Sunday, September 9, 2012

Learning to See

By Armand Cabrera

Artists use the term learning to see quite a bit when studying painting. Learning to see is more than a philosophical idea. It is learning to overcome not being aware of your surroundings. Learning to see is learning to see things as they are not how we expect them to be. New artists fail to see color and value because of a lack of awareness. The sky is blue the grass or trees are green even when the visual information contradicts this idea. I’ve seen artists in my classes try and make trees green in orange afternoon light when the trees no longer appeared green at all.

We think we see everything in front of us like a camera does but in reality studies show we only see things we pay attention to, missing everything else and actually making up the other parts of the scene in our imagination.

The term for this is called inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness is a real phenomenon that people experience when they have preconceived expectations about what they are seeing or when they focus on a predetermined set of parameters that cause them to exclude other important information.  It is what magicians exploit to accomplish their tricks. 

As representational artists we have to learn to see things as they are and achieve a heightened sense of observation to effectively be aware of subtle differences and shifts in color value and shape. This awareness allows us to orchestrate a painting in such a way that we don’t have to render every piece of information to achieve the truth of the scene. 

Studies show that perception is based on knowledge and awareness, it is inattentiveness that allows the illusion of representational painting to fool most people into thinking they are seeing something that completely mimics reality when in fact that is not true at all.
If you would like to read more about the phenomenon here is a link to a short article.