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How art can help you analyze

Can art save lives? Not exactly, but our most prized professionals (doctors, nurses, police officers) can learn real world skills through art analysis. Studying art like René Magritte's Time Transfixed can enhance communication and analytical skills, with an emphasis on both the seen and unseen. Amy E. Herman explains why art historical training can prepare you for real world investigation. Lesson by Amy E. Herman, animation by Flaming Medusa Studios Inc.

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  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Wild Blue Botanist
    Was the artist aware of the themes, meanings and factors of the painting before painting it? Using Magritte as an example, did he plan that the clock in his painting would display around noon, but have the direction of the light not correspond to this time?
    As artists, should we plan meanings and details to our paintings, etc. before realising them, or allow our subconscious to speak for us?
    (33 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Thomas Palmer
      Yes and no. While it is certainly true that many artist, if not most, plan the meanings of their works beforehand, their are some that do just let their subconscious speak for them. Its the same as in literature, and either way isn't better. You also have to realize that not everyone will find the same meaning in any particular work, which may be wildly different from what the creator intended. Does it make either of them wrong? No, it just shows that good art is complex and can stand for itself and not need an artist to give it meaning.
      (16 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user amber.theobald
    Does the lecturer here believe that this is the primary reason that non-artists should value art? It seems to me that they are trying to convince people that art is valuable to the public for utilitarian purposes, but I think that the benefits they describe in this video are more of peripheral effects of art appreciation and not the primary reason that art is valuable to society, namely pushing people to question convention, connect to history, and consider deeper meanings to life, etc. Thoughts?
    (25 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Andromeda
      I think that art is largely personal. That an artist can plan as much as they want or as little. It doesn't matter quite so much what they artists sees as the meanings behind the elements of their work. It all matters to the observer of the art. It largely depends on the intended audience of the work of art. If the desire is for it to have universal artistic appeal it can not be too culturally specific in it's meanings or it only has value and relevance in that target culture. To be universal the meanings must simply be something that any human viewing it can understand. Art can only push those that understand the language that is used within it. Themes can be powerful as long as they are easily accessible, themes are usually what attract viewers attention or repel them. So paint what you love, what you feel, what you experience and seek to push the boundaries inside of yourself, the art will speak for itself after it leaves you, but first you have to get it out.
      (9 votes)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Jay Pancholi
    how to draw perspective paintings
    (3 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Mika
    What if there is no purpose for random items such as the train coming through the wall? What if Magritte only painted it because that's what he felt like painting? Can art simply be a depiction of some random thought instead of a message that must be analyzed?
    (4 votes)
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    • leafers seed style avatar for user Eric Eagan
      Ahh, there's the paradox: randomness with "no purpose" is purpose unto itself. Every work of art involves deliberate choices by the artist, and no work can escape having "meaning." Art can even have meaning for the viewer that was never intended by the artist him/herself. Part of its power is that it is open to individual experience and interpretation.

      It's important to note that articulating the "meaning" is only one aspect of the study of art. Art can be studied and appreciated on formal elements alone -- "Pollack's work feels messy or chaotic" etc. -- or as historical artifacts.
      (4 votes)
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user spirestalan
    I believe the train is like a fire and it is about
    imagination at midnight.
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user NPD
    What is the train used for in this room? (1.27)
    (2 votes)
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    • marcimus pink style avatar for user Micah
      The train is a surrealist element in the painting.. Rene Magritte was a major painter of the surrealist movement. Surrealism dealt with images that were dreamlike and sometimes whimsical. The purpose of the train is to do exactly what it did for you which is make the viewer question.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Abigail Martin
    Through out my life, I had been thinking of art as a tool to help enforce me to truly analyze situations where I'd need to truly analyze them, but I hadn't realized that I was thinking in this way. I'm glad that I was able to watch this video.One thing I noticed about the video is that in this piece of artwork the narrator states that the time that the clock says doesn't make Logical sense in terms of the light coming through the window into the room, but I didn't notice a window anywhere on the wall, I noticed a mirror above the mantel/ fireplace that showed through my eyes, that it was evening in the room, or the room had only a very dim light on in the painting. I do admit if this were the case there would be an abcense of logical sense as well considering what the mirror is reflecting (the side of the room that the viewer is looking from,) is much darker than that of the wall that the mantel is on.
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Natalie Jones
    If you and another person are analyzing an art piece and you both have different views, which one is right? Is it just what the viewer wants to see or do some art pieces really have a deeper meaning that only some viewers can see?
    (2 votes)
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    • stelly orange style avatar for user stevens, isabelle
      analysis can be both right and wrong--art is made so that it represents things, which can be different depending on the viewer and their makeup as a person (beliefs, history, experiences, current situation, etc.) some things are a solid answer around art, like a specific function of a temple or who commissioned a piece, where/when it was made and the artist (if known), but a lot of art is up to the viewer to understand, which is part of the fun of art history (imo)
      (2 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user seÑor_coÑcerÑo
    this whole explanation seems like grasping at straws, very concerning.
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin seedling style avatar for user Khan Academy
    I really love art, but does it really change the world?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

There's a prevailing attitude that art doesn't matter in the real world. But the study of art can enhance our perception and our ability to translate to others what we see. Those skills are useful. Those skills can save lives. Doctors, nurses, and law enforcement agents can use painting, sculpture, and photography as tools to improve their visual acuity and communication skills, which are critical during investigations and emergencies. If you're treating an injury, investigating a crime scene, or trying to describe either of those things to a colleague, art can make you better at it. Here, imagine you're a seasoned cop or a dedicated doctor, but also imagine you are at a museum and let's look at a painting. Rene Magritte's "Time Transfixed" of 1938 depicts a mysterious and complex interior that invites analysis not unlike that required of a patient's symptoms or the scene of a crime. A miniature train whose origin and destination are unknown is emerging from a fireplace, and the smoke from the locomotive appears to flow up the chimney as if from the fire that is conspicuously absent below. The eeriness of the scene is echoed in the empty living room, enhanced by wood-grain floors and decorative wall moldings to the right of the fireplace. Perched atop the mantelpiece are two candlesticks and a clock. Behind these objects is a large mirror that reveals an empty interior and only a partial reflection of the objects before it. The juxtaposition of the objects surrounding the moving train raises numerous questions for which there seem to be no apparent answers. Did I summarize the painting accurately or leave any details out? It's no big deal if you see something else in a painting, but what if we're both seasoned cops? I call you for back-up. You show up only to realize the two bank robbing ninjas I'd mentioned were actually six bank robbing ninjas with lasers. Close study of art can train viewers to study thoroughly, analyze the elements observed, articulate them succinctly, and formulate questions to address the seeming inconsistencies. Scrutinizing the details of an unfamiliar scene, in this case the work of art, and accurately conveying any observable contradictions is a critically important skill for both people who look at x-rays and those who interrogate suspects. Let's interrogate this painting, shall we? Okay, Magritte, that's quite a little picture you've painted. But why aren't there any train tracks? Why no fire? What happened to the candles? Why doesn't the fireplace have a little tunnel for the train? It just comes straight through the wall. And the clock says it's about quarter to one, but I'm not sure the light that comes through the window at an angle says it's just past noontime. What's this painting all about, anyway? That's when you, my trusty partner, hold me back, then I leave. You give Magritte a cup of coffee and keep grilling him to see if this painting would hold up in court. Viewers can provide a more detailed and accurate description of a situation by articulating what is seen and what is not seen. This is particularly important in medicine. If an illness is evidenced by three symptoms and only two are present in a patient, a medical professional must explicitly state the absence of that third symptom, signifying that the patient may not have the condition suspected. Articulating the absence of a specific detail or behavior known as the pertinent negative is as critical as stating the details and behaviors that are present in order to treat the patient. And conspicuous absences are only conspicuous to eyes trained to look for them. Art teaches professionals across a wide spectrum of fields not only how to ask more effective questions about what cannot be readily answered, but also, and more importantly, how to analyze complex, real world situations from a new and different perspective, ultimately solving difficult problems. Intense attention to detail, the ability to take a step back and look differently, we want first responders to have the analytical skills of master art historians at least. Art trains us to investigate, and that's a real world skill if there ever was one.