Saturday, August 25, 2012

Consequences of the Von Schwaben Doctrine

Art Historical Reflections, issue 2: British reactions to Von Schwaben’s Theory of Physical Determinism as prime mover of innovation in art. Sir Craigh Cleavens, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, at London, holds that innovation in art is by reason and experience and not by any kind of defect, be it physical or mental.
Initiated: 25 August 2012
Updated: 29 january 2014
Written by: Bert Witkamp

Figure 1. Sir Craigh Cleavens as a graduate student. 
Destined for Oriental Studies indeed!

The controversy sparked of by Von Schwaben’s Art Historical theories, and in particular his predilection for physical or, more precisely, bodily determinism in the development of (Western) art has reached unprecedented heights now that the prestigious London based Courtauld Institute of Art felt it should make its well considered stand known. Resident professor Sir Craigh Cleavens, spokesman of the world famous institute, is mostly known for his extensive studies of shadows in the baroque style of painting; an effort which culminated in his classic Shadows in the Dark (Winsor Press, 1989). In this landmark opus he traces shadows in baroque painting back to the influence of early Middle Eastern mystery cults on Greek philosophy. (Dear reader, more on this at another occasion, intriguing as the subject is. For now let us first sort out the business of the Von Schwaben’s theories).

Sir Cleavens critically observes that, in line with Von Schwaben’s thinking, the theory of physical determinism equally well might be applied to scientists, including art historians. He notes, not entirely without malice, that, in this line of thinking Newton formulated his law of gravity because he fell out of a tree as a child; that Archimedes thought of the Law of Archimedes because he slipped on the marble bathroom floor causing him to splash into the bath; that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity must have been inspired by the dizziness Einstein experienced when swirling in the merry-go-round; and that Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection sprang from the sexual deprivation Darwin experienced during his expeditions at sea.
He asks, in his delightful civil manner, what ailment or trauma it is that made Von Schaben formulate his theory of physical determinism. Is it, perhaps, he ventures, because Von Schwaben perceives of himself as a nobody? And then, he continues, if it is an ailment that lead to the formulation of the theory of physical determinism in art, what confidence should we have in it? Why not look closer home, at this side of the Channel, at the great philosophers that this great nation has brought forth? Locke, Hume, well eh, and Russel, he added somewhat reluctantly. Might they not provide the answers, or at least ideas for answers about the causes of innovation in art?
Let us, Cleavens proposes, for example, examine the work of our great painter Turner. It is well known that Joseph Mallord William Turner changed the art of landscape painting and took it to unprecedented lucid heights. There has been no master before or after him who made you feel that you could almost touch the light that shaped the objects he was rendering. Now, why and how did Turner develop this outstanding ability? Because  he grew up as a child in a small room? Or does his virtuosity in rendering light emanate from the dreadful darkness of an English winter? Nonsense! Turner was not only a brilliant painter, he also was a rational man. A man shaped by Locke and Hobbes. Like most of us British. Yes, we are not only rationalist and realists; we are also clever and practical men, taking experience as our master. Turner, Cleavens explained, did two things to achieve his unrivaled luminescence in oil painting. He studied the Dutch masters before him, such as seascape painter Willem van de Velde (Jr.), and he used water colour techniques in oil painting. He applied oil paint as a thin wash, as is done in watercolour, to achieve incredible yet real luminosity. When you start painting seascapes it is only rational to look at worthy predecessors; and his innovative use of glace in oil painting was the outcome of an empiricist, scientific approach to painting, transferring a certain technique from one field to another. Surely, Cleavens concludes "..valid reasoning from sound principle can not lead to error."

"Turner", insists professor Craigh Cleavens, "was not a sick man. On the contrary, he was as sane as a genius can be. Innovation in art is not the result of physical defect or psychic trauma. It comes about by thrift, desire and ambition; and is realized by rational, experiential, empiricist means. Let us, as the cherry in the cake, consider the case of Francis Bacon. No, not the seventeenth century philosopher and what else he was, but the twentieth century painter; arguably Britain’s greatest modern painter. Bacon, on one hand, represents all sorts of things which are British and better not spoken off, and, on the other hand, represents things so great they no longer are merely British. An outrageous character indeed; a gambler, queer and a petty thief, intemperate and extravagant. Yet a great artist whose tormented soul produced works iconic of the torment inflicted on us by the very sort of society we live in. A society not natural hence creating human beings not natural; and he, Francis Bacon, developed in visual imagery the language to express these distortions, perversions and alienations. Not because he was short of vitamin A. Not because he was short of trauma of whatever kind. Not because he had too much trauma of whatever kind. No! He painted what he wanted to painted by his own volition indeed. And he did it well; and that has nothing to do with us liking him as a person or not."  

Dear readers, you may gather that this is not the end of the story. There are rumblings heard in the political theatre. And professional reaction from Florence: yes indeed who would think that such an eminent centre of the study of art as the Institutio della Bella Arte, could keep quiet over such a deep issue....... We’ll keep you informed!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Art Historical Views of Heinrich von Schwaben

Art Historical Reflections no 1. A brief exposé of the insights of Herr Professor H. von Schwaben as regards innovation in Western pictorial art. He attributes Rembrandt’s innovative painting technique to the deteriorating eyesight of the 17th century master; and states that the post WW II abstract expressionist painters basically were eye patients subconsciously and inarticulately crying out for vitamin A.  Hence the predominance of the colour orange in their painting.
Initiated: 23 August 2012
Updated: 29 January 2014
Written by: Bert Witkamp

Herr Professor Heinrich von Schwaben
as portrayed during his BBC interview by the author.
Von Schwaben made the international media with his intriguing article titled Rembrandt’s painting: Short- or Long-sighted? BBC World News, under the heading, BREAKTHROUGH IN REMBRANDT STUDIES! informed us that Herr Professor Heinrich von Schwaben, of Das Institut für die Klassieke Malerei (the Institute of Classical Painting) of the University of Munich, published in The Classical Art Historical Journal (2012, Volume XVI, issue 2, pp. 79-84) his contention that the innovative painting technique developed by famous 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn was not in the first place the result of Rembrandt’s attempt at the creation of naturalistic perception in the brain by non-realistic representation of the subject on the canvas. Professor von Schwaben holds that Rembrandt’s eyesight was deteriorating (he needed specs) and possibly his motor control over his hands as well, resulting in shaky imagery on the canvas. He does confirm, however, the genius of Rembrandt, who, he says, “managed to turn physical disability into pictorial supremacy.”

Von Schwaben postulates that generally the effect of the physical and mental state of the artist on his work is underestimated by scientists. Les Fauves (the Fauves), he holds, exploited their colour blindness by creating outrageously colourful paintings.

Kandinsky, he says, never recovered from his fall from his favourite horse (portrayed  on canvas for posterity under the title “The blue Rider”), after which, he says, Kandinsky’s work mostly is composed of dissociated elements.

Picasso et al. “invented” cubism because of their love of sugar cubes avant-la-lettre. “First these Paris based artists distorted their perception of the world by the intake of mind altering substances,” Von Schwaben tells us, “and next they painted these distortions. Some even went further,” he discloses, “they would take mind altering drugs in order to look at the distorted imagery they had painted so as to generate perceptual distortions of the second order and paint these.”

No wonder, he notes, that modern art lost track of its destiny. Its founding fathers could not see straight. This trend culminated in artists, such as or Pollock and members of the post WW II Cobra group, literally throwing paint at the canvas; in a denial of any kind of representation save that of their own glorification. “Das ist jadoch Scheisse!,” (i.e., That surely is shit!) asserts Von Schwaben astutely.

The picture – here meaning a sensible image – disappeared for some time out of the picture after WW II because the first generation post WW II artists had suffered serious vitamin A deficiencies. Vitamin A is vital for good eyesight, and, according to the professor, during WW II all available vitamin A was channeled towards the war effort. All these so-called abstract expressionist painters basically were eye patients subconsciously and inarticulately crying out for vitamin A.  Hence the predominance of the colour orange in their painting. (By the way, remarked the professor, this also explains why the USA won WW II. They had more vitamin A than any other state). “Who would have thought that growing pumpkins and carrots would determine the fate of the world and of modern art?” von Schwaben asks rhetorically.

“Things only improved when a new generation of artists born after WW II took the stage. At least these guys were healthy,” he affirms, ”and they could see what they were doing.” But an old problem resurfaced. “Concepts like destiny, function or direction mean very little for many of these modern artists. Could be something missing in their diet,” he speculates in conclusion.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Zamfactor Improved Improved Chicken Brooder

Initiated: 20 August 2012
Updated: 29 January 2014
Written by: Bert Witkamp

Agriculture in Zambia no 5. Thousands of Zambians rear chickens in the back yard. In this issue ideas to improve the life of young chicks and save on your electricity bill.

Fig 1. The Z-factor chick brooder. Note feeders and drinkers at the border, insulation material on top and freedom of movement for chicks.
Browsing the Internet on chicken rearing I came across an interesting publication dating back to 1942.  It is titled New Electric Lamp Brooder; written by D. C. Kennard and V. D. Chamberlin. You can find the publication at: The site is about farming and poultry rearing. Below pictures of the original brooder*.

 Figure 2. The Ohio hover inside, equipped with a light bulb and a heating bulb. Size 120 x 120 cm; meant to accommodate 150 to 200 chicks.

Figure 3.  The Ohio hover in use. Note the freedom the chicks have in choosing their location, including on top of the hover. The litter on top at the same time is isolating material.
The hovers were developed by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station during World War II. Its purpose in part was to reduce on electricity usage.
The brooder or hover serves to provide a comfortable environment for baby chicks in a cost efficient manner. It basically is a shallow box on low posts with heating bulb(s) and possibly a light bulb inside. Chickens can move in and out of the brooder as they like and hence choose the environment that they feel comfortable in.
Chicken rearing in Zambia is a major backyard agricultural activity. Both broiler and layer chickens are purchased from industrial breeders and come in as “one day olds.” The body temperature of a chicken is 41 ⁰C (109 ⁰F). These baby chickens, lacking a mother hen, need artificial warmth until they have developed feathers – some three weeks after arrival. The provision of a suitably warm environment is not so easy and always costly. 
The usual choices are electrical heating using suspended infrared bulbs and/or charcoal using the baula (charcoal stove). Both methods are extremely wasteful as the heat generated is freely dispersed in the chicken house, also if the chicks are raised in a nursery. The heat of the burning charcoal is sent upwards, while the chicks are on the floor where it is coldest. The infrared bulbs (see picture) do send the heat they generate downwards, but even then much of the thermal energy winds up in the air above the chicks.
 Figure 4. Suspended infrared bulbs providing warmth for baby chickens.
The electricity cost of a 250 Watt lamp in Zambia presently (January 2014) is ZMW 0.125/hour  (0.02 €); and hence ZMW 3 (0.4 €) daily. You need one bulb for 100 chicks. A flock of 200 chicks therefore requires 2 bulbs at a cost of ZMW 6 daily.
The need for artificial heat in the chicken run varies seasonally considerably. In the Zambian cold season night temperature may drop to close to zero C with day time temperature rising to over 20 ⁰C. In the hot season night temperature may be around or over 20 ⁰C with day time temperature rising to about 35 ⁰C. Practically a run of chicks in the winter in Zambia roughly need about 400 hrs of additional heat; and during the hottest time of the year some 300 hours – part of it with less or lighter bulbs.
The electricity cost with conventionally suspended bulbs for a flock of 200 chicks in the winter is in the order of 2 x 400 x 0.125 = ZMW 100 (€ 15). In the hot season the cost roughly is half of that (ZMW 50 or € 8) and the average is somewhere in the middle – ZMW 75 or € 12.
The hover, by retaining the artificially generated heat within the box, saves electricity. In addition the hover retains heat generated by the chicks themselves, which also saves electricity. At this point my estimate is a saving in electricity of about 50%.
The other major advantage of the hover is the immediately observable effect on the well being of the chicks. Chicks crowd and sometimes trample each other under open, suspended bulbs. Also the dispersal of heat is uneven, rapidly declining away from the centre below the bulb. The hover provides plenty of space as the heat disperses over a much larger area.
The original Ohio brooder is 40 cm high; its bottom edge is 10 cm from the ground, the sides are internally 20 cm and externally 10 cm (this is the area on top of the brooder with isolation material, see figure 3.) The bulbs are placed at opposing sides using porcelain lamp holders. Each lampholder should have its own cord, plug and socket. The sides and top are made of plywood or similar material. The hover can be made higher as need be by placing blocks or bricks under the corner posts. In the event of draft sacks can be tacked to one or two sides. Initially drinkers and feeders are placed just outside the hover. The design indeed is simple, efficient, and low cost. You can make it yourself, though a carpenter will do a better job of making the joints for the frame.
We keep chickens and I decided to make a hover after looking at my monthly electricity bill. I did make the thing almost entirely myself – involuntarily as the Zamfactor carpenter did not show up. At the onset I decided to increase the height of the hover from 40 to 47.5 cm; to reduce the “rim” at the top from 10 cm to 5 cm (to create higher interior sides) and to raise the bottom edge from 10 to 12.5 cm. I wanted higher sides because of the kind of heat bulbs we use (I thought rightly that the top otherwise would get too hot). I increased the bottom edge by 2.5 cm to allow for the grass litter that we use. I stuck to the Ohio hover width of 120 cm (4 feet) – which conveniently is the standard width of plywood. I made two hovers, one 6 feet long for 200-300 chicks and one 8 feet long for 300-400 chicks.
Apart from a slight increase in height the Improved Zamfactor Chicken Brooder has:
1. Cross planks at the bottom of the short side that a) allow for proper mounting of the lamp holders, b) increase the structural strength of the apparatus, c) enable the screwing in of a hook (ceiling hook type).
2. The option of lifting a (short) side by means of a chain (in our case a dog leash) the end of which can be slotted into the hook mentioned above. Very practical, certainly in the case of Big Hovers, to easily check what’s happening inside, refill drinkers you may want to put inside during the first days and change or add litter.
3. The application of a coat of aluminium paint to enhance refraction of light and heat rays, and also to facilitate cleaning of the interior. Indeed inside its all glitter!
4. Using screws rather than nails in assembly. More work but longer lasting.
5. Optional: Hooks in the corner posts so that the hover after use can be lifted and suspended from the ceiling. This is practical in case of the X-large hover.

My initial suspicion that the sides of the Ohio hover are to shallow in view of heat generated by the bulbs was confirmed at the test: the top of the hover above the bulbs, despite increased height and aluminium paint coat, became uncomfortably hot. I had to lower the lamp holders to a few cm above the edge of the sides. I am also going to glue aluminium foil on one side to see of that helps in heat refraction away from the top. It also is possible to mount the lamp holders slightly slanted downwards, but that is not really necessary. In the second hover we added a cross bar in the middle of the two long sides to support the ply wood “roof” better.
In conclusion: The cost of a large hover in Zambia is about ZMW 650 (USD 100,€ 85), plus cost of the bulbs. It is a worthwhile investment both in terms of electricity cost saving and chicken comfort.

*    The black and white pictures are reproduced from the web site published article of 1942 by D. C. Kennard and V. D. Chamberlin.

Additional notes after four weeks of use:
1. Benefits exceed expectations. Mortality rate is very low: after 4 weeks only 2%. For the first time since we keep chickens there are no runts (stunted growers) or chicks with deformed legs.
2. Three weeks appears to be a sufficient period of time for hover use.  
3. One could use an improvised variety using sticks and sacks when for village chicken keeping.
4. There is more you can and should do to keep your chicks happy and healthy. Such as:
Put mosquito gauze screens in the windows, create an isolated ceiling by for example plastic sheet (prevents condensation on roofing sheets in the winter and excessive heating in the summer), ensure that no rats can enter the chicken house, adequate ventilation, clean litter, daily cleaning of drinkers and quality food.