Laws of seeing

| January 21, 2008

Many art students in college don’t like studying Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception. I like Arnheim’s books, especially Art and Visual Perception; I’m interested in art psychology and I believe that anyone who wishes to study modern art, should study this branch of knowledge and thus take advantage of the fact that non objective or abstract art doesn’t offer us the distraction of a specific narrative. This, in fact, is what give such works of art their extreme opticality.

I guess Gestalt theory offers us a useful tool towards an understanding of the laws of seeing: proximity, similarity, closure and continuity.

A viewer’s mind tends to group visual forms in order to achieve simplicity or stability. This organizing principle in the way we see forms is a natural tendency of mankind for not only do we tend to detect symmetry: but we prefer to find symmetry in art.

Painters have an innate knowledge of how these systems influence and fascinate their assumed target viewers. Painters use the concept of object recognition to develop figure-ground relationships. They do their best to manipulate the viewer’s attention so that a specified part of the painted suface is perceived as the object of interest or “figure” while other areas are seen as background. In fact, because the viewer’s attention is focused on the object, the ground becomes of secondary importance.

Modern painters have been concerned with making every part of a painting’s surface vital. Composition is one of several ways that painters can undo or subvert the figure-ground ways of seeing. This involves a vast amount of mental organizing .

Our acceptance of abstract art can be seen as the product of an evolving visual sophistication: our culture has invented new ways of seeing paintings. Abstract painting demonstrates the significant development of a new visual paradigm.

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