24 January 2007

Its a Fact



Back around Christmas '05, I had one of my favorite art books re-enter my life and blogged about it here. The following exercise was taken from that book, Communications: The Transfer of Meaning.

"To most of us, this is a pretty familiar scene. So familiar that we may tend to feel that we see more in it than is there for us to see. Try answering the questions below and see how you come out."

"Which of the following statements are true, false, or cannot be answered at all?"

1. The Jones family owns a TV set
2. Johnny is doing his homework while he watches TV
3. Johnny's father is a stockholder.
4. The screen is showing a scene from a Western.
5. Mrs. Jones is knitting a sweater.
6. Mr. Jones is a cigar smoker.
7. There are three people in the room.
8. The Jones family subscribes to TIME, LIFE, and FORTUNE.
9. The Jones family consists of Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones and Johnny.
10. They have a cat for a pet.
11. They are watching an evening television show.

I'll post the answers right here tomorrow.

--update 25 Jan 2007--
And now for the answers, by the book:
1. You do not know that the set is owned by them; it could be borrowed, or a demonstration set.
2. You do not know whether Johnny is doing homework or not; all you can see is that he has a book in front of him.
3. You do not know that Johnny's father is a stockholder; you only know he is looking at the stock market report. Matter of fact, you don't know he is Johnny's father, either. He may be an uncle or friend just visiting the house.
4. You do not know that it is a Western. It could be a commercial or a foreign-made movie, or almost anything else.
5. You do not know that it is Mrs. Jones, and you can not tell what she is knitting.
6. You do not know that Mr. Jones (if, indeed, that is Mr. Jones) actually smokes cigars. You only can see that there is a cigar on the ashtray. Perhaps someone else left it there.
7. You do not know how may people might be in the room; you can only see that there are three people in the part of the room shown in the picture.
8. You do not know what magzines they subscribe to. The ones on the table may have be purchased at the newsstand or loaned by a friend.
9. You do not know if this is the Jones family; nor can you tell if there are other members of the family who are not present.
10. Could be a neighbor's cat, making itself "at home."
11. You cannot tell if it is evening or not; only that the lights are on. Perhaps it is midday and the shades have been drawn.

6 comments:

Cris said...

None of those statements can be deemed true or false based on the photo. First, it's not entirely clear that the people in the photo are the Jones family. They may not own that television in the room. Johnny (presumably the child) may be neither doing homework nor watching television. Mrs Jones (presumably the woman) might be knitting a scarf instead of a sweater. (It almost looks like she's crocheting instead of knitting). Etc., etc.

Yep, the only "arty" blog post to which I feel in any way adequately knowledgeable to respond [what an awkwardly-written sentence this is] is a brain teaser.

This was fun. :)

joe said...

I only second guessed those assumptions because this was staged as a test. Those are all things that I might have listed if asked to describe the scene.

Mary Ann said...

Bravo to both of you. Cris I had no idea you were a reader, and you too Joe? Wow.

The book goes through each question listing the reasons why we can only surmise, rather than know what is happening. I like exercises like this. They help us identify our blindspots.

Jennifer said...

The only one I thought was definitely true was the one with the television set. I think it is interesting that "false" is even given as a choice b/c none of the questions lead you to a "false" answer.

Interesting, though! And I would have definitely said four wheels on that wagon. Star is very literal! I'm impressed.

Josh said...

mary ann, i'm sure you're familiar with crusade/jihad for media literacy. i think this is a fantastic exercise to make us, not more cynical, but more cautious in our judgments and less willing to jump on the media train with reckless abandon.

apart from my personal agenda, it's still a good exercise to open our minds. reminds me of a scene in "spy games" where robert redford is training brad pitt to observe everything around him in detail.

i have to say, though, when i saw the title of this post on your blog feed, i was wondering how you would tie "it's a fact" into art, where there are few facts.

Mary Ann said...

Josh I'm surprised that you'd say art has few facts. It as as many as music, history, life.

Anyway, I think most everyone would do well to question their conclusions, especially when they are derived from only one perspective. Photographs as so loaded with our expectations: accuracy, documentary, proof, journalism, etc. And yet, a photograph can be the most sublime and subtle of fictions.