Reflections in the kinetic and interactive arts


Mask / emotion study, pencil, 1998, Jade Leone BlackwaterWhen it comes to the “traditional” or “expressive” arts, the end product is often a form of reflection.  The art may be a reflection of the creators themselves, a mirror they’ve held up to their own inner self.  For those of us in the audience, the art becomes a mirror again as we look into a work and try to find a piece of ourselves.

We haven’t explored the kinetic arts with much depth at Brainripples, but it’s not for lack of interest.  One of my favorite arts is dance, regardless of how ungraceful I might be.

Dancers, thespians, and other performing artists interact with their audience through physical space.  In the kinetic arts, the mirror takes on a very physical, almost tangible identity: we look at other people, and see ourselves.

Some healing arts involve touch therapy, such as massage or acupressure.  Healers tend to be artists who enjoy working with others; touch, movement, placement, and physical interaction are all important elements of their art.

One branch of kinetic art that I don’t often interact with would be the “beauty arts”: cosmetology and esthetics.  These arts connect with human emotions via the perception of self-image.  The mirror they evoke with their art is sometimes as literal as it is metaphorical.

A couple weeks ago I decided to chop off my nice, long, 10-year-old braid to the tune of 22-inches.  I sent my braid to Locks of Love so it could have another life, and went with a short cut near my chin.

Apart from the pleasant change in perspective that a new hairstyle affords (and a rather unnerving feeling of “naked neck”) I also had the opportunity to learn from stylist Patti Hill at the Maryanne Christopher Spa and Salon in Newtown Square, PA.  Patti brought a fresh perspective not only to my image, but to my understanding of the beauty arts as well.

[Side note: Now, for a woman such as myself whose idea of hair care is shampoo, comb, and braid, it surprises me that I’m even familiar with the term “stylist.”  I’d never even been in a spa before.  Why did I choose to go there?  Because when I googled “hair cut in Newtown Square” I came up with 15 different locations, but Maryanne Christopher was the only one with a website.  Let that be a lesson to ya. ;)]

Moving along…

Patti Hill is an artist.  Her many interests include jewelry design, and she likes to overlay sacred symbols on precious stones.  Some of her work can be found at Earthspeak near Phoenixville, PA.  Patti and I discussed jewelry, art, and jobs, which led us to discuss what had attracted Patti to her career as a stylist.

As she tells it, Patti learned about hair dressing in her high school years, but it didn’t really click for her until she took a course in Salon Psychology.

Yes, you heard that right – Salon Psychology.  While I’d never heard the term before, I have read various articles discussing the important social function of hairdressers and barbershops.  The concepts of salon psychology were documented by an observant psychologist, who noticed that people in barbershops often seemed to share intimate details of their lives with their hair dressers.


This psychologist (whose name I cannot remember) realized that the topics and feelings being shared were the very things he often tried to coax from his patients.  He realized that there was more than a haircut going on at the local salon.


Patti explained that besides doctors, stylists and similar professionals are among the only other service providers who actually TOUCH their clients.  In this way, the stylist’s role extends beyond a snappy hair cut: stylists can fulfill an important human (animal) need for physical interaction.  This physical connection through grooming, in conjunction with regular conversations among familiar people, means that most stylists aren’t just cutting hair; they are fulfilling the role which many psychologists perform: supporting people.


This more meaningful connection is what really made the whole thing “click” for Patti, and she has been happily working as a stylist for over 20 years (and she’s darn good at it too).  Recently I shared this discussion with a friend of mine, and he called out yet another key aspect of salon psychology: the mirror.


Stylists, in addition to all the hats above, also wear the artist’s cap with the intention of altering another person’s appearance.  Appearance and self-image affect how we perceive and interact with our world.  The beauty arts physically modify the reflection in the mirror, which in turn can help us generate a new conceptual image of ourselves.


Artists of all media frequently draw on the tools of introspection, self-reflection, and personal experience to provide some substance, theme, or form in their art.  After its creation, art “breathes” when it is shared with an audience, and we the viewers look into the “mirror” of that work to see what of ourselves reflects back.


How do you use the mirror in your art?  What do you choose to reflect?  If you engage with the kinetic arts, how, if at all, do you see the mirror as an important tool in your craft?


[Image above is from one of my high school sketchbooks.]


Update: I meant to include the following links, just because they were rattling around in my mind when I was writing up this post.  Mirrors, divination, and all that jazz… 

From Mother Angel’s Life of a Mother Artist blog: 

Scrying – The GIFT

Mirror, mirror upon the wall…


6 Responses to Reflections in the kinetic and interactive arts

  1. jason evans says:

    That was a really amazing post, Jade. So many great insights! I was especially struck by the salon psychology concept.

    I mirror myself in what I do all of time. Those revelations are a wonderful freedom, even more so when they also mirror something in the audience.

  2. JLB says:

    Jason, thanks! I like the way that I can see my art in a new way once I’ve seen how an audience reacts to a particular piece.

  3. Jenny says:

    What made you decide to cut your hair? I did that a couple of years ago (including the sending it to Locks of Love) and had problems washing and brushing my hair for days afterward–my hands were so used to moving further than that. I’ll be doing it again this summer, probably, and it’s going to be interesting, because I feel like a slightly different person with short hair rather than long hair.

  4. JLB says:

    Jenny, I think it was the fever… it was somewhere in the middle of being really sick that I decided it was time to cut my hair off – once I got the idea in my head, I just couldn’t get it out. As soon as I felt better, I made the appointment! It’s definitely been an adjustment – I too feel just a little different with short hair, especially since I’ve worn it long most of my life. I’m absolutely loving the change!

  5. Oh gosh, I couldn’t cut my hair off! (Though i know I will eventually!). I like your insights into salon psychology. As for mirrors, at the moment I’m actually decorating some mirrors. I think your question is interesting in a bigger sense too though. I’ll think about that one!

  6. JLB says:

    CGP It was so much fun to make a dramatic change – I highly recommend it. I’ve worn my hair long most of my life, and chopped it off short a few times. It always grows back with great gusto. 🙂 I’ll be sure to poke around your blog and look for the mirrors in your poetry. Hope my thoughts helped jostle a new idea or two. 🙂

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