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(posted on 23 May 2023)

Extra Texture

This post is another installment in a short series on the elements of art, taken from some of my classroom instruction, in which I would try and show how the elements of art exist fundamentally to provoke emotional responses. The elements of art might often be deployed subtly and with nuance but I wanted to provoke strong trigger responses to visual cues, much like the oral Voight-Kampff test as used in the movie Bladerunner. In the movie a flat or indifferent response to what are usually emotionally provocative cues for humans indicates that the subject isn't human but rather a replicant. In class I simply wanted to show how how emotionally humans/students might respond to elements of art. Texture was quite straightforward with projections like this:



Showing the slide above, not surprisingly, always provoked a response ranging from mere disgust, to repulsion and, occasionally, genuine fear. For people who have trypophobia, a fear of multiple holes or bumps, this image triggers a more extreme response. 

Trypophobia has only recently been recognized as a phobia, and there are questions as to how real and how manufactured it is. It seems a phobia that has a cult following, which is interesting in it's own sense, because there are social media groups, members of whom are allegedly trypophobic, who deliberately gross themselves out. There is an aesthetic around discomfort precipitated by the aversion. In a way, this cult aspect might be similar to the cult of inflicting and being inflicted with pain, as in sadomasochism. Trypophobia has perhaps come to greater awareness due to it's use in the horror film genre. I find it interesting that a manifestation of an element of art has a strong sensual aesthetic following that actually results in the sharing of artfully created imagery. 

Those who express extreme disgust/repulsion/fear are likely to have discomfort looking at strawberries or honey comb or wasp's nests or coral. 



Apparently it's hard to know what 'causes' a strong trypophic response in people. It might be a evolutionary based fear of the contents of the holes which might be pathogenic or pain inflicting organisms, they might suggest disease or bites, or it might just be something to do with the frequency and size of the holes. If evolutionary, many fear and startle responses might be useful for survival under certain circumstances; fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of shadows in the dark. Why not fear of holes? Regardless of why we respond as we do to the texture of many holes, I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to make the case that another element of art can provoke a strong visceral response. 

Bumps are apparently part of the trypophobic spectrum and although I'm not fearful of holes or bumps (unlike heights and confinement) like most people I definitely respond to them. As a child I found Daleks disturbing and mesmerizing for a number of reasons, but one was the alarming regular arrangements of convex orbs on their lower exterior cladding.



Of course, not all texture has to be a panic inducing aversion trigger, but it can provide a profound sensual element to be deployed in visual art, both fine and applied, and it would not take long for anyone to find stimulating examples that are attractive or repulsive in the art or film making they enjoy. Think of how artists often go to great lengths to elaborately render hair, feathers or wood grains in their art.