ALIVE INSIDE is a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. His camera reveals the uniquely human connection we find in music and how its healing power can triumph where prescription medication falls short.
This stirring documentary follows social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”).
An uplifting cinematic exploration of music and the mind, ALIVE INSIDE’s inspirational and emotional story left audiences humming, clapping and cheering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.
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THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC: RESEARCHERS DISCOVER TWO-PART PROCESS
GEORGETOWN SCIENTISTS HAVE DISCOVERED that one part of the brain is involved in learning a new musical sequence while another part recalls the tune after it’s learned.
The scientists presented the new discovery this week during the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Brannon Green, a graduate student working in the laboratory of senior author and Georgetown neuroscientist Josef Rauschecker, notes that the motor areas of the brain were surprisingly found to participate in both processes.
“The motor system contains brain structures that nature invented to decode sequences, so to learn a melody, the auditory system hijacks the motor system,” Rauschecker explains.
“This is also the part of the brain you use to learn how to ski or dance,” adds Green. “This study shows that motor sequencing areas in the brain are really generalized sequencing areas that process both motor and auditory sequences.”
Green and Rauschecker worked with three colleagues at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland on the study, funded by a PIRE grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation and a FiDiPro award from the Academy of Finland.
The study used an MRI scanner to map functional neural activity in the brains of volunteers who listened to musical sequences.
Participants heard early parts of a 30-second musical sequence 20 to 30 times in an attempt to make that part of the melody familiar to them. They heard the rest of the music only one to 10 times.
The researchers found that learning a novel sequence required use of the brain’s motor areas, including the basal ganglia and cerebellum, which researchers previously thought were only used to move muscles involved in singing.
But these areas were active in learning the sequence of parts of the tune – one sound fired one small group of neurons, the next sound fired a second group, and so on.
The study showed that after the participants learned the tune, brain activity switched from the motor regions to areas in auditory and prefrontal cortex, which had previously beshown to be associated with long-term memory of sounds.
Rauschecker likens storage of a tune to dominoes stacked next to each other.
“The tones are chunked together, chained to one another in a sequence,” he says. “It’s like pushing the first domino, and then they all fall, one after the other.”
“That can explain why if you get stuck in the middle of a melody you are playing on a piano, it is easier to recall it if you start from the beginning of the tune,” Green says.
Tipping the dominos at will also illustrates “how a symphony conductor is always ahead of the orchestra,” Rauschecker adds. “One cue triggers the next and then the next.”
Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia -- many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.
In an ongoing series titled “Dreams,” Chinese sculptor Wang Ruilin creates surreal animals that don’t act like animals at all. Their backs, and sometimes their antlers, function as arcs that carry monumental elements of nature like lakes and mountain cliffs. It’s like an animal-version of Noah’s Arc without people. “Leaving individuals behind is painful”, admits the 29-year old sculptor, but it allows us to reduce confusion and see the value and force of life.
Ruilin’s copper sculptures are the result of Eastern classical painting and imagery that’s been combined with past experiences. He recalls a life-changing incident when, at the age of 4 or 5, he encountered a painting of a horse by the artist Xu Beihong. He became obsessed with the vigorous animal and has ever since identified with it. The artist describes his creative process as digging deep into his heart and excavating “works that originally exist from various experiences.”
Ruilin’s “Dreams” series was most recently part of ART Beijing earlier this year. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Behance.
It’s not that I have anything against artists or art. It is the very opposite actually. Hitherto, I considered my personal critique of various forms of art quite out-of-the-box. Only to discover lately that my assumption was simply based on naivety and that my understanding of art is not only superficial but fallacious to the core. How, you may ask, did I arrive at this consensus on my aesthetics. Simply by getting up and close with what is universally applauded as genius. Art, for me, is like Shakespearean insult for someone who knows nothing of him. You say ‘Frailty thy name is woman,’ and she’d think you are referring to her frail frame.
As an editor at a weekly, I skimmed through contributions for art pages regularly and usually passed them off as someone’s personal reflections on others’ work derived from their experience in the field or their over-the-years encounter with different forms of art. I’m referring to art critics who, like critics everywhere, take up this responsibility of scrutinizing artistic creations driven by the belief that they are shaping public taste. This should mean that Imanullah has done a better job at shaping public taste than these critics. Art criticism, let’s assumer here, has little to do with the masses, as does art. This is where people like me come in — the Joe next door who likes junk food and Antonio Bendaras’ smile with competing intensity. We don’t care about what art critics say, we like what we like. Pop, all the way.
The coiled hose left a mark on the grass, a fading of color where the sun could not shine.
From this moment on his front lawn, Binh Danh realized he could create a photographic process using sunlight, leaves and grass. He had no idea his method would develop into an organic process of self-discovery.
On leaves from his family’s garden, Danh brings fresh examination to an old war, printing haunted faces and horrific scenes from the Vietnam conflict with light and chlorophyll.
Danh, 36, creates a positive transparency from a repurposed photo from the war, lays it on top of a leaf or a woven mat of grass and places it in the sun for several days at a time. After a while, details of an oft-forgotten war appear on the area of the leaf deprived of sunlight. The leaves are then coated in a UV-resistant spray and encased in a thin block of resin.
The work has brought global recognition to the Vietnam-born Danh, now an assistant professor of photography at Arizona State University. It also allows him to examine the world’s collective memory of the war and intuit seldom-talked-about pieces of his family’s history from that time period.
“I didn’t have any memory coming to the United States,” said Danh, who was 2 in 1979 when his family relocated to San Jose, California. “There’s a rich history never told to me because it was too painful to relive. So much of my work has dealt with that history.”
Danh grew up unsure how to navigate a cultural duality. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with other refugee families but started to question where he fit in once he started school as one of only a few Asian Americans in the student body.
Even at a young age, he began using art as a way to answer questions of identity.
At 21, he made his first trip to Vietnam and felt culture shock.
“It was mind-boggling being in the country where I was born,” he said. “In Vietnam, there were a lot of war remnant museums…. The war was so much a part of the landscape. I was there just at the right time because I was really exploring issues of history and identity.”
Danh was at San Jose State University when he began experimenting with chlorophyll printing and examining the war.
It was a way to connect with his parents, who were reluctant to tell him stories. He appealed to their concern for his education and when he explained he was doing research for class projects, they began to tell some of their stories. Suddenly, unexplained parts of his life gained context and he began to understand how best to translate the lingering pain and residue of war.
He used pictures from Life magazine, The New York Times and discarded images and mementos found on his travels.
His first major exhibition in 2002, called Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War, uses jungle leaves to remind the viewer of the country’s landscape. Merged with recycled news images — a weeping mother with a wounded child, a silhouetted platoon of soldiers seemingly marching into oblivion, frightened children, bombs falling from jets — his work sears the soul.
Ancestral Altars recalls Danh’s visit to a museum that honors those killed by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. The portraits he found on those walls are emblazoned on the leaves, staring out at the viewer as a testimonial artifact. The shape of the leaves, the use of butterfly imagery creates an altar-like feeling Danh said he designed so that we may meditate on this history.
In an exhibition called One Week’s Dead, he used photos printed in a 1969 Life article under a headline of the same name. The faces of fallen soldiers are again memorialized but remain in a ghostly fade like the plant material holding their images.
Poet Robert Schultz was “struck so forcibly” by the leaf prints seven years ago at an exhibit in Roanoke, Virginia, that he began writing poems in response. The two have since collaborated on a number of projects and will have a collaborative exhibit this fall in Roanoke on the Civil War.
“You could call his work an art of witness,” Schultz said. “There has been a lot of great art, great movies and great writing about the Vietnam War and his work is as unique and as powerful as anything I’ve seen.”
Danh, who holds a BFA from San Jose State and an MFA from Stanford University, is a photographer who has done more traditional documentary work, including a portrait project of the Vietnamese community in Lincoln, Nebraska. He still does chlorophyll printing but his newest work has shifted to making daguerreotypes.
He continues to explore questions of war, identity and connectedness and the mirrorlike surface of a daguerreotype allows people to see themselves. He teaches this and other 19th-century photo-printing techniques at Arizona State University.
Along with his collaboration with Schultz on the Civil War, Danh has also done work on one community’s response to the death toll from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A hillside in Lafayette, California, holds a white cross for each soldier lost and Danh has done a daguerreotype series on the hillside memorial.
“My work has taught me that life is short and like a reel of 16mm movie film — it does not stop rolling,” Danh said. “I always thought that my work is like a religious practice to me. As I make art, I find out more about myself and the time I am living in.”
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We live in the age of the selfie. A fast self-portrait, made with a smartphone’s camera and immediately distributed and inscribed into a network, is an instant visual communication of where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching. Selfies have changed aspects of social interaction, body language, self-awareness, privacy, and humor, altering temporality, irony, and public behavior. It’s become a new visual genre—a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy. This is a very big deal for art.
Genres arise relatively rarely. Portraiture is a genre. So is still-life, landscape, animal painting, history painting. (They overlap, too: A portrait might be in a seascape.) A genre possesses its own formal logic, with tropes and structural wisdom, and lasts a long time, until all the problems it was invented to address have been fully addressed. (Genres are distinct from styles, which come and go: There are Expressionist portraits, Cubist portraits, Impressionist portraits, Norman Rockwell portraits. Style is the endless variation within genre.)
These are not like the self-portraits we are used to. Setting aside the formal dissimilarities between these two forms—of framing, of technique—traditional photographic self-portraiture is far less spontaneous and casual than a selfie is. This new genre isn’t dominated by artists. When made by amateurs, traditional photographic self-portraiture didn’t become a distinct thing, didn’t have a codified look or transform into social dialogue and conversation. These pictures were not usually disseminated to strangers and were never made in such numbers by so many people. It’s possible that the selfie is the most prevalent popular genre ever.
Let’s stipulate that most selfies are silly, typical, boring. Guys flexing muscles, girls making pouty lips (“duckface”), people mugging in bars or throwing gang signs or posing with monuments or someone famous. Still, the new genre has its earmarks. Excluding those taken in mirrors—a distinct subset of this universe—selfies are nearly always taken from within an arm’s length of the subject. For this reason the cropping and composition of selfies are very different from those of all preceding self-portraiture. There is the near-constant visual presence of one of the photographer’s arms, typically the one holding the camera. Bad camera angles predominate, as the subject is nearly always off-center. The wide-angle lens on most cell-phone cameras exaggerates the depth of noses and chins, and the arm holding the camera often looks huge. (Over time, this distortion has become less noticeable. Recall, however, the skewed look of the early cell-phone snap.) If both your hands are in the picture and it’s not a mirror shot, technically, it’s not a selfie—it’s a portrait.
Selfies are usually casual, improvised, fast; their primary purpose is to be seen here, now, by other people, most of them unknown, in social networks. They are never accidental: Whether carefully staged or completely casual, any selfie that you see had to be approved by the sender before being embedded into a network. This implies control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality, and irony. The distributor of a selfie made it to be looked at by us, right now, and when we look at it, we know that. (And the maker knows we know that.) The critic Alicia Eler notes that they’re “where we become our own biggest fans and private paparazzi,” and that they are “ways for celebrities to pretend they’re just like regular people, making themselves their own controlled PR machines.”
When it is not just PR, though, it is a powerful, instantaneous ironic interaction that has intensity, intimacy, and strangeness. In some way, selfies reach back to the Greek theatrical idea of methexis—a group sharing wherein the speaker addresses the audience directly, much like when comic actors look at the TV camera and make a face. Finally, fascinatingly, the genre wasn’t created by artists. Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding the language and lexicon of photography. Selfies are a photography of modern life—not that academics or curators are paying much attention to them. They will, though: In a hundred years, the mass of selfies will be an incredible record of the fine details of everyday life. Imagine what we could see if we had millions of these from the streets of imperial Rome.
I’ve taken them. (I used to take self-shots with old-fashioned cameras and send the film off to be developed, then wait by the mailbox, antsy that my parents would open the Kodak envelope and find the dicey ones. These, unlike selfies, were not for public view.) You’ve taken them. So has almost everyone you know. Selfies are front-page news, subject to intense, widespread public and private scrutiny, shaming, revelation. President Obama caught hell for taking selfies with world leaders. Kim Kardashian takes them of her butt.The pope takes them . So did Anthony Weiner; so did that woman on the New York Post’s front page who, perhaps inadvertently, posted pics of herself with a would-be suicide on the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. James Franco has been called “the selfie king.”  A Texas customer-service rep named Benny Winfield Jr. has declared himself “King of the Selfie Movement.” 
Many fret that this explosion of selfies proves that ours is an unusually narcissistic age. Discussing one selfie, the Post trotted out a tired line about “the greater global calamity of Western decline.” C’mon: The moral sky isn’t falling. Marina Galperina, who with fellow curator Kyle Chayka presented the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, rightly says, “It’s less about narcissism—narcissism is so lonely!—and it’s more about being your own digital avatar.” Chayka adds, “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s ... to make yourself look awesome.” Franco says selfies “are tools of communication more than marks of vanity … Mini-Mes that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” Selfies are our letters to the world. They are little visual diaries that magnify, reduce, dramatize—that say, “I’m here; look at me.”
Unlike traditional portraiture, selfies don’t make pretentious claims. They go in the other direction—or no direction at all. Although theorists like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes saw melancholy and signs of death in every photograph, selfies aren’t for the ages. They’re like the cartoon dog who, when asked what time it is, always says, “Now! Now! Now!”
We might ask what art-historical and visual DNA form the selfie’s roots and structures. There are old photos of people holding cameras out to take their own pictures. (Often, people did this to knock off the last frame in a roll of film, so it could be rewound and sent to be processed.) Still, the genre remained unclear, nebulous, and uncodified. Looking back for trace elements, I discern strong selfie echoes in Van Gogh’s amazing self-portraits —some of the same intensity, immediacy, and need to reveal something inner to the outside world in the most vivid way possible. Warhol, of course, comes to mind with his love of the present, performative persona and his wild Day-Glo color. But he took his own instant photos of other subjects, or had his subjects shoot themselves in a photo booth—both devices with far more objective lenses than a smartphone, as well as different formats and depths of field. Many will point to Cindy Sherman. But none of her pictures is taken in any selfie way. Moreover, her photographs show us the characters and selves that exist in her unbridled pictorial imagination. She’s not there.
Maybe the first significant twentieth-century pre-selfie is M. C. Escher’s 1935 lithograph Hand With Reflecting Sphere. Its strange compositional structure is dominated by the artist’s distorted face, reflected in a convex mirror held in his hand and showing his weirdly foreshortened arm. It echoes the closeness, shallow depth, and odd cropping of modern selfies. In another image, which might be called an allegory of a selfie, Escher rendered a hand drawing another hand drawing the first hand. It almost says, “What comes first, the self or the selfie?” My favorite proto-selfie is Parmigianino’s 1523–24 Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, seen on the title page of this story. All the attributes of the selfie are here: the subject’s face from a bizarre angle, the elongated arm, foreshortening, compositional distortion, the close-in intimacy. As the poet John Ashbery wrote of this painting (and seemingly all good selfies), “the right hand / Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer / And swerving easily away, as though to protect what it advertises.”
Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good selfie. I like the ones that metamorphose into what might be called selfies-plus—pictures that begin to speak in unintended tongues, that carry surpluses of meaning that the maker may not have known were there. Barthes wrote that such images produce what he called “a third meaning,” which passes “from language to significance.”
I’m not talking about cute contradictions, unintended parody, nip slips, moose knuckles. Everyone’s subject to these unveilings. No, I’m talking about more unstable, obstinate meanings that come to the fore: fictions, paranoia, fantasies, voyeurism, exhibitionism, confessions—things that take us to a place where we become the author of another story. That’s thrilling. And something like art.
I’m far from the first to say the selfie is something significant. Way back in 2010, the artist-critic David Colman wrote in the New York Times that the selfie “is so common that it is changing photography itself.” Colman in turn quoted the art historian Geoffrey Batchen saying that selfies represent “the shift of the photograph [from] memorial function to a communication device.” What I love about selfies is that we then do a second thing after making them: We make them public. Which is, again, something like art.
Whatever the selfie represents, it’s safe to say it’s in its Neolithic phase. In fact, the genre has already mutated at least once. Artist John Monteith has saved thousands of anonymous images from the selfie’s early digital era, what Monteith calls the “Wild West days” of selfies. These are self-portraits taken with crude early webcams, showing weird coloration, hot spots, bizarre resolution. Posted online starting around 1999, they have mostly evaporated into the ethersphere. The “aesthetic” of these early selfie calling cards and come-ons is noticeably different from today’s, because the cameras were deskbound. Settings are more private, poses more furtive, sexual. Tics crop up: women showing new tongue piercings, shirtless men with nunchucks. They seem as ancient as photographs of nineteenth-century Paris.
It’s easy to project that, with only small changes in technology and other platforms, we will one day see amazing masters of the form. We’ll see selfies of ordeal, adventure, family history, sickness, and death. There will be full-size lifelike animated holographic selfies (can’t wait to see what porn does with that!), pedagogical and short-story selfies. There could be a selfie-Kafka. We will likely make great selfies—but not until we get rid of the stupid-sounding, juvenile, treacly name. It rankles and grates every time one reads, hears, or even thinks it. We can’t have a Rembrandt of selfies with a word like selfie.
*This article originally appeared in the February 3, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.
Fine art is good medicine.
It comforts, elevates the spirit, and affirms life and hope. Art in the healthcare setting, combined with outstanding care and service, creates an ambience that encourages healing and supports the work of medical professionals.
As one of the world’s great medical centers, Cleveland Clinic has always included the arts in its healing environment. The four founders and subsequent leadership encouraged artistic and musical expression by employees. Distinguished artworks have long hung on the walls. In 1983, an Aesthetics Committee was officially formed at Cleveland Clinic to address issues of art and design in Cleveland Clinic facilities.
from: The Cleveland Clinic
Aviva Rahmani's Blue Rocks project (2002) drew attention to a degraded estuary on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. The USDA then contributed over $500,000. to restore twenty-six acres of wetlands in 2002. (Photograph by Aviva Rahmani)
The term "environmental art" is used in a variety of different contexts: it can be used to refer to art describing the natural world, art that celebrates personal engagement with the natural world ("art in nature"), and to the practices of ecological artists, whose work directly addresses environmental issues ("ecological art" or "eco-art") through educating people about the natural world, or intervening in and restoring the natural world. Ecological artist, Aviva Rahmani believes that "Ecological Art is an art practice, often in collaboration with scientists, city planners, architects and others, that results in direct intervention in environmental degradation. Often, the artist is the lead agent in that practice."
The media and activities used by environmental artists are incredibly diverse, including painting, photography, performance art, politically activist events, experiments with light and sound, sculpture, eco-feminism, creation of large earth-based installations ("earthworks", "land art"), architectural installations, and scientific inventions. Scientific information frequently inspires or is incorporated into such works.