Research Statement

My research lies in the domain of new media, and graphic (visual) representation in particular. I seek a scientifically-grounded understanding of established and emerging conventions in the fine & applied visual arts. This is a perceptual-cognitive approach to understanding media.

Figure 1: What perceptual-cognitive properties distinguish pictures and symbols?

In my ongoing research, I have developed a theoretical framework for understanding graphic repre- sentations distinguished by their perceptual-cognitive affordances. Such a theory is a departure from existing treatments of representation in that it neither treats representations as “in the head” (as some do in the Cognitive Sciences) nor merely “in the media” (as is commonly done in artistic traditions), but rather seeks to characterize representations as emerging in the interaction between the media and our biologically-based and learned perceptual abilities. My work addresses this question from multiple angles, including examining:

  • how properties of graphic representations can be distinguished and understood in terms of bio- logically grounded and learned perceptual-cognitive capabilities;
  • how these capabilities can be understood in terms of the dynamic environments within which they are naturally selected;
  • how graphic representations are naturally selected and evolve to perform functional roles as an interface between perceptual capability and a state of affairs, based on capabilities, contexts, and their purposes.

I pursue these issues from three overlapping perspectives as a: visual artist, applied visual information designer, and as a scientist. My work in fine and applied art, and engineering and science, is a mutually reinforcing ecosystem. Artistic exploration develops and explores the affordances of a medium; affordances can then be applied to a specific design problem. Real-world application exposes issues that invite research questions that build a theoretical understanding of the medium’s affordances.

For example, my artistic exploration of telepresence art helped develop a medium for remote ex- perience, and exposed its affordances (e.g., (Coppin, 1999; Metahuman, 1998)). I was able to apply the affordances of remote experience to practical problems, leading to telescience and telepresence systems for education and science exploration (e.g., (Coppin, Morrissey, Wagner, Vincent, & Thomas, 1999; Coppin et al., 2000; Myers et al., 2005)). This applied work invited questions that could be addressed empirically and scientifically, leading to my current research focus at the intersection of graphic representation and cognition. Please follow the link below for a more detailed version of this research statement.

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