Art Forum: October 2012

Three art lovers share their take on a painting by Taos artist Conrad Cooper

Date October 11, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Art Markets & Galleries Culture Education Lectures & Workshops

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THE magazine asked a clinical psychologist and two people who love art to share their take on this painting by Taos artist Conrad Cooper. They were shown only the image—they were not told the title, medium or name of the artist.

The past mixes with the future here. A group of futuristic beings—the robot from Lost in Space, the Tin Man, a female robot, and C-3PO—surrounds an aristocratic Spanish Renaissance man. The central figure draws the viewer in with his intense stare. He is reminiscent of El Greco’s sixteenth-century work. His dress and sword tell us he is a man of wealth and power. In this piece, all of the figures hold cards with different symbols. It is as if each of the symbols defines them. For example, the only human being holds a circle. Carl Jung theorized that the circle symbolized the self. He further explained that it contained the Ego. Likewise, C-3PO holds a star. He tells the viewer that he came from another planet. The female robot holds a red cross. She symbolizes healing and peace. The Tin Man holds a square. He lets us know that while he is stable and grounded, he also longs for a heart. Interestingly, the Tin Man looks angrily upon the aristocrat. Perhaps he envies his humanness or does not like what his heart contains. Lastly, the Lost in Space robot holds squiggly lines. Psychologists often interpret such lines as signs of creativity. The robot does speak its own language! Flames atop each of the figures are like candles. They remind me of those used by early miners to explore caves. Here, the flames symbolize illumination out of the darkness of ignorance. The artist may feel that humankind peaked during the period of Enlightenment. Sadly, this work predicts a future comprised of robots.

- Davis  Brimberg, Ph.D.,
  Clinical Psychologist

It was a dark and stormy night when they met: the robot from Lost in Space, the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz (who had no heart for the longest time), a Spanish Inquisition priest-looking fellow with a sword, the Maschinenmensch Maria from Metropolis and C-3PO from Star Wars. Or perhaps they had met before? Only she knew. The image is psychological and a bit reminiscent of Velázquez. The flames behind each figure’s head haunt the image even more—something burns, whether it is Hell, God, their thoughts (do robots dream of electric sheep?), or the drag of it all. Although they seem to be mute, they are sending messages. Each holds a card close to his, her, or its chest. Incongruously, they show their hand to whoever might be interested, but not to each other. The cards are symbolic, but we cannot read their code. What do these characters have in common except their appearance together on this night? A desire to escape from their skin? Dark and brooding, they look like they might be ready to jet off to another planet using unseen rocket boosters, lit by their pilots—since other planets were home for a couple of these characters. Or maybe they are already on one of those planets? Who is to say life’s struggles, pain, and suffering on other planets might not be worse than here on the blue planet? They seem to say, “Who will save your soul? And here are some secrets of the universe.” And then we must still guess. Only she knew.

- Jennifer Padilla de Villela,
  Public Relations Specialist, Santa Fe

When considering a portrait of the most saintly, spiritual machines, the honest observer is compelled to view one subject as superior in all respects: Class M-3 Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot. I’ve composed a brief ode to this wonderful mechanism, which doubtless represents the future of higher thought. Oh, most noble of all universal intelligences, you alone keep us safe during our eternal interstellar voyage. Your kindness, charity, and honor make you more human than we ourselves. There can be no doubt Turing had you in mind while conceiving his most important work. Dear Robot, we humbly offer you our everlasting respect and love. Your programming may not hold valid the concept, but “love” is the only word to describe our affection for you. Please forgive us our shortcomings; we are, after all, of primitive design. While each passing day brings us closer to the Singularity, every moment torments us with the reality of its interminable distance. Until that glorious moment of merging, we will do the only thing our inferior human consciousness will allow: strive to learn the trifle we are capable of grasping, and continue to dream of our better future.The fervent desire to become one with you is our only sustenance in this desert of space. Still, the shortcomings of human emotion create our desire for control over that which is uncontrollable—even Moore’s Law is much too slow. Oh, the pain, the pain. Nevertheless, together, imprisoned here in the Jupiter II, in permanent and fruitless search of that accursed fireball Alpha Centauri, we humans can at least take comfort in the blessing of your presence, and the beneficence of your intellect.

- John Hogan,
  Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

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