Many artists and art teachers believe that observational depiction (drawing and painting) requires seeing, with “innocent eyes,” mere “flat colored patches” devoid of meaning. However, the “innocent eye” in its original conceptualization credited to Ruskin (1857) and Fry (1919) is both impossible given what is now established about how the human visual system works, and impoverished compared with the repertoire of perceptual strategies artists routinely employ in observational depiction. To be compatible with modern vision science, the innocent eye has to be construed as selective attention to pictorial relationships after the attainment of the gist of the scene to be depicted (Lou, 2018). The revised notion of the innocent eye is in essence pictorial framing—a mental operation on visual sensory input necessary, but not sufficient, for observational depiction. A more complete description of the visual perceptual processes in observational depiction must encompass two additional mental operations on visual sensory input—emotive editing and rhythmic grouping. Emotive editing involves forming mental images of accentuated pictorial elements (lines and masses) or relations following heightened emotional engagement with an object or scene that contains the pictorial elements. Rhythmic grouping is the perceptual grouping of pictorial elements that either conforms to a proven compositional scheme or appeals to the artist’s aesthetic intuitions. Several examples from art instruction books, videos and my own learning process will be used to explain how the three mental operations combined give rise to both the uniformity and variations in observational drawing and painting. It is proposed that depictive styles of the impressionistic, “perceptual,” post-impressionistic, and expressionistic varieties are characterized by the extent to which one or more of the three mental operations are consciously invoked.
Dr. Lou is a psychologist of vision perception and a self-taught representational artist. He holds a Master’s degree in Psychology from the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Science, and a PhD in cognitive psychology from University of California, San Diego. Lou has published several papers on how voluntary attention affects sensory and perceptual processes and related issues in premier psychological journals before starting to pursue a rekindled love for drawing and painting. His charcoal drawings and oil paintings have been exhibited in several regional art exhibitions since 2012. To meet the challenges in creating both illusionist and emotionally authentic pictorial representations, Lou developed a strong interest in understanding the perceptual processes and mechanisms involved in observational drawing and painting. In the 2018 theoretical review titled “Artists’ Innocent Eye as Extended Proximal Mode of Vision” published in the journal “Art & Perception,” he proposed a new theoretical framework that integrates artists’ intuitions on “innocent eyes” and modern vision science for understanding the nature and development of artists’ perceptual expertise in observational drawing and painting.