Classified Information

David Cowles

Mar 10, 2022

Classification is a tool we use to organize our experiences into categories based on the intrinsic content of those experiences. Flying in planes may define a different category of experience from hiking in mountains. Of course, no two flights are ever the same, nor are any two hikes. Still, it is useful for some purposes (not all) to classify these experiences differently.

Classification is a tool we use to organize our experiences into categories based on the intrinsic content of those experiences. Flying in planes may define a different category of experience from hiking in mountains. Of course, no two flights are ever the same, nor are any two hikes. Still, it is useful for some purposes (not all) to classify these experiences differently.


Of course, there are no limits to the scope and range of classification. For example, we could place flying first class in a different category from flying coach. Likewise, hiking in springtime is very different from hiking in winter. On the other hand, all our flights and all our hikes could be classified together as moving from one place to another.


Blank space is a tool that allows us to apply a second-level of organization to experience: call it relevance. We often depict relevance graphically. Consider the following scenarios:


1. A child draws various shapes on a piece of paper. The arrangement and sizing of these shapes appear random. There is no focus (or the paper in its entirety is the focus). To a young person, everything is relevant. They have not yet honed the skill of saying, “This is important to me, that isn’t!”


2. A similar observation might be made about Western art prior to the Renaissance. Perspective is not used to make more distant objects smaller (and therefore less relevant). However, artists in this period did arrange shapes on a canvas (or other medium) to create a focus for the viewer.

3. During the Renaissance, artists began using perspective to heighten the contrast between foreground (what’s most relevant) and background (what’s least relevant). What is most relevant is projected toward the surface of the canvas – making it larger – while what is least relevant is found near the vanishing point.


4. In the 20th century, acclaimed graphic artist M.C. Escher (among others) experimented with convex and concave geometries (how shapes curve in or outward and how that affects shadow and light). Applying a convex lens, Escher enlarged what was more relevant and located it near the center of the canvas while diminishing what was least relevant and relegating that to the periphery. This is perspective on steroids!


5. Conversely, applying a concave lens to the same material reverses the focus. What is most important is still larger but it is located toward the periphery; what is least important is diminished in size but placed near the center of the canvas.


Depending on how you view Escher’s masterpiece, “Convex and Concave,” the periphery and the focus change. This mastery of illusion switches perspective with each experience and encounter. There is no limit to the viewer’s classification.


Image: Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972), Convex and Concave, 1955. Lithograph. Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt Collection



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