The Field of Play (IV)

Some thoughts on the field of play, where thinking happens and understanding grows:



There is an interesting short book with some Picasso drawings and the following remark:

plain-bullPicasso: “the plain bull

“In 1945 through 1946, Pablo Picasso produced a powerful series of drawings of bulls. When you arrange his bulls in order of detail the most detailed is a realistic drawing of a bull. All the features are there. Then, in a series of 18 drawings, Picasso step by step simplifies the previous image. The shading of the hide vanishes. The details of the muscle disappear. The texture is gone. The three-dimensionality evaporates. By the 18th bull, we see a line drawing – a simple image consisting of 10 curves and 2 ovals. But those 12 marks distill the essence of that bull – its strength and masculinity. The clutter is gone; the essence remains.

This final image was the only one in the series that Picasso entitled the bull. By systematically cutting peripheral parts (being careful not to turn the bull into a cow), we force ourselves to appreciate what’s important. Isolating those elements can give a great deal of focus…” 

– Edward B. Burger / Michael Starbird

“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.”

– Pablo Picasso

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 4.14.19 PM

“By drawing, man has extended his ability to see and comprehend what he sees.”

– Spencer Gore

It’s clear so let’s emphasize.

There are two things:

  • A real bull (a live one, in the real world, in “3D”, living, breathing, sweating)
  • “The Bull” (Picasso’s)

Does one of these make sense without the other? Start with Picasso’s drawing. Does Picasso’s “The Bull” make sense if there are no real bulls? If they don’t exist and never did?


The point here is interdependency. There are real things, as they are, and there ways that we see those things. The two are interdependent. It’s necessary to have both.

Check the other direction. Do real bulls make sense (to us), without Picasso’s drawing? Again: No. Don’t take the question literally. It doesn’t have to be Picasso’s conceptualization of the bull; the question is:

does a bull make sense, to us, without our making essential representations?


A real bull is too much to grasp, both in terms of grasping physically, and in terms of comprehension. The thing in its entirety is beyond our grasp. So we simplify. We could survey and map the bull in every aspect. Count every hair and their length, map every atom in every molecule… But doing so fails to solve the problem. The thing in totality is too big, too complex. It exceeds our cognitive capacity and grasp.

So we prioritize and simplify. We build a representation, mental, or in some medium, of what matters (to us). So for example, if we see a bull in the real world, we build a mental representation that includes some of the following features:

  • large
  • heavy
  • horns
  • near or far from me?
  • danger
  • is there a barrier between me and the bull?
  • has it noticed me?
  • does it care?
  • is it approaching me?
  • what are its intentions?
  • can I get away?

We’d probably notice its general shape/form too and it’s color. We may recognize it as “a bull”. We are all, always, doing what Picasso did. We narrow focus to the essence of things, to understand them, because things as they are, are too much to grasp.

This is true also for high-fidelity models of things in the virtual world. Indeed the higher the fidelity to the real world, the more dependent we are on simplified representations for understanding.

Continuing with this point then:

  1. we can’t understand real things, whole things
  2. we must narrow to simplified essence to understand real things

And, (2) makes no sense without (1), and (1) makes no sense without (2).

This is why we’re still talking about drawing. But, more importantly, with this simple recognition we’ve hit on something essential about the nature of thinking itself. Thinking and understanding, not only involve, but essentially are, a bouncing back and forth between (1) and (2), a ping-ponging between things as they are, and simplified essential representations, between wide environmental whole, and the act of narrowing focus.

Between these is where thinking happens (or is thinking) and where understanding grows.

Go to part 5: The Field of Play (V)

Return to part 1: The Field of Play (I)

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