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2011 showed us new ways of seeing

The sense of new images hitting our eyes from everywhere is one of the most remarkable aspects of 2011

Reasons to be cheerful in 2011? Let's see.

It was a year when eyes opened a bit wider, when images from Earth and space and the enigmatic microverse of quantum physics expanded our field of vision – and the spread of new means of communication made those images more accessible and shareable than ever before.

David Attenborough showed us what life is like under the surface of the Arctic's frozen sea. In a different way, images from Egypt and Libya showed us the previously hidden and denied passions of entire peoples. Meanwhile from Cern came visualisations of the elusive and mighty Higgs boson.

The silly slurs on Frozen Planet for filming polar bear cubs in a zoo drew attention to how extreme our visual information now is. This detail simply could not have been filmed in the wild, but so many marvels were captured that people were actually surprised by the so-called "faking". That's what the BBC gets for raising expectations. Its polar documentary was full of images such as wolves hunting, seen from above, that were never possible in the past. Similarly, pictures from the frontier of science, showing such wonders as Earth-like planets, go beyond previous astronomy and make outer space seem close.

This sense of new images hitting our eyes from everywhere is one of the most remarkable aspects of 2011. I know it has nothing to do with art as such. Yet art created one or two remarkable images of its own. In particular, Urs Fischer's melting candle sculptures moved me deeply and are themselves images of science – instances of entropy.

Uh-oh, entropy – the universe running down. The news in 2011 was sometimes exhilarating but mostly terrifying. In the media that circulate such news faster than ever before, the content was often disturbing. But the images that showed us the ever-changing world, and the ways they reached us, were eye-popping. So a reason to be cheerful is that new ways of seeing are being born in our time. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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