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Martin Kemp: Seen/Unseen, Oxford University Press 2006

Martin Kemp: Seen/Unseen, Oxford University Press 2006


A striking book by a leading "historian of the visual" (p. 2). Kemp studies forms and systems of visual representation with a keen eye and a synthetic, philosophical and super-well-read outlook, drawing from science and the arts. Throughout bold and unconventional, eager to be relevant - rather than just scholarly - this book poses new questions and themes, fundamental to ponder at an age when the visual is exploding.

"I believe that the current explosition of imagery on a worldwide basis, driven not least though not exclusively by computers, is as significant as the visual revolution of the Renaissance, which achieved its inernational transmission through the media of print and the printed book. " (p. 2)

In a sense the book is also a celebration of the life and vitality. Pointing out Leonardo´s contribution to representing the microcosm with "an altogether new level of visual conviction and vitality", Kemp further emphasises that "for Leonardo, and for his ancient and medieval predecessors, analogies were not matters of ingenious intellectual convenience; rather they were expressions of the deepest unities of natural order." "In its classical form, the method of analogy is a qualitative device aimed at revealing the wholeness of things - or a holistic view of everything - very different in tenor from most modern science." (p. 89)

The book follows Leonardo´s path and amounts to a huge argument of analogy that reveals the "gravitational force" of our visual systems.

Methodologically non-conventional, Kemp vidicates some often-neglegted dimensions of qualitative research, while acknowledging the relevance of more qualitatively oriented systems of representation.

"We are, I believe, witnessing a kind of gravitational force in our perceptual procedures which is designed to extract patters of visual coherence that allow us to operate functionally in the three-dimensional world which we inhabit." (p. 80) "The potential to acquire the tools is inherent, but they will only be acquired and achieve priority in response to the complex interaction between experience and needs." (p. 81)

Thus, from my point of view, Kemp´s analysis of the visual points out some key aspects of what we have described as "systems intelligence".

Kirjoitti Esa Saarinen, 29.01.2007

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