Bruce Marsh

Painting: Images and Thoughts.

I just browsed through an amazing article…Lawrence Weschler on the Ryan Twins…artists who are doing some amazing work in exploring vision and perception. Take a quick read of this article…….

Trevor Ryan Drawing

Trevor Ryan Drawing

My first reaction is that it’s a bit irrelevant to Painting….the essence of which seems to me to be the problem of fitting/cramming our visual experience…of a spherical space…onto a flat rectangular surface.

The twins explorations, and experimental stuff dealing with vision, are simply amazing!! Most of what they point out is pretty common knowledge, but NO ONE has pursued it and demonstrated it as they have. They’ve made a concave drawing surface, which allows them to directly transcribe the information of any given field of view. Their device also has braces to hold the artist’s head still.

I’ve long held the notion that we are constantly building a very complete internal/mental model of any space/place we are in. We constantly update this, constantly glancing about to ‘update’ the model with new information. The center of focus in our eye is very small, but we never have the sense that the space around us is out of focus. We also never are aware of our blind spot, in each eye. We cannot see it, as we’ve learned to fill it in with information supplied by the other eye. We also never have any idea of the world bouncing around, as our head moves! Try watching a video made with a moving camera…impossible! But…we keep our mental model of the world stable and level, regardless of our head position. Prove this by gently moving your eyeball with a finger  beside your eye…your view of the world wiggles! Our usual very stable mental view is a result of the fact that we are constantly updating it with information from our organs of balance (semi-circular canals), which compensate for the movement of our head.

I’ve read a good deal about perception, but don’t have references at hand.

Ive always been a huge fan of both Robt. Irwin and James Turrell, who have made such interesting work, letting us see ourselves seeing. But, as intrigued as I’ve been, I’ve always stuck with painting, as opposed to the spaces the Turrell and Irwin have used for their installations. Weschler has a written extensively about Irwin and also Hockney…but I’ve just skimmed the piece about his conversations with  them. Here are links to the books:

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Fascinating stuff…my interest in perception is also inseparable with an interest in the nature of consciousness. Raw sensory data…nerve impulses…becoming such present, lived, and intense experience…seems nothing short of magic to me. My eyes don’t seem to be transmitting data….they are windows!! Go figure.

I originally wrote this note for a blog I’ve gotten interested in; , which hosts a number of people writing on painting, photography, and preception.

More soon

4 Responses to “Some thoughts on perception….”

  1. brucemarsh

    Addendum….I did some ‘strip drawing’ as described in the article on the Ryan twins. Placing a sheet of paper, on an easel in front of me, I could see where the edge of the paper covered part of the view of my right eye. This vertical strip appears as a transparent image of the edge of the paper superimposed on what is behind it…which the right eye cannot see. Then…holding your head as still as possible, you can trace, exactly, the shape of objects in that strip! It’s hard to keep focus, and feels disorienting.
    But…it’s such an obvious idea!! Using your binocular vision as a drawing guide.

    Afterward I was hyper aware of all the transparent edges in my surroundings, and even newly aware of the shape of the frames of my glasses interrupting the view! The room seemed to be sort of patched together and made of stuff with multiple and transparent edges. Go paint that!!

  2. Robin Miller

    Fascinating. I have a whole lecture series on seeing vs. percieving… this is an interesting new wrinkle. The way our vision actually works (physiologically, or mechanically, if you will) does not correspond well with what we think, feel, want, don’t want, believe, etc. The thought process, especially involving language, gets in the way even more than the frames of one’s glasses!
    Good stuff, Bruce. Thanks.

  3. Robin Miller

    Ofcourse, it would drive me NUTS to draw the way these guys are drawing!
    LOVE the Bryce Canyon, Teco Plant and Ornage Lake paintings, by the way. The light, the light, the light.. 🙂

  4. brucemarsh

    Thanks for the comments Robin….I have very few readers so far!! LOL

    Is the lecture series something you do? I’ve always been interested in how complex seeing is, and how we take it so for granted.


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