Thursday, November 29, 2007

Perception and Distortion

What we think we see is very different from the raw data that hits our retina. Our brains warp and remodel everything we see to fit into what we think we know about the world.

By the time an image has been projected onto our retina, has stimulated the appropriate light-receiving cells, has transferred visual data to our brain, has been interpreted at base-level cortex and higher-thinking cognitive levels of our minds, has been categorized, compared to what we already know, and emotionally processed, by the time all this has happened, what we think we “see” has been interpreted and distorted and edited so to have nothing to do with the original beams of light that entered our corneas. The original data has been distorted; not distorted “beyond recognition” but distorted TO recognition.

The artist must learn to recognize these distortions and exorcise them, or use them. When we look at our own work and are not happy with what we see, we are becoming aware of our unconscious distortions. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but it helps us learn. We must learn to recognize and edit out unconscious distortions, and learn how to present truly “raw” data to the viewer, just as real life presents raw data.

This is not to promote what is commonly called “slavish copying.” Artists can and should choose to distort the image, choose what to emphasize, choose what to leave out, choose to guide the viewer. But any distortion has to be intentional, deliberate.

Even abstract artists I know talk of trying to become aware of the unconscious associations, influences, references and baggage visible in their art. They attempt to only present visual information with intention.

Lack of intention, or ignorance on the part of the artist is always painfully obvious to the viewer, consciously or subconsciously, and detracts from their experience of a work of art.

The pursuit of art is learning to throw away unconscious distortions and replace them with conscious choices.

Kind of like life.