Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Naming of Weeds



Red Campion

The Naming of Weeds

It is early June.

In Pembrokeshire the lanes are narrowed with hedges of Queen Anne's Lace, Columbine, Bluebells and the delicate tendrils of Stitchwort that are threaded through the tall stalks of Meadow Foxtail.  The still cold winds and vibrant busting of energy make the year feel fresh and young, but nothing is really new.  Each emerging plant, animal or insect already owns a collection of old names that touch us with the forgotten thoughts from past generations that used to till the meadows and walk the lanes of west Wales.  For this post I have been gathering some of those memories that are living inside the names of common weeds.


In our village there used to live an old lady who waged a constant war with Dandelions that infested her lawn, I would meet her in front of her house digging up the roots with a pocket penknife.  A few generations ago she might have been frightened to touch the Pissy Beds, as they used to be called, because in olden times they thought touching a Dandelion was enough to make you wet yourself.

April/ May - Pissy Beds and Celandines

Romantics liken the Dandelion's large yellow blooms, that open as the daybreaks and close as the moon rises, to the sun.  They also said that the seeded blow-balls that hover over the meadows on long stalks resemble the moon.  The parachute tufted seeds drifting in the breeze remind us of rivers of stars.

Dandelions, inherited their name from the French who call the plant "Dent de Lion" (Lions teeth).  This probably refers to their toothed leaves.  For me the yellow flowers were always the ruffs of lion's manes, and surely the name should be spelt dandy, not dande?  That is the pleasure of common names, they are plastic and we can modify them to suit our own experiences.


Another aspect of the plant is celebrated in it's scientific name "Taraxacum" which roughly translates as "remedy for Disorder" after the plant's reputation to aid digestion and cleanse the body.

For obvious reasons Children call them clock flowers.  The common name "blowball" is given to the dandelion for its appearance during this evanescent stage of its life cycle. It is also called "faceclock" or simply clock due to the childhood practice of blowing on the ball until all of the seeds are removed - the number of puffs providing the hour of the day. When all of the seeds were gone, the bare knob at the top of the stem looked like a tonsured head of a monk, the name "Priest's Crown"

False Dandelions or Catsears are already colouring our verges and will continue in bloom until autumn.  I made this drawing on grassy bank that overlooks the sea wall at Wiseman's Bridge. 

 Cat's Ear, Red clover amongst grasses
Catsear is derived from the words cat's ear, and refers to the cat's ear shape of the hairy leaves.  Their roots can be eaten as a coffee substitute.

The season of  Lady's Smock or May flowers (Cumbria), over which Orange Tip Butterflies fly, is drawing to a close. 

Lady's Smock and Orange Tip

A few weeks ago the meadows were painted pale with their colour

When Ladies' smocks of silver white
do paint the meadows with delight
 
They are called Ladies' smocks because the flowers resemble linen exposed to whiten on the grass- “when maidens bleach their summer smocks.

The plant is commonly called “Cuckoo-flower,” because they bloom when the cuckoo sings.  For the same reason the frothing nests of the Spittlebug that are found on the stalks of grasses at this time of year are called Cuckoo-spit .


The bubbles keep the little Spittlebugs warm and protected, when the bugs leave their nurseries as adults they become Froghoppers.  Froghoppers are tiny insects that jump with lightening speed, they accelerate from 0 to 4 metres per second in a millisecond, so fast that it is as if they simply disappeared into thin air and they have wings to fly with. They do this with a unique cog mechanism that synchronise their legs as they leap. 


The Day's Eye (Old English  dægeseage) or Daisy is another lawn-infester with eyes that open at daybreak and close with the arrival of the moon. 

Day's Eyes
Daisies have always been revered for their healing properties.  In ancient Rome, the surgeons who accompanied Roman legions into battle, would order their slaves to pick sacks full of daisies in order to extract their juice.  Bandages were soaked in the juice before being used to bind sword and spear cuts.  Knowledge of their healing properties carried on through the ages, the English called them Woundwort or Bruisewort.

Daisies are also the flower of childhood and innocence, they whiten our lawns with summer snow and are blessed with the loveliest Latin name of any plant, Bellis perennis, which loosely translates as "prettiness that is everlasting".  Little wonder the Victorians worshipped this flower's purity, named their daughters after it, taught their children how to make them into necklaces, put their flower heads in sandwiches and at the brink of adulthood asked the frail petals of this eternally beautiful flower to be truthful about the chastity of their lovers.   Today chefs are again recommending the flower heads can be added as a garnish in green salads.
  
Don't put Foxglove's flowers in your salad, they are poisonous.  The tall spikes are already standing high over the other weeds.   This plant was in my garden last year, today I saw a first bloom.



Foxglove flowers are often likened to bells, thimbles and gloves.  The French call it gantelée (little Glove) but the plant has also attracted names that reflect its toxic nature, names like Dead Man's Bells  and Bloody FingersFoxglove is a very ancient name that was already known to Edward III in the middle ages.  The names of weeds, like fairy tales, have the habit of being brutally unsentimental.  Foxglove is a name about which there has been a lot of controversy amongst etymologists who question why the people of the Middle ages paired Fox with Glove to create a playful harmless name for such a dangerous plant.

Medieval people had a strong belief in fairies who they called "the good folk".   Foxgloves have been  a history of being associated with fairies, in parts of Wales they are called "maneg ellyllon", (fairies’ glove) and in Scotland "Teviotdale" (Witches’ thimbles).  Scholars ask "when naming this plant were they really imagining foxes or fairies?"  It is suggested the common name started as Folks Gloves, but as belief in fairies died out the name became corrupted into Fox Gloves.

Bluebells are also associated with Fairies

Blue Bells

Britain has the highest density of bluebells anywhere in the world, a Bluebell wood is usually an ancient wood



It used to be believed that when the bluebells were rung the fairies would come.  A patch of Bluebells was supposed to be alive with the spells of the Fairies and you should not walk amongst them or bring the flowers into the house.  The Latin name for the flower is Endymion who was the lover of the Moon Goddess, Selene.  The Moon put Endymion into eternal sleep so that she alone could enjoy his beauty

Another flower that carpets the grass blue is ground creeping Germander Speedwell.

Germander Speedwell
Speedwell was a good luck token for travellers, in Ireland they were sometimes sewn into the lining of jackets.  Germander is a corruption of the Latin chamaedrys which means "on the ground".  It is also sometimes called Birds Eye Speedwell, perhaps because of the little white eye at the centre of each flower.

The Germans were rather hard on this plant, noticing that it would wilt as soon as it was picked.  With irony they call it "Männertreu" (Man's faithfullness) sarcastically associating the wilting of the plant with the wilting of a man's ardour after he has had his way.

Another very pretty, very poisonous plant that seems to have colonised our lanes is the Columbine.

Columbine

The common name "columbine" comes from the Latin for "dove", due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together, for the same reason the plant is sometimes called Clucky Bell or Meeting House (a Quaker name perhaps?).  This is especially so when the flower is very pale cream.
A cluster of five doves

Its other name is Aquilegia which is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle's claw.

For a few short weeks the glorious white umbels of Cow Parley or Wild Carrot dominate our hedgerows

(Cow Parsley, Devil’s Parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, Mothers dies)
Remains of Cow Parsley were found in the stomach of an iron age Celt whose body had been preserved in peat and it is thought that our garden carrots may have been developed from this plant. They are sometimes called Wild Carrots.

 Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585)
Unfortunately foolish people who are tempted to collect and eat the harmless Cow Parley often end up poisoning themselves by eating toxic Hemlock instead, the two plants are hard to separate.

John Gerard's Herball  - The Historie of Plants 1597
Collecting wild carrots was a matter for expert herbalists, this is perhaps why Cow Parsley is sometimes called Fools/Devils Parsley or Mothers Dies and why children were always told it was unlucky to pick or bring the flowers into the house.

Ancient herbalists believed in the wilde carrot  "The roote boiled and eaten, or boiled with wine, and the decooction drunke, provoketh urine, expelleth the stone, bringeth foorth the birth; it also procureth bodily lust." John Gerard's Herball  - The Historie of Plants 1597

A prettier name is Queen Anne's Lace.  But which Queen Anne and why?

A common legend is that Queen Anne of England (1702-1714) pricked her finger while making lace and stained the lace with blood, this being the origin of the red/purple dot commonly found at the centre of  the white florets.  Biologist speculate this dot evolved as a decoy insect that attracts other pollinating insects.
A drop of Queen Anne's Blood?





Others say Queen Anne refers to St Anne, "queen of heaven," and mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. She was the patron saint of lacemakers (among other professions) and pregnant women.  The seeds of Queen Anne's lace have been used as a contraceptive by women for centuries. Recent research with mice has confirmed that the volatile oils of the seeds block the formation of progesterone, essential for the uterine wall to receive the egg.

Creeping Cinquefoil is a member of the potentilla family called .  It is growing delicate flat trails over the stones of our terrace and looks like a creeping buttercup.  It is quite common.

Creeping Cinquefoil
13th century sink foil, from Old French cincfoille, from Latin quinquefolium plant with five leaves.  People have used creeping cinquefoil for the tannic acids that can be found in its rootstock to treat different kinds of sickness and disinfect wounds.

Just now the central reservations of the dual carriageways are white with the blooms of the Oxeye Daisy, or Goldens as some people call them.   The specimen I picked was about three feet tall.  They are growing so thickly we are hardly aware of the slender stiffened stems that are needed to lift the fragile daisy tops so high in the sky. 

Goldens

So far I find no reference to the ox, perhaps it is because the ox had the biggest eyes in the farmyard, and this daisy has the biggest eye of the daisy family?  There is plenty of folk law attached to this plant, other names include Baldur's Brow (northern) Goldens, Marguerite, Moon Daisy, Horse Gowan (Scotland), Maudlin Daisy. Field Daisy. Dun Daisy (Somerset) Butter Daisy, Horse Daisy, Maudlinwort.

Amongst the many plants I looked up whilst writing this post was Goose grass.  It has a wide range of common names including Cleavers, Stickywilly, and Annual Bedstraw


Goose Grass, Clever, Annual Bedstraw or Stickywilly 

The genus (Gallium) is a member of the coffee family and the little seed balls can be gathered and roasted to make one of the best low caffeine coffee substitutes.  The young shoots are also edible; "young shoots and or tip of older plants raw or boiled 10/15 minutes. Serve warm with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, let them cool and use them in a variety of ways, salads, omelets et cetera."  (www.eattheweeds.com)  

Goose grasses were used as bedstraws in medieval mattresses because after they are dried the matted foliage sticks together and maintains a uniform thickness.  
 
It is called Goose Grass because Geese love to eat it, silly me, I never thought of that!  With this new knowledge I picked some and took it to our two geese, Gordon and Maggy.  They ignored my offering, it was not bread.  The next day I tried again and Gordon started eating some.  Maggy thought she would try some too.  Gordon is often very protective towards Maggy, but goose grass turned him into a thug, he wouldn't share it with her at all, he wanted it all for himself.

Eventually Maggy slipped in, pinched a bunch and ran off to be out of Gordon's reach

Geese just love Goose Grass!

References 

http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/queen.html
http://amayodruid.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/folklore-of-hedgerow-part-fourteen.html

http://www.pamphlets.org.au/docs/cts/ireland/html/ctsibh335a.html
http://scnps.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Queen_Anne.pdf
http://blog.oup.com/2010/11/foxglove/
http://irishhedgerows.weebly.com/flora.html
http://www.cuckoospit.com/the-cuckoo-spit/
http://www.first-nature.com/flowers/veronica-chamaedrys.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veronica_chamaedrys#cite_note-3
http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/brewers/ladies-smocks.html#ixzz3budJi8pJ
 http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artapr05/bjwildcarrot.html
 http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/QueenAnne%27sLace_120818.htm
http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/Dandelion_080330.htm
 http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galium_aparine
 http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/herbalists.html












Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Two Bad Mice and Anita Jeram


Anita Jeram and Two Bad Mice


Perhaps once in every generation an artist will stamp their personality onto a book, and the book will become equally loved for its illustrations as well as its words. Many of our greatest Children's Classics have been born in this way. 

When we think of Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll 1865) we imagine John Tenniel's illustrations of the little girl with flowing blond hair:
 Original study for Alice 1864 from Houghton Library


When we think of Beatrix Potter's books her paintings of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jemima Puddle Duck come flowing into our minds:

Peter Rabbit 1902 by Beatrix Potter

We cannot think of Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame1908) without simultaneously remembering  E H Shepard's pictures of Toad


Toad of Toad Hall by E H Shepard 1908

and if we think of Winnie the Pooh (by A A Milne 1926) we again think of E H Shepard's illustrations

Pooh and Piglet by E H Shepard 1926

Peggy Fortnum cemented our image of  Paddington bear (by Michael Bond 1958) 


  ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ illustration Peggy Fortnum 1958

and when we think of Guess how much I Love You (by Sam MacBratney1994) we immediately conjure up Anita Jeram's pictures of The Little Nut Brown Hare with his dad.  The book is already a classic that children of the 1980s and early 90s are now sharing with their own children. 


Nutbrown Hares by Anita Jeram (Walker Books 1994)

Anita Jeram's illustrations and the text of Guess How Much I Love You are inseparable.  

In many people’s minds Anita illustrations and Two Bad Mice are inseparable.  Since we started working together in 1995 we have sold about 20 million of Anita's cards across the world.  Most Greeting Cards have a short shelf life of five years or less, they become the ephemera of our pasts that are never known about by our children.  Anita's cards have broken that rule, for instance Cloud Watching which was first released 19 years ago is still a best seller (so far we have sold over 350,000 Cloud Watching cards).


Cloud Watching by Anita Jeram 1997

Anita redrew and expanded the Cloud Watching image so that we could use the picture to decorate one of our mugs.  Here is a video that shows the all round decoration that Anita made for our best selling ceramic.




Anita's work for Two Bad Mice is different from the work she does for her book publishers (Walker Books).  Her pictures for books are aimed at being amusing for children as well as being loved by the adult readers too.  When she works for Two Bad Mice the adult audience is always at the forefront of her mind, and the jokes are usually on adult themes.

Multitasking by Anita Jeram 2012

Anita has prolific imagination.   It usually happens that twice a year we ask her for ideas for new cards, then a few days later a package will arrive with perhaps ten sheets of closely packed illustrations with titles.  These sheets are always a joy to receive and the number of ideas so prolific that we have trouble choosing which ones to use.


The sheets are so full of ideas it is often difficult to decide which ones to use

There are so many ideas that when I later come back to these pages I find new jokes I did not notice first time round, or perhaps it is just my memory could not hold on to so many ideas all arriving at once.

Anita's work is often well composed very pretty, like this pretty composition for a little mug we hope to release later this year.

Fruit Tea - Design work for a mug 2015

of course her work is almost always cute and very funny

Cat's Rule OK - Design work for mug 2015


and when she wants it her work is elegant



But Anita's primary interest does not seem to be centred on colour, composition, elegance or even humour.  What makes her work different and interesting is the nuanced psychology that always embellishes her pictures with added meaning.  In this picture the cat attention and thoughts are very clearly explained, what is extraordinary is the bird's eye which is half hidden behind the wire of the cage.  The eye seems to let us know what is going on inside the birds head too.  This level of expression is very rare in illustrators. 

Anita's pictures are always full of psychological observation

We have only met Anita a few times, and we have always discovered her to be shy and quiet.  At first she seems a different person from the one we see coming forward in her artwork, she is definitely humble.  Suddenly she will make a quip that mirrors the humour and focus that is in her picture, her pictures reflect her personality exactly, it is just that you cannot see her meekness in them.

Recently Anita has taken a rest from illustrating books, and having more time on her hands she has embarked on some big projects expanding the range of products that Two Bad Make make with Anita.  We have been working on Kitchen tiles, linen and new mug shapes.
Work in progress for Kitchen Tiles 2014

One of the kitchen tiles which will be available in 2015



Themes used for the tiles are then used on the linen. 

An Apron

and mugs




These new products are being released as they become available during 2015 and we are now thinking of themes for bathroom ceramics.

Biography

Anita was born in 1965 and brought up in Portsmouth.  After leaving school she worked at a factory, shop and at a kennel.  Her early ambition was to work with animals but she soon realised that without more academic qualifications it would be difficult to advance her career.  In 1986 she married Andrew Jeram whom she had known from her school days and was then living in Manchester where he was studying palaeontology and the physiology of fossil scorpions.

Anita had always loved making drawing of animals.  Her  husband would come across these drawings around the house.  One day, after finding a particularly lovely picture of a kitten in the kitchen, he urged her to take her talent more seriously.  This conversation led her to apply to join an Art and Illustration course at Manchester Polytechnic.  Her tutor on the course was David Hughes, an illustrator, who took the promising work of his pupil to Walker Books who shortly afterwards offered her a contract.  Her first book, Bill's Belly Button, was published in 1991 a year after she graduated. 

Anita has written and illustrated her own books as well as worked with other children's authors (see list below).  Anita's most famous illustrations are the ones she has done for the best selling classic Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney which has sold 28 million copies and been translated into 53 different languages.
The directors of Two Bad Mice discovered the illustrations for Guess How Much I Love You in a bookshop in Islington, a few months later Anita started working with Two Bad Mice (1996).  At Two Bad Mice she established a reputation and big fan following for her witty cards (to date 20 million cards have been sold in many countries across the world).  More recently Anita has designed ranges of ceramics and gift products. 

Anita's original works are sold through The Illustration Cupboard, Children's Book Illustration  and Francis Iles Gallery.  The success of Guess never went to her head, she lives a quiet private life with her husband and three children and many animals near the coast.  She does not accept private commissions because she is already very busy and wants more time to enjoy with her family.

Books



Bill's Belly Button (1991)
It Was Jake (1991)
The Most Obedient Dog in the World (1993)
All Pigs are Beautiful (by Dick King-Smith 1993)
My Hen is Dancing (by Karen Wallace 1993)
I Love Guinea Pigs (by Dick King-Smith 1994)
Guess How Much I Love You (by Sam McBratney 1994)
Contrary Mary (1995)
Daisy Dare (1995)
Puppy Love (by Dick King-Smith 1997)
Animal Friends ( by Dick King-Smith 1997)
Birthday Happy Contrary Mary (1998)
Bunny, My Honey (1999)
All Together Now (1999)
In Every Tiny Grain of Sand (contributed illustrations 2000)
Kiss Goodnight, Sam (by Amy Hest 2001)
Don't You Feel Well, Sam ( by Amy Hest 2001)
I Love My Little Storybook (2002)
You Can Do It, Sam (by Amy Hest 2003)
You're All My Favourites (by Sam McBratney 2004)
The Little Nutbrown Hare stories (by Sam McBratney 2007)
Little Chick (2009 by Amy Hest)
 




Friday, 17 April 2015

Visual Grammar Chapter 8 - Why Nature Created Art

Links to Other Chapters in this Series

Chapter 1: A First Lesson in Drawing
Chapter 2:  Introducing the Dynamic Workspace
Chapter 3 : Words - Plastic Facts
Chapter 4 : Humpty Dumpty's Plastic World of Oneness
Chapter 5:  Nature's Boundaries of Well being and Self-hood
Chapter 6:  Shouting Hotspots and Ghosts
Chapter 7:  Drawing the Illusion of Movement


Chapter 8: Why Nature had to Create Art


Chapter 8 - Why Nature Invented Art

The Cartesian Theatre
If you ask someone "where is consciousness" they will generally point to a position in their head behind their eyes.  If you ask "what is consciousness like?" they are likely to tell you "it is like having a multi-sensory cinema in my head with all the sensations of the outside world: sounds, smells and tastes.   I often have words running through my head and conversations with myself about what I want to say and do".  Some neuroscientists say we do more talking in our heads to ourselves than to other people in the outside world.  The little person in the head is well known to philosophers and psychologists, she is called the homunculus.

Homunculus watching the Cartesian Theatre
 
Even though no one seriously believes there is little person in their heads we all find it difficult to suppress the feeling we have a soul, private conversations and a mulitsense-surround theatre.   In 1991 a  philosopher called Daniel Dennett derisively called the private show "The Cartesian Theatre" (literally Descartes Theatre).  This was a little unfair to Descartes who four hundred years earlier had tried to rationalise the interaction between body and soul without ever mentioning theatres or cinema screens, but Dennett's witty terminology has struck a cord.
  
Descartes tried to rationalise the relationship between Body and Soul
Another philosopher (who also looks like an ageing beatnik) called David Chalmers came up with a less abusive phrase, he called it The Hard Problem of Consciousness.  The Hard Problem re-frames the Cartesian Theatre as a question (my wording): "I know I am not a zombie machine, I cannot disprove it, I just feel it. What is my rich experience of life (which some call soul)? How do we account for it and how did the machine create it?", the machine in this case being the brain.

War of the Beatnik Philosophers

The philosophical world remains divided between the two viewpoints (do not worry if you cannot understand the cartoons that make fun of the two sides)

Ryan North making fun of David Chalmers  2005

People making fun of Daniel Dennett


The Hard Problem has always been there, and people have wondered about it in their own ways and in their own cultures.  In the days before science it was a religious question, and the usual solution was to have a belief in the separation between body and soul.  Because most religions see the spirit as immortal they have a soul that enters the body at birth and departs at death.  In this 13th century French illustration of the Death of Flavain, a blasphemous horse, the artist has drawn Flavain's spirit as it is leaving his body and being met by a demon from Hell.

Dit de Foveyne or Histoire de Fauvain. 1325


The belief in separation between mind and body is called "Dualism".  As science emerged during the renaissance it became obvious that the immaterial soul needed to interact with the material body. This is why Rene Descartes tried to rationalise dualism, but by the mid 20th century Descartes' theories were completely untenable.  Dualism did not die, instead the hard problem was pushed into a siding by the Behaviourist who had extreme views that the brain was entirely mechanical and consciousness was an "Epiphenomena".  That is to say that during most of the 20th century scientists and philosophers saw Consciousness as being a freebie ghost that was a functionless by-product of the complex technology of the brain.  Behaviourists discouraged scientists from the study of Consciousness, or even emotions, because they thought they were beyond the reach of scientific scrutiny. They also said studying spirit was irrelevant because the brain had no need for consciousness. This was a modern dualism with a the useless spirit that was dependent on the machine that created it without a reason. This view is still current, how often do we hear people speculate about whether computers or the internet might spontaneously develop the magic ingredient of consciousness?

Today there is a strong consensus amongst brain scientists that Consciousness is directly connected to the physical evolution of the Brain.  Brain Science can demonstrate this by using modern technology to turn on and off emotions and stimulate feelings, they can turn on voices in our heads, they also study the effects of disease, strokes, accidents and dementia on specific areas of the brain, they relate genes and chemistry to character traits and give us pills that change the state of our minds. Today Body and Soul are recognised as single thing even if  Consciousness and the Hard Problem remain mysterious.

I have read many books on Consciousness, most have sections on Art, but Art is rarely brought centre stage. The role of "Art" in evolution is hardly acknowledged. I am left with an impression that Art is widely regarded as an amusing by-product of Consciousness to be enjoyed for its entertainment value. Thinking of Art in this way is to fall into the Cartesian trap of separating subjective experience from bodily need and implies Art is a metaphysical freebie that has arrived without a reason or status.

Religious orthodoxy was ravaged by the revolution that has been going on in Brain Science, but Art was left alone, this has left us with a society that has out dated ambiguous attitudes towards Art.  This leads to silly analysis of Art, recently there was a whole series of Reith lectures about Art that was shallow, yet the intelligentsia of our society could not hold back from praising the ineptitude of a low brow speaker.  Others go too far the other way and measure Art as a life enriching substitute for lost religious and moral values, an approach that is equally doomed to demean the function of Art.   It is my contention that Art is deeply embedded with an evolutionary purpose that has had an important role in shaping our success as a species. When people measure Art by auction prices or its position in a National museums or collections, they  miss the point.  Our knowledge of Brain will forces us to evaluate Art.  This will be excellent news for Artistic integrity and humanity.   

Qualia
Each one of us experiences Consciousness in the privacy of our minds, we know it is a place where no other person or machine can see or feel what it is like to be us.  The way I experience "Stretch and Squash" "Blue" "The Scent of lemons" and even "Time and Motion Perception" are personal to me, and there is no way that either you or I can directly compare our subjective experiences  with each other.   These subjective experiences are called Qualia.

You will get a better idea of what Qualia are by understanding how and why they evolve. 

How Qualia Evolve 
Suppose you are an early colour blind rat-like mammal that smells beetles for a living.  You experience of the world is mostly vivid smells, the most vivid smell you like most is that of beetles which you love to eat.  Everything you see with your eyes is in tones of of grey.  This is how you see an apple tree


Gradually over millions of years your beetles die out because of climate change, but you discover you can still make a living by eating apples.  Your body evolves longer legs and fingers to climb and live in trees where the apples are, but you are not very good at finding the apples.  You evolve a new sort of sensor in your eyes, a sensor that can measure the difference between red, green, blue and brown.  Every time your eyes see red the sensors sends a "code 1" to the brain, when it sees green it sends a "code 2", when it see brown it sends a "code 3" and when it sees blue it sends a "code 4".

So your brain still sees the tonal picture of the tree but now they have codes attached, a bit like this:


Your brain now knows which areas are red and which are green, but your self-aware consciousness (which is the executive command system) wants an effortless method to see the ripe fruit.  The subconscious prepares the information the executive brain wants by creating a set of four qualia, one for each colour; red, green, brown and blue.  The subconscious then converts the codes into qualia and this is what the conscious mind sees.


This means you have much faster and efficient method of finding your food, meanwhile your love of the smell and taste of beetles diminishes.  Every species is set up by evolution with qualia and tastes that gain them survival advantages.

How Qualia Suppress or Enhance Empathy

The beetle eating rat-like mammal has very different qualia and tastes from the monkey it became.  The monkey could never explain to it rat-like ancestor what it is like to see red apples, and the rat-like ancestor would probably be unable to tell the monkey about the pleasures of smelling and eating beetles.  Sometimes the Qualia we experience are impossible for other people to experience or imagine.  For instance how does one describe what it is like to see Blue to a person who has been blind from birth? 

The type of Qualia we experience is determined by the sense organs and the biological software that nature has provided us with.  Animals that are close cousins generally have more qualia in common with us, the more distant the cousin the more difficult it becomes to communicate, for instance a blind bat flying around your garden does not see the houses and trees through it's eyes but it does experience the structure of houses through it's ears (echo-location perception). If  we imagined a conversation between a bat and ourselves it might go like this

Human "look at that white house"
Bat "What is looking? what is white?  Hear that XX&***## House"
Human "What is hearing a house?  What is XX&***##?"


Even if bats could talk we would have a lot of trouble understanding them because we do not share the same qualia. 

Even when we share the same qualia our appreciation of each other may diverge dramatically.   Let us suppose dung beetles had noses like ours, we would still have problems getting along with the beetle because Nature has given us different tastes.  A conversation with a Dung Beetle might go something like this:
 
Dung Beetle "Delicious smell of poo over there. Let's go and eat some"
Human "I feel sick"


Each species evolved a set of qualia and a set of tastes that have been chosen by Nature for their survival usefulness.  People do not like the smell of poo because it is a health hazard, dung beetles love the smell of poo because it is their primary source of food and survival.

We all know it is easier to share a friendships with people who have the same tastes and values.  We could hardly have a good night out with a dung beetle, but members of our species share the same evolutionary heritage.  We all like apples and hate poo!  The more we have in common with each other the more we like each other, in fact a lot of our social conversations are spent checking this out and seeking reassurance, a process that is called "Empathic Attunement".  A conversations between humans might go like this:

Lady "I like this dress, do you think it suits my figure"
Husband "It's delightful, you look sexy"
Lady purrs with delight :-)  :-)  :-)

This belief that we can feel how other people experience qualia inside their heads is called empathy.  Empathy is to do with imagining the innermost qualia (feelings, emotions and thoughts) of other minds, but it goes far deeper than that.......whether we want it to happen or not Nature has equipped us the specialist tools to feel inside the minds of others. 

Body Language
Our universal facial expressions are an example of Nature's insistence that we must share qualia.  Through our Body Language, we and other animals, broadcast our primary emotions of fear, anger, pride, pleasure, disgust, pain and sadness.  Nature has also given most higher animals kit that automatically responds when we see these emotions broadcast from others; for instance if a cat pulls back its ears and backs away into a crouching position we all know that cat is feeling threatened and is dangerous.  Humans have got some of the most sophisticated body language of any animal; if  you smile at a stranger they will instantly respond with a smile back.  Body language is like a synchronized Wifi connection between a mobile phone and a computer; the brains of two individuals control and update each other by using a system of broadcasted signals and responses.  When someone enters a room broadcasting inner sadness we see that sadness immediately, this response switches on a special set of neurones called mirror neurones that activate similar feelings of sadness in our own brains.  The mirror neurones are physical evidence that emotions are contagious and spread rapidly across a social group.

Empathy acts like Wifi between Brains

Body language is very good at broadcasting emotions but it fails to tell our fellow humans what it feels like to see the "Rubber Pencil Illusions" or "Blue" or smell "The Scent of Lemons", or experience "Time"?

Dogs can use body language, barking and growling to express their raw emotions to other dogs, but dogs cannot express to another dog the subtle qualic experiences of pleasurable smells.  Humans are different from all other animal species because we have evolved new ways to tell each other about the "Scent of Lemons" and other refined experiences that our qualia give us.  We do it through Language and Art, that is why humanity rule the world and dogs don't

Why Nature Invented Art

When we rely on body language alone we can roughly gage the emotional moods of other people, but body language gives us little insight into what is causing the changes of mood.  When we understand the cause of change of mood we also gain the opportunity to predict how others will react to our behaviour.  This is called "Theory of Mind".   Language and Art gave our species the new mind-sense to share detailed knowledge of the subjective qualia that  cause our moods to change.   Sharing qualia enables "Empathic Attunement" within social relations inside the group, giving our species obvious benefits of social cohesion and bonding. 

Recreating the sequence of events that led to the development of Empathic Attunement and Theory of Mind in our species would help us better understand how Art was evolved by Nature.  Unfortunately the development of key players; language, singing, body painting and dancing leaves no archaeological footprint.  The story has to be gathered and guessed at from the sparse evidence that has survived and can be dug up; Burial sites, Hearths, Bones, Tools, Musical instrument, Jewellery, Paintings and Sculpture.

I have falsely divided the development of Art into three levels: Aesthetic Appreciation, Patterns and Figurative.

Aesthetic Appreciation

It seems that qualia for aesthetic appreciation are found in many species because there are a biological advantages to recognising beauty.  One aesthetic value is "Symmetry Perception".   Balance and Symmetry perception is a qualia that brings a broad range of benefits to a wide range of animals (including image compression, spacial, predator and health perception), even bees have symmetry perception (excellent summary here).  Symmetry perception is done effortlessly because it is deeply embedded in the biological software of the super-fast subconscious minds.

We humans have preference for recognising bilateral symmetry on the vertical axis, this has become a key component of our perceptions of bodily and facial attractiveness.  I found this advert by ID Hospital, the poor girl had a very slight asymmetry of the jaw which was ruining her life.


It seems the corrective plastic surgery improved her life:  "I felt very uncomfortable because it seemed people were always looking at my face. I felt my mind losing control because of the crooked mouth and asymmetrical face. But everything has changed. Whenever I meet new people, I can finally smile confidently thanks to the beautiful jaw line that ID Hospital gave me."

So humans have a high level aesthetic appreciation of bilateral symmetry, and this taste is commonly expressed in our architecture and art objects.

Taj Mahal, India


The earliest examples of bilateral symmetry in Art are the Giant Stone Axes that are sometimes found amongst tools made by our pre-human ancestors 250,000BP.   They seem to have no practical use so there is speculation about why they were made.  It can be argued that the makers were sharing their taste for bilateral symmetry with others in their tribe, in which case these are rare examples of Art objects made by our pre-human ancestors.
Giant Stone Axes 250,000 BP
 

Other animals do express aesthetic sensibility.  Most famously if you give paints and brushes to chimpanzees they will paint abstract pictures.  The most famous artworks are by of Congo the Chimpanzee who in the 1950s painted over four hundred pictures: "When a picture was taken away that he didn't consider complete, Congo would reportedly begin to scream and "throw fits".[1] Also, if the ape considered one of his drawings to be finished, he would refuse to continue painting even if someone tried to persuade him to do so"

Painting by Congo 1950s

Some birds seem to take lot of pleasure in decorating their nests.   Male bower birds make aesthetic displays to attract females.

Nest of a Bower Bird

Nest of a Bower Bird

There are all sorts of examples from the animal kingdom of pattern making; spiders make webs.  The giant stone axes made by our pre-human ancestors stand out because they may represent the works of an animal species that is using Art to enhance empathetic attunement?  I do not believe Congo was making paintings to share with his friends, the bower bird is at least decorating his nest for another bird to enjoy, but do they stand back and together look at his work?  I think not.

Patterns and Decoration

The earliest decorated objects are half a million year old, that is 250,000 years before the giant stone axes were made and 300,000 years before our species Homo sapiens evolved.  They are engravings on a shell from Java made by Homo Erectus (Java Man), a hunter-gatherer species with a brain just a little smaller than modern humans (Erectus 950 cc / Sapiens 1,200 cc).

Earliest known decorated object made by Java Man 500,000 BP


As I am writing news has arrived of an Eagle Claw Bracelet belonging to a Neanderthal (130,000 BP).

Neanderthal Eagle Claw Bracelet (130,000BP)


The first physical evidence of Decorative Art objects by our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, are abstract zigzag patterns on shells and bones from the Blombos Caves in South Africa (80,000 BP).

 
  Zigzag engravings on a piece of Ochre (70,000 years old)

We do not know for certain whether the people of these early cultures painted their bodies because the evidence perished with them.  Many aborigine tribes from Africa, Australia, Asia and America have traditions of using Ochre body paint, like this member of the Karo tribe from the Omo valley in Ethiopia. The aborigines use a lot patterns, it seems a good guess that the tribes that made the Blombos Ochre stick decorated their bodies with ochre patterns.


This is a Tapirape girl from Brazil


this as a Kikuyu woman from Kenya



 and Australian Aborigine ceremony



If you like these sort of things you will find several thousand ethnic images on my pinterest page.

Pierced shells found in the Blombos caves suggest that the South African cave people were already decorating their bodies with shell necklaces in 70,000 BP.  

 
Shells from the Blombos Caves (70,000 BP) 

Again it is easy to find similar necklaces worn by present day aborigines..  This picture of a Tasmanian woman wearing a shell necklace was painted in 1837

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. painted 1837
The shells were then threaded on kangaroo tail sinews or on string made from natural fibres, smoked over a fire, and rubbed in grass to remove their outer coating and reveal the pearly surface. The shells were later polished with penguin or muttonbird oil.

I am not sure if the love of creating and sharing visual patterns is confined to our species and the extinct hominids.  We all love the auditory patterns of bird song, and bird song is culturally passed from bird to bird down the generations, but are bird song equivalent to creative melody of human music?

The archaeological evidence seems to point to early hominid communities having creative aesthetic, decorative and pattern making cultures.  These communities  were already  making stone tools, sitting around hearths and probably developing language skills.  Chimpanzees show reverence for their dead, hominids probably began  burying their dead about 400,000 years ago.  The evidence points to these hominid communities developing Art to share qualia, at the same time they were developing technological and linguistic skills.  Nature was creating a species that had levels of empathic attunement that exceeded anything else in the animal kingdom.  But in all this archaeological evidence there is no hint of figurative art.

  The Birth Figurative Art

The birth of figurative Art coincided with an explosion technological creativity which happened soon after migrants from Africa settled in Southern Europe in about 47,000BP; the tools the new migrants made were from a wider variety of materials, including carved bone and antler.  The flint blades are finer and more specific for purpose.

 Aurignacian Sites


We have very few examples of decorative pieces of Palaeolithic art before the arrival  of Cro Magnon Man and it is a great puzzle why there are not more.  It seems our species, which had been around for 160,000 years, suddenly became very creative.  Some scholars suggested there was perhaps a new language gene that made all the difference.  Whatever the reason it is my belief that the early people, including our pre human ancestors, had had millions of years to develop the qualia that were ready to be exploited by figurative Art.

Hominids had been making tools for over 4 million years before figurative art arrived (As I am writing (April 2015) news has arrived of the earliest stone tools ever being found in Kenya).  We have seen how after early monkeys started to eat fruit they developed qualia for colour sight, now after the apes moved from the forests on to the plains they depended on new food sources, including hunting dangerous animals in groups.  For this new lifestyle they needed a new set of qualia.   We can guess that when the early hunters were tracking animals by sight they evolved special qualia that would improved their skill at interpreting the meaning of footprints, these skills include creating sequences of past events and then imagining the future intentions of their prey.  It also helped if they could imagine themselves into the mind of their prey animal (theory of mind).   We can imagine the hunters huddled in groups around tracks of animals.  Maybe in a combination of sign language and proto spoken language they asked each other "Do the tracks show that one of the animals is injured?  What sort of injury is it likely to be?  How long ago was it here?  Do you think it will head into the forest to hide?  Would another animal be nearby to protect it?"
  

Time lines and theory of mind would have been good animal tracking qualia for human to have; the same qualia that create empathic attunement in human groups.  The qualia that made for empathy within the group of hunters would have made hunters understand the pain of  wounded animals as they gradually succumbed to the plans and strategy of the hunt.  Because of this building cycle of Theory of Mind and Empathic Attunement going on in the human mind the tracks of animals would have seemed to contained the spirit of the animals

The early people would also have been aware of their own footprints in the mud and sand.  If a member of the family had a limp they would know his tracks, and maybe even identify the tracks of their children or other individuals in their group



The spirit of their tribe was in the character of the tracks they made as they moved across their territory.  When another group ventured into their territory they would have known about them them from the out-of-character tracks they left behind

They would also have noticed that they were in control of making footprints.  This sort of behaviour includes imbuing objects they make with their spirit, a faculty that is way beyond cognitive powers of any other species.  No other animal has the qualia to do this.  Much of my analysis is speculative, but it is easy to imagine.  If my conjecture is right figurative art was born long before we see it preserved as paintings on the walls of caves.

In October 2014 they announced they had discovered the oldest cave paintings in the World at the Maros karsts islands in Indonesia.  The paintings, which had previously been dated as 12,000BP, are in fact much older and include this hand print which 39,000 years old

Maros karsts islands Indonesia 39,000BP

The the El Castillo caves in Spain are the oldest cave paintings in Europe and they contain disk paintings of about the same age.

El Castillo Disks 40,000 BP


In the same Spanish caves are a panel of hands which is estimated to be 37,600 years old

The Panel of Hands, El Castillo Cave 37,300 BP
A hand stencil has been dated to earlier than 37,300 years ago and a red disk to earlier than 40,600 years ago, making them the oldest cave paintings in Europe. Image courtesy of Pedro Saura

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-06-iberian-europe-oldest-cave-art.html#jCp
hand stencil has been dated to earlier than 37,300 years ago and a red disk to earlier than 40,600 years ago, making them the oldest cave paintings in Europe. Image courtesy of Pedro Saura

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-06-iberian-europe-oldest-cave-art.html#jCp
Stencilled Hand prints are found all over the world.  These come from the cave of Hands in Patagonia, Argentina (9,000BP)

Cave of Hands Argentina - 10,000BP photo © Michael Turtle, 2012,
hand stencil has been dated to earlier than 37,300 years ago and a red disk to earlier than 40,600 years ago, making them the oldest cave paintings in Europe. Image courtesy of Pedro Saura

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-06-iberian-europe-oldest-cave-art.html#jCp
Australian Aborigines still make these kind of hand prints....and the commentary on the internet to this picture says "An Aborigine sprays paint on his hand as a symbol he is part of the tribe"

 Nat Geo video about Gagudju of Australia.

Until a few months ago the oldest known animal paintings were at the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in France (32,000BP).  They are very sophisticated and show a lot of movement, the caves had been scraped before paint was applied and the images overlaid as if the artists were trying to animate the movement of the animals under the flickering half light of flame torches.

the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave cave painting include spectroscopic effects
and here is a video tour of the Chauvet caves


There have been scholars who have accused anthropologists of having a Euro-centric view of the development of modern man.  It seems they may be right, these deer-pig images from Indonesia have always been considered to be about 12,000 years old, but when they were dated by Carbon analysis it has been discovered that they are nearly 8,000 years earlier than the French animal pictures (40,000BP). 

Indonesian Deer Pig dated about 40,000BP
But in Europe there are works of figurative Art that are equally ancient to the Indonesian paintings.

The sculptures of the Venus of Hols Fels which exaggerates feminine beauty using peek shift

The Venus of Hols Fels (40,000BP)


and the Lion-Lady of Hohlenstein Stadel which exploits the plasticity of subconscious visual grammar to  create a lady with a lions head.

 
The Lion Lady (40,000 BP)

The fact that the earliest artists we know of used peek shift and plasticity in their sculpture is an important indicator of their approach to art.  They were not trying to imitate the world, the inspiration for their Art came from qualia and tastes that are generated from the irrational plastic world of the subconscious mind.   

Qualia are cultural, mutable and inventable
In the brief introduction we have flown across a huge expanse of  brain science.  You may be left with an impression that qualia are fixed assets of the mind; red is red because evolution made red!  This is not how it is.  The way we perceive qualia is influenced by the cultures in which we live.  

In his poems Homer always refers to the sea as being the colour of wine, rather than blue or green

And jealous now of me, you gods, because I befriend a man, one I saved as he straddled the keel alone, when Zeus had blasted and shattered his swift ship with a bright lightning bolt, out on the wine-dark sea.
—Homer, The Odyssey, Book V

This puzzled scholars for many years until they realise that the Greeks had no words for blue or green.     Another  Greek, Xenophanes, thought the rainbow was made up of three colours: porphyra (dark purple), khloros (greenish-yellow), and erythros (red).  There is an excellent summary here

There is an irony here; The Qualia we have were generated by evolutionary pressure and are built into our genetic make up, but the way we perceive the world is determined the impact of our culture and free will on our qualia.   Our inherited qualia are mutable and we have the ability to invent and subvert qualia.  I have personal experience of this happening in my own mind.  Every night I draw faces from the television screen,  really this is a scribbling exercise where I will be concentrating on the relationships of say the eyebrow, the cheek bone and the position of the eye in the space in between.   After doing these exercises for several hours a night I sometimes have hallucinations at night where I see the structures I am studying in graphic 3D detail.  This is usually good news because I know I have set up a qualia/schema for the structure. Over the years I have set myself up with structural templates which means I cannot look at a face without also seeing the qualia of the structures I have taught myself to see. 

This is basically how I see the structure of the face.  


When we look at Michaelangelo's pictures we can see how the qualia he has invented for the muscular male torso are interfering with his perception of a baby's body.

Madonna and Child drawing, 1520-25, Michelangelo Buonarroti
Each individual perceives the world individually and collectively.  This is the mercurial heart beat of Art

Endnote
If you have reached this point I thank you for reading this far, I hope my thoughts have been useful. 

We live in a culture that has developed an obsession about the value of Art, the word Art has an almost supernatural status.  This is a mistake because Art is actually a ubiquitous, almost banal element of our psychological make up.  We do it all the time, some of us more skilfully than others, to improve Empathic Attunement with those around us.   When we separate ourselves from the purpose of Art we create Bad Art and that diminishes society.