individuals is the seed that generates individuals who are dedicated to crime, delinquency, or who are simply disconnected from society and have no intention to positively contribute to a harmonious and balanced society.”

The dire consequences of massive deportations will not remain restricted to the targeted communities. They could, as Leiner et al. state, trigger “potential unintended consequences involving increased racial/ethnic discrimination, feelings of stigma, and possible lower tolerance of racial/ethnic diversity.” The negative consequences that will be initially seen in immigrant communities will soon spread and “affect every person” in the country.

The report concludes with the suggestion that the only way forward is through the creation of a “multidimensional approach for planning, understanding and considering all social, economic, and cultural implications” of the proposed immigration policies. In addition, what is needed is an investment in “early childhood programs that focus on families as an inseparable nucleus.”

The United States has the dubious distinction of one of two UN member states to not have ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989), the other being Somalia. The basic proposition underlying the convention is that in all actions that affect children a state should make “the best interest of the child” a primary consideration. A hallmark of a civilized society is its treatment of the most vulnerable sections of its population, including children. In this sense, the trauma produced by US government policy against immigrants, supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties, reflects the brutality of American capitalism.

World Socialist Web Site reporter Eric London recently spoke with Professor Chris Fradkin about his recently authored commentary in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics on the 2017 study “Fear of massive deportations in the United States: Social implications on deprived pediatric communities”: here.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the US as children face an increased threat of deportation after the Senate rejected a series of proposals to couple legal status for those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with stepped-up repressive measures against immigrants, including Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border: here.

New York City immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir secured a delay to his impending deportation last week, as his legal team filed suit against the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for retaliatory targeting of political opponents. Ragbir, who has lived in the United States for 27 years, was scheduled to be expelled to Trinidad on February 10. Federal officials agreed to accept a delay until a judge can evaluate the case, which could be as early as mid-March: here.

US judges issue temporary stays of deportations for Christian Indonesians: here.

American art historian Linda Nochlin, RIP


Linda NochlinBy Clare Hurley and David Walsh in the USA:

Art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017)

12 December 2017

Art historian Linda Nochlin died of cancer October 29 at the age of 86. Best known today perhaps for the provocative essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” published in ArtNews in 1971, Nochlin wrote a number of valuable and insightful works on the art of the 19th century in particular. Later, she played a seminal role in establishing a feminist approach to art history through her influential career as a writer, scholar, professor and curator for the better part of five decades.

In her books Realism (1971), Gustave Courbet: A Study of Style and Society (1976) and even The Politics of Vision (1991) to a considerable extent, Nochlin examined the historical and material context of works of art with an eye to the nexus of artistic form and politics, with special regard to the changing class relations of the various periods.

Born Linda Natalie Weinberg in Brooklyn, New York on January 20, 1931, Nochlin grew up as an only child in a left-leaning, wealthy Jewish family. Her father Jules Weinberg made his fortune in the family’s newspaper delivery business, and her mother Elka Weinberg née Heller surrounded her daughter with art, culture, and material privilege. Like many secular Jews of the period, financial success was not incompatible with radical, even Communist sympathies.

“I thought all radicals were rich”, she told interviewer Richard Candida Smith in April 1998, “All the radicals I knew were wealthy Jews who lived either in Westchester or Brooklyn or the Upper West Side, and they were highly interested in politics. Many of them were [Communist] Party members, some were even Trotskyites, others were just left-wing Democrats. … I mean, [Franklin D.] Roosevelt was as far right as people were willing to go.” (“The Feminist Turn in the Social History of Art: Linda Nochlin,” 2000)

Receiving her B.A. from Vassar College in Philosophy in 1951, and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University in 1952, she was attracted to the work of French painter Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) who became the subject of her 1963 doctoral dissertation at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where she studied with renowned art historian Walter Friedläender. According to The ArtBook (2000), she began her dissertation “during the McCarthy period, she had been a philosophy major, she was steeped in the political ideas of seventeenth-century literature and she chose Courbet, she now says, because she liked his politics.”

She sought an artist to study who challenged the status quo in both artistic form and content. Courbet, the self-proclaimed “proudest and most arrogant man in France” fit the bill. His Realist manifesto (1855) proclaimed “To know in order to do, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art—this is my goal.”

Courbet’s materialist approach—in contrast to the idealism of the preceding Romantic and Neoclassical schools—was influenced in no small part by the theories of utopian socialism shared by his friend and co-thinker, the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. The latter championed the burgeoning workers’ movement, the writings of Karl Marx, and to a greater extent, the perspective of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Appreciating Courbet’s dedication to producing art that was “of its times,” with its emphasis on observation of the objective and, in particular, class character of social reality, Nochlin was also decidedly “of her times” in contradictory ways.

Her Realism is an intriguing work that sets out “to isolate the peculiar implications of Realism, considered as an historical, stylistic movement or direction in the arts.” In the opening essay, “The Nature of Realism,” she observes, for example, that “A new and broadened notion of history, accompanying a radical alteration of the sense of time, was central to the Realist outlook. Furthermore, new democratic ideas stimulated a wider historical approach. Ordinary people—merchants, workers and peasants—in their everyday functions, began to appear on a stage formerly reserved exclusively for kings, nobles, diplomats and heroes.”

The “insistence on the connection between history and experienced fact,” Nochlin writes, “is characteristic of the Realist outlook. As Flaubert pointed out in a letter of 1854: ‘The leading characteristic of our century is its historical sense. This is why we have to confine ourselves to relating the facts.’ A true understanding and representation of both past and present was now seen to depend on a scrupulous examination of the evidence, free from any conventional, accepted moral or metaphysical evaluation.. . . Applying this attitude to art, Courbet declared in 1861 that ‘painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist of the presentation of real and existing things. It is a completely physical language, the words of which consist of all visible objects; an object which is abstract, not visible, non-existent, is not within the realm of painting.’”

And later, she points out: “A new demand for democracy in art, accompanying the demand for political and social democracy, opened up a whole new realm of subjects hitherto unnoticed or considered unworthy of pictorial or literary representation. While the poor might always have been with us, they had hardly been granted a fair share of serious artistic attention before the advent of Realism—nor had the middle classes, who were now the dominant force in society.”

Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” may well have been motivated by her own “conversion” to feminism in 1969, but it also contains arguments that are unobjectionable. In her essay, she argues essentially that feminists and others should stop trying to mythologize past artists or claim that world-historical female talents have been suppressed and turn their attention to the fact that there have been no great female painters in particular for social and institutional reasons.

It is clearly not “because women are incapable of greatness.” Art, Nochlin writes, “is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual.” She refers instead to “the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself,” which “occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions.” Thus Nochlin argues that “the answer to why there have been no great women artists lies not in the nature of individual genius or the lack of it, but in the nature of given social institutions and what they forbid or encourage in various classes or groups of individuals.”

Nochlin could be a sensitive analyst of artistic trends and an insightful observer of the social process, especially astute, as noted, in her analysis of 19th century Realism from a historical and materialist point of view. However, her application of this philosophical method steered well clear of its practical, political implications. Her version of leftism, informed to a degree by Marxism, was susceptible to the pressures and problems of the postwar period.

Under the impact of America’s economic boom and the McCarthyite witch-hunting of suspected communists in the 1950s—which intimidated and destroyed the careers of many leftists, including one of Nochlin’s uncles … “radical” politics in the 1960s progressively abandoned the working class in favor of the struggles of oppressed groups as defined by gender, race, and nationality—not class. The so-called First Wave of the Women’s Liberation movement originated among more affluent middle and upper class women seeking equal pay, reproductive rights, freedom from sexual harassment, and the redress of a host of discriminatory conditions.

Nochlin was very much of this milieu. Dismayed to discover that her students at Vassar in the 1960s, then still an elite all-women’s college, were interested in knitting and playing bridge, Nochlin describes her “awakening” upon being handed a stack of feminist pamphlets by a friend. From there she organized the first class in Women and Art at Vassar College in 1969. In 1971, as we pointed out, she threw down the gauntlet, as it were, in “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” …

Nochlin complains that women “are in similarly powerless or marginalized positions within the operational structure of the art world itself: patient catalogers rather than directors of museums; graduate students or junior faculty members rather than tenured professors and heads of departments; passive consumers rather than active creators of the art that is shown at major exhibitions.”

In any event, as late as her Politics of Vision, Nochlin could still offer illuminating comments on the art of the past. Her essay, “Van Gogh, Renouard, and the Weavers’ Crisis in Lyons”, sheds fascinating light on van Gogh’s indirect connection to the labor and socialist movement of the time.

It is also worth noting that in her extended 1998 interview with Richard Candida Smith, Nochlin noted her legitimate pride in her early work, Realism: “And that I think is one of the best things I have ever done. I still stand by that.”

She commented in 1998 about the general state of the world: “When I think about what’s going on in the political world and the commodity world and the capitalist world and the economic world, I think this is a pretty chilling moment, in many ways. Pretty chilling. People are comfortable, they are buying stuff, they are doing their own thing, but something terrible is happening. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, there’s not too much articulated complaint that anyone can hear. There should be.”

In her academic career, Nochlin taught at Yale University, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Vassar College, and finally at New York University Institute of Fine Arts where she was the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor Emerita of Modern Art, until retiring in 2013.

Linda Nochlin and Daisy, Alice Neel (1973)

Reputed to be an indefatigably erudite yet engaging speaker with a sharp wit and unabashed sense of style, Nochlin was friends with numerous artists, including Philip Pearlstein and Alice Neel, both of whom painted her portrait, as well as a mentor to younger generations of women artists and feminist critics. She also co-curated several museum exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum: Women Artists: 1550-1950 (1976), Courbet Reconsidered (1988) and most recently Global Feminisms for the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007.

Even after her cancer diagnosis, she continued writing. At the time of her death, she was finalizing Misère: Representations of Misery in 19th-Century Art, to be published in March 2018. Perhaps seeking a connection to today’s conditions, in this final collection of her essays Nochlin will likely bring further insight into her area of expertise: the work of Charles Dickens, Frederick Engels, Thomas Carlyle and Victor Hugo, as well as the painters Théodore Géricault and Courbet, all examined in the context of the Irish famine of 1847 and the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

Thailand military dictatorship threatens scientists


This video says about itself:

Introduction and Opening to ICTS13 [13th International Thai Studies Conference] (15/07/17)

Introduction to ICTS13 by Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Academic Chair,

ICTS13 Welcome and Opening, by Professor Emeritus Avudh Srisukri, M.D., Vice Chairman of University Council and Acting President of Chiang Mai University

That was before the military dictatorship of Thailand intervened.

From the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, The Netherlands today:

International Statement in support of Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and colleagues

As representatives or heads of international academic organizations or academic programs, we view with deep concern the recent news that the Royal Thai Police may be about to charge Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti from Chiang Mai University along with four others – Chaipong Samnieng, Ph.D. Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; Teeramon Buangam, M.A Candidate, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University (and Editor, Prachaham News); Nontawat Machai, undergraduate student, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University; and Pakavadi Veerapaspong, independent writer and translator – with illegal political assembly.

The recent 13th International Thai Studies Conference (ICTS) and the 10th International Convention of Asia Scholars were major international academic events each attended by around 1300 participants, from 37 countries (ICTS) and over 50 countries (ICAS) respectively, that brought a global presence of scholars to Thailand. These conferences enjoy high international prestige and produce work of impressive and lasting significance. Dr. Chayan was entrusted by his university to facilitate the organization of these two major events, both of which received official support from the Governor of the Province of Chiang Mai. Dr. Chayan’s organizational skills and intellectual leadership are celebrated worldwide, and were certainly in evidence on these occasions.

The presence of military officers at the ICAS conference apparently prompted some individuals to affirm that the conference was an academic forum and not a military barracks, a statement made in defense of the academic nature of the conference.

We are sure you will agree that Chiang Mai Convention and Exhibition Center is indeed not a military barracks. We believe that making this factual statement was a legitimate expression of their rights and liberties, as permitted under Article 4 of the 2017 Constitution; and one that in no way threatened Thailand’s peace and order.

We would therefore urge that all charges be dropped against Dr. Chayan and the other individuals named above, who clearly had no intention of violating any laws on political assemblage. Chiang Mai University and other universities in Thailand have hosted many international academic conferences, each important not only for the opportunities for scholars to share current research, but also for generating economic revenue for Chiang Mai and other hosting provinces. Holding such international conferences is a vital component if Thailand is to reach the stated goal in its “Thailand 4.0” plans of ensuring that at least 5 Thai universities are ranked among the world’s top 100 higher education institutions within the next 20 years. We hope, too, that Thailand will continue to welcome serious scholars of all disciplinary inclinations and to benefit from the global contributions of Thailand’s own most important academics – of whom, without question, Dr. Chayan is an outstanding representative.

Issued on behalf of the following:

International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, The Netherlands. Dr. Nira Wickramasinghe, Chair of the Board. Dr. Philippe Peycam, Director
International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS). Dr Philippe Peycam, International Council Charles. Dr. Paul van der Velde, Secretary
Association for Asian Studies (AAS). Dr. Katherine A. Bowie, President (AAS is an international academic association with more than 7000 members)
Committee of the Thai Studies Program, Asia Center, Harvard University. Dr. Michael Herzfeld, Director
New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN). Dr. Duncan McCargo, Co-Founder
Humanities Across Borders, Asia and Africa in the World (HaB) program. Dr. Aarti Kawlra, Academic Director (HaB is a consortium of 22 universities and institutes in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America)
Southeast Asian Neighborhood Network (SEANNET). Dr. Rita Padawangi, Co-Director. Dr. Paul Rabé, Co-Director
The Board of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS). Dr. Silvia Vignato, President
The Board of the Association of Southeast Asian Studies (ASEAS) (United Kingdom). Dr. Deirdre McKay, Chair

Van Gogh paintings and children


This video says about itself:

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project

30 September 2016

Read the scientific paper at this link.

Many of us appreciate art, but no-one really knows how or why we do so. Researchers in the field of empirical aesthetics attempt to answer such questions. The way people look at paintings is often studied by letting participants look at images on a computer screen in a laboratory setting, during which their gaze is tracked using a stationary, bulky, eye tracker. Obviously this is not a ‘natural setting’ in which people normally view paintings or appreciate art, so the question remains how well viewing behaviour in such laboratory settings approaches that of real life.

That’s why a group of researchers from the Department of Experimental and Applied psychology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam decided to use a very different and novel approach. Francesco Walker, assisted by Berno Bucker, Daniel Schreij, Nicola Anderson, and supervised by prof. Jan Theeuwes, used a mobile eye-tracker to track the gaze of children and adults as they viewed actual paintings on display at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, one of the world’s most famous museums.

The main topic of study was how stimulus-driven and goal-driven processes work together in guiding our attention or gaze through a painting, and if there is a difference between children and adults in how this happens. Stimulus-driven processes direct our attention to certain locations in a painting that are very conspicuous, such as spots that are brighter than their surroundings or objects with a color that stands out. On the other hand, goal-driven processes steers our attention toward locations in the painting that are aligned with our goals, intentions or desires.

In the first phase of the study, we asked our participants to view a selected set of five Van Gogh paintings. In the second phase, we gave them a briefing with some specific back story of each painting, after which asked them to view the paintings again. The differences between their eye movements in the two phases showed that bottom-up cues had a greater influence on the children than the adults and that the effects of the briefing were stronger and longer-lasting in the adults.

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project demonstrates the feasibility of studies in museum settings, and brings collaborations between museum and universities to a whole new level: the educational staff of the VGM did not only give us the opportunity to perform our study in the museum – they contributed actively in every phase of the study. We believe that in empirical aesthetics, this kind of active collaboration between scientific and cultural institutions is not only possible, but essential, and hope that our pioneering work will lead to future collaborations with the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, and with other high profile institutions.

From Science News:

Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting

by Laura Sanders

8:00am, July 2, 2017

One of the best things about having young children is that they give you a new way to see the world — a total cliché, yes, but true. Rainbows in water fountains are mesmerizing. Roly-poly bugs are worth stopping for. Bright blouses on strangers are remarked on, loudly. It’s occasionally embarrassing but always fun to see how this gorgeous world captivates children.

An inventive new study attempted to get inside the minds of children as they looked at works of art, specifically paintings hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Francesco Walker, a cognitive psychologist who conducted the study while at VU University Amsterdam, and colleagues equipped nine children and 12 adults with eye-tracking headsets as they observed five paintings. The children were ages 11 and 12. Participants saw each painting twice, before and after hearing a description of the art.

When the children first viewed a Van Gogh painting, they focused on bold, bright colors and attention-grabbing objects: A striped house, vivid roses, dark trees painted against a light skyline.

But after they heard a little background information about the paintings, their gazes shifted. For instance, after seeing the serene “Landscape at Twilight” for the first time, the children were told that some of the hay contained green flecks of paint from a different painting. During their second look at the painting, the children spent more time looking at the hay.

The adults, in contrast, weren’t as drawn to the bright colors and attention-grabbing objects on their first (or second) looks. They focused more on other areas of the paintings.

The results, published June 21 in PLOS ONE, show that when children are given context about a painting they shift what they focus on while viewing it.

That switch in gaze represents an interesting switch in thinking, the researchers believe. The first type of viewing relies on “bottom-up” attention, in which the eye is drawn to whatever visually pops out. Walker describes this sort of looking as something involuntary, driven by the physical properties of an object or scene. The second sort of attention, called “top-down,” is more purposeful. “Top-down attentional control is driven voluntarily, by factors that are internal to the observer,” Walker says.

Looking for your friend in a crowd, holding a picture of her in mind, requires intentional searching. That’s a top-down task. But if you’re suddenly captivated by the sight of a monkey playing a tiny accordion, that would be a bottom-up diversion. Studies like this one on children and adults suggest that with age, “top-down processes become more and more important, while bottom-up attention loses strength,” Walker says.

Similar data would be much harder to pull from younger, wigglier children. I showed one of the paintings used in the study — Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots,” an abstract jumble of blue and brown and green — to my 4-year-old.

In the absence of eye-tracking technology, I just asked my daughter what she saw. She started by naming colors: “Blue, green, brown.” After she ran through all of the hues, I asked if she saw anything else. She paused, considering the image carefully. “Is it dinosaurs?” she asked. I told her that it’s a painting of tangled, blue tree roots in the ground. “But that green part looks like a Tyrannosaurus,” she told me. As her little finger gestured toward my computer screen, I saw what she meant: A green T. Rex head, rising majestically from the roots.