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Sensation and Perception on Visual Art

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Monique Bejarano

Fairleigh Dickinson University

The concept of visual arts is powerful to the human eye. The art of drawing, graphics, painting and sculpture are meant for visual perception. The idea of art has been around for many years. There are many different forms of art. Psychology and art have gone hand in hand as art is used for therapy, clinical research, and cognition. One type of art discussed in class is the art of optical illusions. This type of art plays trick on our perception and mind. Another type of art that the field of psychology uses is the Rorschach inkblot art, which is a test to see if one can perceive what of personality the subjects had with what they saw on the inkblots. Artists engage art with the process of human vision and how our brain receive the message of what we are looking at through, exploring factors such as depth perception, optical illusion and vision dysfunction.

Vision perception is ambiguous and visual art plays a part in this illusion of ambiguous. When it comes to vision and researchers, a lot of vision scientists do not agree on just one opinion. Each scientist in this field has their own opinion about perception and contrast and definitely differ from artists and their perception. The one opinion both scientists and artists have in common is the passion to uncover the mysteries of visual perception, either to understand its mechanisms or to better communicate a message. (Mamassian, 2008). The question asked throughout artists and scientists is what is the difference between the visual perception of looking at a piece of art and looking at a regular appliance around the house. The difference between these two examples is that we look at a regular object or appliance around the house with our “everyday perception”. As when we look at a painting or walk through a gallery, we are not using the same “everyday perception” mechanism.

An example of using our “everyday perception” is when we are driving and we just look at the traffic going by and the traffic lights. We tend to focus on the recognition of cars or how we perceive the speed the cars are going. Ironically, we tend to disregard or perceive the color of the car or even a license plate of the car. When looking as a painting sometimes it is hard to decipher what is relevant in the painting and what we can disregard. This is what makes it different when saying that we are not using our “everyday perception”. Sometimes when looking at art we are even thinking to our selves is there really a distinct object we are looking at or looking for. Which then makes the painting through our vision and brain that it is meaningless. Ambiguity reduction is an important task of visual arts perception. Sometimes ambiguity is appreciated in art. Great art is that which corresponds to as many different concepts in as many different brains over as long a period of time as possible. (Mamassian,2008).

The way we perceive art is that we directly look at a center point to look at the big picture. Then following the center of point, we decide gazing around the image and picking up observations as to why this type of art is different from another. When we look at art, we are deliberately going through a process in our minds of selecting, organizing and interpreting the information brought to our brain by our sensory system. In art, we look at details and we look at little objects and lines that catch our eye. This might stimulate our mind and give our brain signals of what we are looking at. Another aspect of how we can see art is if we knew a little bit of knowledge of what we are looking at and why the artist wanted to do this artwork. Once we know the background of the art, we tend to see it in a different perception. We see it in a different perceive than what we would have seen it before.

While looking at the color contrast, within the human visual human system, the processing of color is split between luminance and chrominance pathways. Because of this thought process that scientists and artists have established, this led to Livingstone (2002) to propose an experiment about how contrast can make a difference in the painting.  Livingstone discovered that a painting that has contrast but no luminance it becomes more difficult to maintain a center of attention spot to determine.

Visual perception is an ability to process and organize visual information; it plays a role in identifying and classifying information. Many physiological and psychological factors can have an impact on the depth of visual perception in terms of categorization and interpretation of meaning. (Yu, 2012). The way we perceive is art is through our visual pathway. Vision is produced by photoreceptors in the retina, which is a layer of cells at the back of the eye. The information processed leaves the eye through the optic nerve and through the crossing of axons at the optic chiasm.  After the information reaches the optic chiasm the information goes thru the optic tract. The optic tract wraps around the midbrain to get to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) where the axons synapse. At this point, the LGN axons go through the deep white matter of the brain, which is called the optic radiations, which travel to primary visual cortex located in the back of the brain. (Wolfe,2015)

The human visual system involves the eye and the brain working as one to interpret the visual environment such as an art gallery. (Wahab,2013). The essentials of the human eye form an image of the world outside on the retina by the absorption of light. Light would need to be transmitted through the center of the eye without excessively having too much absorption and scatter. The image would also have to be focused right on the retina. Visual quality is an important aspect to make sure that there is enough light to see and perform daily tasks without straining the eye. The factor of lighting is important on how a human perceive the world and maintaining visual quality is important for human perception. The eye will form an image of the target on the retina from the components of the cornea, crystalline lens and pupil. (Wahab,2013). The visual quality can be achieved by two conditions through visual performance and visual comfort.  


        Gestalt’s principle and visual art go factor in together. Gestalt stated that these principles exist because the mind has an innate disposition to perceive patterns in the stimulus based on certain rules. The principles he stated are organized in five categories that are proximity, similarity, continuity, closure and connectedness. (Mamassian,2008). Researchers point out that Gestalt’s principles show how to visualize art.

Relative space is another term that is relevant to perceiving visual art. When looking at a painting at a closer scale the eye can reveal high spatial frequencies that were not the focus/ viewpoint of the painting when looking at the painting at a normal spatial cue. Eye movement towards the painting shifting to the region of interest is another spatial factor. Spatial resolution is highest in the fovea and gradually decreases as one gets to the periphery, some fine details will only be visible when the observer is looking straight at that part of the image (Mama, 2008).



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