Monday, September 17, 2012

Do you really understand?

A version of this post was originally written for my Learning Museum blog. As I continue to consolidate my blogs, the timing seemed right to move this post here. You see, it's ArtPrize time again in Grand Rapids. Also, two of my classes are currently focusing on the differences between making sense of something and truly understanding it.


Grace Chen wrote a very thought provoking post called, Making Sense of Understanding. I was reminded of her points as I attended an ArtPrize 2011 Sneak Peak at the University of Michigan's School of Art & Design and SiTE:LAB. As I reflected on what I made up as I watched the the movement of the piece in the movie below, it became clearer the distinction between making sense and understanding.

When I first saw it moving, I thought that it was a mobile and that the wave motion was the result of the wind. That didn't make sense, however, as we were indoors and there wasn't that much air movement. My wife, Kathy, thought that it might be moving to the music. But when the music stopped, it kept undulating. Then I looked up and saw that levers were moving up and down which resulted in the wave-like motion. Mystery solved - the piece moved in some preprogramed way. This "made sense" to me and so I moved on to look at more of the art.

Before I got to far, Kathy exclaimed, "Cool!" I turned back to see her reading a description of the piece near by. "It's the motion of the ocean," she continued.

Huh? That didn't make sense. But then I read the description too:

Because it might be difficult to read, here is what it says:
The installation draws information from the intensity and movement of the water in a remote location. Wave data is being collected and updated from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data buoy station 51003. This station was originally moored 206 nautical miles Southwest of Honolulu in the Pacific Ocean. It went adrift and the last report from its moored position was around 04/25/2011. It is still transmitting valid observation data but its exact location is unknown. The wave intensity and frequency collected from the buoy is scaled and transferred to the mechanical grid structure resulting in a simulation of the physical effects caused by the movement of water from this distant unknown location.
Now I understand. And understanding did make the piece even cooler.

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