Visual harmony is a very real thing for Polish artist Iwo Zaniewski. It is not a hallucination, or a mystical concept. It is an assertive, experienced appreciation of beauty. It relates to the visual equilibrium reached by the juxtaposition of visual elements in relation to each other (ex: shapes and colors), that eventually make a beautiful painting. Per Iwo, "each change causes a deterioration of the visual assessment of the whole".
He collaborated with Piotr Francuz, Head of the Department of Experimental Psychology and Director of the Institute of Psychology (Faculty of Social Sciences, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin). Using an eye-tracking technique, they compared how other like-minded brains recognized harmony in painting they picked in the world repertoire, versus the same paintings Iwo altered using photoshop.
Iwo was also asked by American computer scientists for help in creating a software that would capture his way of determining harmony in a painting- the task appeared too daunting in the end.
Recently, he reached out to Stepan Ivanyk, Polish philosopher specialized in esthetics (Warsaw University). They are now writing an article about harmony in the context of the history of esthetics.
Finally, Iwo tried to establish parallels between harmony as observed in paintings versus in real world. Last, he reached out to me, to determine how neuroesthetics overlaps with his theory of visual harmony.
What I find most interesting when talking with Iwo, is his conviction, based on personal experience, that harmony does exist as an entity bigger than himself, and his obsessive quest to figure out what it is. His question is based on his experience as an artist. But he expands his search beyond the world of art, to science and the humanities.
I am also fascinated by how hard he tries to figure out how to reach the state of visual harmony during the creative process. He explained to me how, when he starts a project, his creative brain comes up with visual ideas, as a succession of dazzling, flashing images that end up, with time, coming together and forming a cohesive and effective object of art. He is always puzzled by where these images come from and how the final project takes shape. This applies to his painting, but also to his work as writer and director of over 2000 commercials he has produced over the past 26 years.
To me, these questions are grounded in neuroesthetics, even though Iwo sees them as a personal quest. Creativity, as harmony, or beauty, indeed exists as an entity bigger than ourselves. But, as Agnes Martin said it, "the beauty is in the mind, not in the flower." Harmony must be engraved somewhere in our brain, as one of the ultimate results of complex visual brain processes. It must be stored in some flexible, both personal and universal manner. It must be linked to a subtle and hard to describe equilibrium in our brain, somewhere at the interface between perception, cognition, memory and emotion processing. Only visible by ourselves. Hidden from analysis. Extremely hard to model. Harmony is not encoded in magics. It is, indeed, a real thing. One engraved in Iwo's brain, in mine, and in many other artists' or art lovers'.
I can't wait to collaborate with Iwo. His approach really represents what I miss from my home continent: raising more questions than giving answers, persisting, using both our perception and our brain, crossing discipline boundaries, and incorporating the history of knowledge in the history of painting.
I can't wait to join Iwo in his Search for the real, as Hans Hofmann called it.
In the meantime, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on why composition matters in the process of creating harmony, to understand what Iwo means with his "universal mathematical formula", and to experience harmony yourself in Iwo's videos. If you take the time, you will see that the artist Iwo has a lot to share about visual art... and about neuroesthetics.
(Hans Hofman was a German-born American painter and considered to have both preceded and influenced Abstract Expressionism; I highly recommend his essays)