designprobe - making new things  
  whats going onhow to be creativemaking new thingsabout designprobe  


Viewing the Centaur

Centaur sculpture - white

Centaur - Painted Sculpture
When viewing the Centaur form for the first time, be aware it is not a familiar object.

Observing Other Observers

Over a period of several months, in one of the houses in which I lived I had on display two Centaur forms assembled in their 3D configuration. One was painted in white and had no other surface image or tonal variations beyond this white paint (see the image at right). The other had an image painted over it based upon Picasso’s 'Seated Woman in a Hat.' (see the second image at the right)

As different visitors came into the room in which the Centaurs were displayed, I proudly pointed to my work, invited them to ‘have a look at my artworks’ and watched and waited for a response. Typically, what I observed was consistent across a number of visitors. First they briefly looked at each item and then they all turned without exception and focussed on the white Centaur and usually made a comment about the white Centaur only.

Typical comments about the white Centaur ranged from ‘what is it?’ to ‘I like the shape of it’.

Typical comments about the Centaur with the image painted on it were much more interesting. Whilst most commented that they preferred the white Centaur, other comments included: ‘I don’t know what I am looking at’; ‘I can’t see that one’; ‘I can’t work that one out’ or ‘there is too much going on in that one’.

It was also interesting to notice the facial expressions of my visitors. Most people tended to tighten the muscles around their eyes or their brow when looking at the Centaur with the image on it and relax these muscles when viewing the white Centaur.


I am not a mind reader and I am not about to guess at what my visitors might have been thinking when they viewed the pair of Centaurs. However, there are some observations and interpretations we can make about the context in which people view 3D objects.

1 First View

Many of my visitors were seeing the Centaur forms for the first time. Typically, when looking at something for the first time, particularly art, we want to know what we are looking at to know how to relate it. In this case, even when I mentioned that it was a ‘Centaur’, not everyone knew what a Centaur was. Once this context was presented, at least the viewer could then compare what they were viewing with their set of stored images and knowledge about ‘Centaurs’.

Given this context we can assume the viewers did not recognize what they were looking at. If we look literally at the term ‘recognize’ we can see that it is made up of 2 parts: ‘re’ which means ‘again or back to’ and ‘cognize’ which means ‘to understand or comprehend mentally’. Literally speaking, the viewers did not have a previously stored mental map for the Centaur in the sculptural form that I had created.

2 Complex Forms

The Centaur is a complex form that may be difficult to read as a 3D form because generally we are not trained to read complex forms in our lives.

Look around wherever you may be reading this. What shapes and 3D forms do you see? Probably what you see most is the square or cubic forms that make up most of the fittings and furnishing in our dwellings. For example: desks, chairs, shelves, televisions, etc. Even more so, when we compare it to the majority of buildings which often are little more than square boxes with roofs on top.

One of the most complex forms we encounter in our daily lives are trees and whilst every tree is different we know the basic structure of a tree – a series of branches stemming from a vertical trunk.

This highlights the battle for acknowledgement of sculpture in the 21st century and parallels the progression of painting. In the same way that many people are still comfortable with Renaissance or Perspective based images (generally upto the Impressionists), most people are comfortable with the 'realist' sculpture (such as Rodin) that was predominant upto the early 1900's. As Cubism shifted painting, sculpture shifted also and now the forms are more complex, more abstract and less familiar to the average viewer.

The Centaur fits into this category of being a complex form relative to what we see most of the time and it is certainly unfamiliar to most people.

3 Complex Forms and Surface Imagery

There are very few objects in our lives that have both a complex form AND a surface image – let alone a complex surface image such as one derived from a Picasso painting. (I suggest it is merely complex compared to what most people are familiar with – it is not complex to me as the author of the work because I understand the pattern and its underlying structure.)

If you were to wander through your house or down the street, you will find that most surface images are on flat surfaces and are designed to be either decorative (eg. wallpaper) or informative (eg a sign). The general exception I find to this is the decorative images printed on textiles such as bedspreads, curtains or towels which are often ruffled or folded hiding their overall surface image.

I suggest reading the Centaur form is very different to reading an information sign and a decorative bedspread and if you are not sure what you are looking at when viewing the Centaur, that's okay, you're not alone.


whats going on how to be creative making new things about designprobe home
©designprobe 2000-4 All rights reserved