Thursday, February 27, 2014

Behind "A Moment Alone", some Influence and Inspiration

"If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." ~Albert Einstein 

 Hi*Fructose recently posted my painting "A Moment Alone" on it's facebook page (it's facebook offical! Hi*Fructose and I are totally hookin up). Thank you Hi*Fructose for sharing. So today I decided to do something I don't do too often. Dive a little bit, maybe a lot, into what influenced and inspired this particular painting. This is always a little weird because I like having my artwork to be viewed and interpreted through the viewers eyes. I can help direct to some extent with the title of the piece. Though it's still quite subjective and I'm ok with that. I don't away to take away all the mystery. But I do find it fascinating when I find out a little more behind the motivation of a piece of art, a peek behind the curtain at the creative process of others.  So I do want to offer a little more insight and share some of what brought this piece about.

 As some of you may know via my facebook page or personal conversation I'm rather interested in what's going on in the world; social issues, research on science and technology, human behavior, The Singularity etc. There are so many interesting things to learn. Human behavior is one I find especially fascinating. Why do people do what we do? What are the short term and long term effects on people when raised or treated a certain way? How are artists focused on extrinsic rewards different from artists focused on intrinsic rewards?(find out more on a previous Muddy Colors "Extrinsic Motivators and Creativity")

That being said here's an excerpt that influenced "A Moment Alone".  I hope you find it relevant and of interest.

“Giving and Withholding Love”

“When scientists began to study discipline in the 1950s and ‘60s, they tended to classify what parents were doing with their children as being based on either power or love.  Power-based discipline included hitting, yelling, and threatening.  Love-based discipline included just about everything else.  As the research results came in, it quickly became clear that power produced poorer results than love. 

Unfortunately, an awful lot of diverse strategies were being lumped together under that second heading.  Some of them consisted of reasoning with children and teaching them, offering warmth and understanding.  But other techniques were a lot less loving.  In fact, some of them amounted to controlling children with love, either by withholding it when kids were bad or by showering them with attention and affection when they were good.  These, then, are the two faces of conditional parenting: “love withdrawal” (the stick) and “positive reinforcement” (the carrot).  In this chapter, I want to explore what both of these techniques look like in practice, the effects they have, and the reasons for those effects.  Later, I’ll look at the idea of punishment in more detail.

Like anything else, love withdrawal can be applied in different ways and with varying levels of intensity.  At one end of the continuum, a parent may pull back ever so slightly in response to something the child has done,  becoming chillier and less affectionate—perhaps with out even being aware of it.  At the other end, a parent may announce bluntly, “I don’t love you when you act that way” or “When you do things like that, I don’t even want to be around you.”

Some parents withdraw their love by simply refusing to respond to a child—that is by making a point of ignoring him.  They may not say it out loud, but the message they’re sending is pretty clear:  “If you do things I don’t like, I won’t pay any attention to you.  I’ll pretend you’re not eve here.  If you want me to acknowledge you again, you’d better obey me.”

Still other parents separate themselves physically from the child.  There are two ways of doing this.  They parent can either walk away (which may leave a child sobbing, or crying out in a panic, “Mommy, come back! Come back!”) or banish the child to his room or some other place where the parent isn’t.  This tactic might accurately be called forcible isolation.  But that label would make a lot of parents uncomfortable, so a more innocuous term tends to be used instead, one that allows us to avoid facing up to what‘s really going on.  The preferred euphemism, as perhaps you’ve guessed, is time-out.

In reality, this very popular discipline technique is a version of love withdrawal—at least when children are sent away against their will.  There’s nothing wrong with giving a child the option of going to her room, or to another inviting place, when she’s angry or upset.  If she has chosen to take some time alone, and if all the particulars (when to leave, where to go, what to do, when to return) are within her control, then it’s not experienced as banishment or punishment, and it can often be helpful.  That’s not what I’m concerned with here.  I’m focusing on time-out as the term is usually used, where it’s a sentence handed down by the parent: solitary confinement. 

One clue to the nature of the technique is provided by the origin of the term.  Time-out is actually and abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement.  The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals.  As B.F. Skinner and his followers labored, for example, to teach pigeons to peck at certain keys in response to flashing lights, they tinkered with different schedules by which food was offered as a reward for doing what the experimenters wanted.  Sometimes they also tried punishing the birds by withholding food, or even by shutting off all the lights, to see whether that would “extinguish” the key-pecking behavior.  This was done with other critters, too.  Thus, a colleague of Skinner published an article in 1958 called “Control of Behavior in Chimpanzees and Pigeons by Time-out from Positive Reinforcement.”

Within a few years, articles began appearing in these same experimental psychology journals with titles like “Timeout Duration and the Suppression of Deviant Behavior in Children.”   In that particular study, the children subjected to time-outs were described as “retarded, institutionalized subjects.”  But soon this intervention was being prescribed indiscriminately, and even discipline specialists who would have been aghast at the idea of treating children like lab animals were enthusiastically advising parents to give their kids a time-out when they did something wrong.  Before long it had become “the most commonly recommended discipline procedure in the professional literature for preadolescent children.”1

We are talking about a technique, then, that began as a way of controlling animal behavior.  All three of those words may raise troubling questions for us.  The last of them, of course, we’ve already encountered: Should our focus be limited to behavior?  Time-out, like all punishments and rewards, stays on the surface.  It’s designed purely to make and organism act (or stop acting) in a particular way.

The middle word, animal, reminds us that the behaviorists who invented time-out believed that humans are not all that different from other species.  We “emit” more complicated behaviors, including speech, but other principles of learning are thought to be pretty much the same.  Those of us who don’t share that belief might have second thoughts about subjecting our children to something that was developed for us with birds and rodents.

Finally, we’re left with a question that informs this whole book: Does it make sense to raise our kids based on a model of control?

Even if its history and theoretical basis don’t trouble you, look again at the original label time-out from positive reinforcement.  Parents aren’t usually in the middle of handing out stickers or candy bars when they suddenly decide to stop.  So what, exactly, is the positive reinforcement that’s being suspended when a child is given a time-out?  Sometimes he’s doing something fun and is forced to quit.  But this isn’t always the case—and even when it is, I think there’s more to the story.  When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, you love.  You may not have thought of it that way.  Indeed, you may insist that your love for your child is undiminished by his misbehavior.  But, as we’ve seen, what matters is how things look to the child.

The Results of Love Withdrawal

In a later chapter, I’ll say more about alternatives to time-outs.  But let’s back up and look more carefully at the whole idea of love withdrawal.  For many people, the first question would be whether this approach works.  Once again, however, that proves to be a more complicated matter than it may seem.  We have to ask: “Works to do what?”—and we also have to weigh any temporary change in behavior against what may turn out to be a deeper, longer-lasting negative impact.  In other words, we need to look beyond the short-term, and we also need to look at what’s going on underneath the visible behavior.  Remember, that study of college students described in the last chapter found that conditional love can succeed at changing how kids act, but at enormous cost.  It turns out that the same is true of love withdrawal in particular.

Consider this account from the parent of a young child we’ll call Lee:

I discovered some time ago that when Lee started to act up, I really didn’t have to threaten to take away privileges or even raise my voice.  I just quietly announced my intention to leave the room.  Sometimes all I had to do was walk across the room, away from him, and say I would wait until he was ready to stop yelling or resisting or whatever.  Most of the time this was amazingly effective.  He would beg, “No, don’t!” and would immediately quiet down or do what I asked.  At first, the moral I drew from this was that a light touch is sufficient.  I could get what I wanted without having to punish.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about the fear I saw in his eyes.  I came to realize that what I was doing was punishment as far as Lee was concerned—a symbolic one, maybe, but a pretty damn scary one.

An important study on the effectiveness of love withdrawal basically supports this parent’s conclusion: Sometimes it does seem to work, but that doesn’t mean we should do it.  In the early 1980s, two researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) examined what mothers did with their approximately on-year-old children.  It seemed that love withdrawal—deliberately ignoring a child or enforcing a separation—was typically combined with some other strategy.  Regardless of which other approach was used, whether it was explaining or smacking, the addition of love withdrawal made it more likely that these very young kids would comply with their mothers’ wishes, at least for the moment.

But the researchers were more concerned than reassured by what they saw, and they emphasized that they were not advising parents to use love withdrawal.  First, they pointed out that “disciplinary techniques effective for securing immediate compliance are not necessarily effective…in the long run.”  Second they observed that “children may react to love withdrawal in ways that parents perceive as occasion for further discipline.”  A vicious circle can be created, with kids crying and protesting, leading to more love withdrawal, leading to more crying and protesting, and so on.  Finally, even when this technique did produce results, the researchers seemed uneasy about why it worked.2

Many years ago, a psychologist named Martin Hoffman challenged the distinction between power-based and love-based discipline by pointing out that love withdrawal, a common example of the latter, actually has a lot in common with more severe forms of punishment.  Both communicate to children that if they do something we don’t like, we’ll make them suffer in order to change their behavior.  (The only remaining question is how we’ll make them suffer: by causing physical pain through hitting, or by causing emotional pain through enforced isolation.)  And both are based on getting kids to focus on the consequences of their action to themselves, which is, of course, very different from raising children to think about how their action will affect other people.

Hoffman then proceeded to make an even more surprising suggestion: In some situations, love withdrawal might be even worse than other, apparently harsher, punishments.  “Although it poses no immediate physical or material threat to the child,” he wrote, love withdrawal “may be more devastating emotionally than power assertion because it poses the ultimate threat of abandonment or separation.”  Furthermore, “while the parent may know when it will end, the very young child may not since he is totally dependent on the parent and moreover lacks the experience and time perspective needed to recognize the temporary nature of the parent’s attitude.”3

Even children who come to realize that Mom or Dad will eventually start talking to them again (or will soon free them from the time-out) may not entirely recover from the reverberations of this punishment.  Love-withdrawal techniques can succeed in making a child’s behavior more acceptable to adults, but the engine that drives their success is the deeply felt “anxiety about possible loss of parental love,” says Hoffman.4  This is what gave pause to even those NIMH researchers who found that love withdrawal can produce temporary obedience.  Indeed, another group of psychologists observed that this form of discipline tends to “leave the child in a state of emotional discomfort for longer periods” than does a spanking.5

There isn’t a huge amount of scientific research on love withdrawal, but the little that does exist has turned up disturbingly consistent findings.  Children on the receiving end tend to have lower self-esteem.  They display signs of poorer emotional health overall and may even be more apt to engage in delinquent acts..  If we consider a broader category of “psychological control” on the part of the parents (of which love withdrawal is said to be “a defining characteristic”), older children who are treated this way are more likely than their peers to be depressed.6

No question about it: A parent has considerable power “to manipulate children through their need for parental affection and approval, and their fears of loss of the parents’ emotional support.”7  But this is not like, say, fear of the dark, which most people outgrow.  Rather, it’s the sort of fear that can be as enduring as it is shattering.  Nothing is more important to us when we’re young than how our parents feel about us.  Uncertainty about that, or terror about being abandoned, can leave its mark even after we’re grown.

It makes perfect sense, then, that the most striking long-term effect of love withdrawal is fear.  Even as young adults, people who were treated that way by their parents are still likely to be unusually anxious.  They may be afraid to show anger.  They tend to display a significant fear of failure.  And their adult relationship may be warped by a need to avoid attachment—perhaps because they live in a dread of being abandoned all over again. (Having experienced love withdrawal as children, adults my have “decided essentially that ‘the terms of this bargain are impossible to meet.’  That is, they could never expect to earn the approval and support from their parents they needed, therefore[they now try] to structure their lives so as not to depend on protection and emotional comfort from others.”)8

I don’t’ mean to imply that your child is sure to be screwed up for life just because you sent her to her room once when she was four.  At the same time, this list of effects isn’t something I thought up in the shower this morning.  It’s not a matter of speculation or even of anecdotes from therapists.  Controlled studies have linked all these fears specifically to the earlier parental use of love withdrawal.  Parenting guides almost never mention these data, but their cumulative effect has to be taken seriously. 

Indeed, there’s one more finding worth mentioning” the effects on kids’ moral development.  Hoffman conducted a study of seventh-graders that found that the use of love withdrawal was associated with a lower-level from of morality.  In deciding how to act with other people, these children didn’t take specific circumstances into account, nor did they consider the needs of a given individual.  Instead, having learned to do exactly what they’re told in order to avoid losing their parents’ love, they tended to just to apply rules in a rigid, one-size-fits-all fashion.9  If we’re serious about helping our children to grow into compassionate and psychologically healthy people, we have to realize how hard that is to do on a diet of love withdrawal—or, as we’ll see later, any other sort of punitive consequences.”

The Failure of Rewards

Is it unsettling to hear that time-outs and other “milder” forms of punishment may actually not be so benign after all?  Well, brace yourself.  The flip side of love withdrawal—that is, the other technique associated with conditional love—is none other than positive reinforcement, an approach that’s wildly popular amount parents, teachers, and others who spend time with children.  …”

I'll stop here.  This has probably been enough reading for some.  For anyone interested in more research of human behavior and child rearing this is pulled from the book "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason" by Alfie Kohn.  I don't have any children of my own but I would like to try and be the best uncle around for my nieces.  Plus it's just pretty damn interesting.  At the same time it's almost impossible for me not to consider my own upbringing and compare it to what research is showing us which is pretty interesting as well. (I have a Tiger Mom from Vietnam not unlike Olivia Munn from The Daily Show)  Below are the researchers and studies Alfie cites for the above passage.

1. Chamberlain and Patterson, p. 217.
2. Chapman and Zah-Waxler; quotations appear on pp.90 and 92.
3. Hoffman 1970b, pp. 285-86
4. Hoffman 1970b, p. 300.
5. Dienstbier et al., p. 307.
6. Self-esteem: This finding from Stanely Coopersmith’s classic study of fifth-and sixth-grade boys is described in Maccoby and Martin, p.55.  A third of a century later, it was replicated with both boys and girls; see Kernis et al. 2000.  Emotional health and delinquency: Goldstein and Heaven—a recent study of Australian high school students.  Depression: Barber—a study of 875 fifth-,eighth-, and tenth-grade students.
7. Maccoby and Martin, p. 55.
8. Unusually anxious: A 1966 study by Perdue and Spielberger is described in Hoffman 1970b, p. 302.  Afraid to show anger: Hoffman 1970a, pp. 108-9.  Fear of failure: Elliot and Thrash.  (These authors illustrate the concept of love withdrawal by referring to “the widely endorsed ‘time-out’ technique.”)  Avoid attachment: Swanson and Mallinckrodt; the quotation appears on p. 476.  (The extent to which the 125 undergraduates in this last study had experienced love withdrawal was a very significant predictor of their tendency to avoid intimacy, even after taking account of other features of their families of origin.  A second study, this one with ore than 400 undergraduates—Mallinckrodt and Wei—confirmed a relationship between love withdrawal, on the one hand, and insecurity and attachment difficulties, on the other.)

9. Hoffman 1970a; and 1970b, esp. pp. 339-40.  I should mention that an earlier study (Sears et al.) found that kindergarten children whose mothers used love withdrawal and  generally seemed warm with them were more likely than other children to admit that they broke a rule, or to act guilty, before they were caught. (As another writer [Becker, p. 185] later put it, it made sense that there was an effect only with warm mothers because there was “more love to lose.”)  However, subsequent research has rarely shown anything resembling a positive effect on moral development as a result of love withdrawal.  Other studies, including the one described in the text, suggest that this approach to discipline is “an insufficient basis for the development of …a fully [formed] conscience” (Hoffman and Saltzstein, p. 56).  Indeed, one might question whether the “positive” result in the Sears et al. study—a compulsion to confess—is really what we’re looking for.  There’s a difference between a fear of being caught, on the one hand, and a growing sense-growing, not yet firmly established in a five-year-old—that an action is wrong, on the other.  According to psychologist Wendy Grolnick, this internal pressure is “antithetical to a feeling of autonomy, because the child cannot choose to risk noncompliance—the stakes are simply too high” when the parent’s love might disappear (Grolnick, p. 47)

"Comfort in Dying" Process

-by Eric Fortune

This piece was done a few months back for Copro Gallery's "Espionage Miami" show.  It started out as a tiny piece of chicken scratch done several months prior that sat around collecting dust until I felt I was ready to more fully realize it.  I have a gang load of vague scribbles that I keep and every now and then flip through them to see if any jump out.  Most probably won't turn into anything.  But you never know.

Said chicken scratch, and slightly more refined chicken scratch.

Photo Reference is your friend.  But try not to become a slave to your photo ref...
Unless of course it's consensual and you're into that kinda thing.  Always have a safe word.

I used to just transfer my thumbnail sketches onto the watercolor paper and then use my photo reference to make the final drawing just the once.(vid of my transfer process here)  Usually that's fine.  However, every now and then the proportions of the figure are too skewed or something just isn't clicking enough that I end up doing more erasing on my paper than I would like.  So I started making adjustments at the smaller scale and solving some of my issues prior to transferring.  In the long run it saves me some potential grief even if it adds some redundancy.

Final Drawing
And the "Color Comp of The Year" award goes to..... not me.

Don't judge me.

Something I tend to do somewhat early in a painting is choose a spot that I know will be fairly dark and try to punch in the color and value to give me a relative sense of value so that I'm not making my washes too thin or building up my value too slowly.  It's a slow process and I never "nail it" when it comes to color and value. It's always a build up of layers, and making slight adjustments as I move in the needed direction. But this does help me from being so slow that I start traveling backwards in time.  I also started taking my own advice that I give to students excited about a new piece.  Don't get crazy and do an extra large painting that can be even more time consuming than you want it to be.  Nothing wrong with working in your comfort zone, especially if you have a deadline.

My little set up at Columbus College of Art and Design.

I find it helpful to get out of the studio every now and then to paint with some old friends, teachers, and art students.  Art school is nice because there's so much creative energy.  One thing I hear from a lot of other freelancers is that sometimes we get stuck in our studios with little time for socializing.  We often have to force ourselves out of the house after realizing it's been weeks since we've been out.  Having a strong work ethic is cool but a little balance is required as well.  I probably don't read this often enough but here's a great list of things to keep in mind as an artist, "Tips and Tricks from and Art Slave".

Here is a short process video of this stage:

My work space at home.

And finally, the finished painting...
"Comfort in Dying", by Eric Fortune

As always, look forward to any questions or comments.  If you enjoy this piece and are interested in prints this will be my first print available through INPRNT and I'll hopefully be adding more soon.  The print is available Here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Smoke Reference

Today I parked off the highway near some smoke stacks to get some photo ref.  I was there earlier in the day then thought it might be cool to go again as the sun set to catch the transition of the setting sun on the smoke.  I was nice and relaxing just sitting there staring at the shifting smoke.  Although, I have a kink in my neck from looking left and up at the smoke from my car.  A policeman stopped by to make sure I was ok, a very nice man.  Then my cousin saw me and stopped by to make sure I was ok.  Feeling some love today :)

Earlier in the day the smoke rose almost straight up.  Though as the sun set a breeze shifted the smoke to the side.  I had never seen that happen before.  I probably have hundreds of pix of these smoke stacks over the years but I've yet to use any.  Perhaps that'll change.  Here are a few of the ones from today.  I think I especially like the last one.