Keeping Things in Perspective

Perspective can be a point of view, relative importance, the art of drawing things on a two dimensional surface to appear as though they are in a three dimensional space, and/or aerial perspective (the lighter, duller, bluer appearance) of distant objects with a huge volume of air between it and the viewer.

Some of those things are lies, lies that we tell the viewer convincingly enough for them to suspend reality in their minds eye and “see” things as they would really be were it real. Like Tromp L’oeil (literally to fool the eye), our brain doesn’t really experience reality. It has sampled reality and just kind of assumes a lot. Our hands may have experienced touch, our mouthes: taste, and our noses: odors, but our brain just interprets reality, except for headaches and dementia and things.

I like to tell people, it doesn’t really matter if you can draw an accurate portrait or figure; because, you could just draw a stick figure and our brain will interpret it as a person. We try to develop our skill in what is called realism, though, so that our drawing or painting approaches what we see in reality. It’s quite interesting really! Except, what we see isn’t real.

There is reality: the object (light bouncing off an object), our eyeballs getting excited by the vibration of light, an electro-chemical signal sent down an optic nerve into a ball of neurons, and then there is an impulse sent down to our hand where we smush pencil or paint around on a flat surface. That’s like six translations removed from reality. Most of that is not reality, either, and are technically not true... interpretations, maybe. But, I digress.

So, we can get things into perspective; we can have a point of view about something; but we can also have a viewpoint looking into the picture plane (the paper or canvas) and the world we create inside that picture plane with a horizon line, vanishing points (linear perspective), and lighter, duller, bluer mountains off in the distance (aerial perspective).

Those are not the only lies we weave into the web of deceit, though. We are taught not to necessarily paint what we see, but what we know to be true; unless, we are practicing sight line seeing, in which case we are trying to draw it as we, actually, see an object’s size and shape from our perspective view point (literally, and sometimes figuratively!). Or, unless we are painting noses and are not supposed to be painting noses, but instead painting shapes, colors, and values that just look like noses. This comes into play when painting a happy little tree and it’s buddies (Bob Ross). One could actually look at the tree, or just paint a line here and another there and make a pattern of marks that our mind made up as tree.

Just to come full circle, there is the color wheel, pigments, figments of our imagination (artist’s license), values, and edges. All of these things are manipulated to create the illusion of reality, but may, in fact, be very different than what we can actually see. Take the visible light bandwidth, for example, there are some really brilliant eye squinting bright lights and some really deep, dark blacks in reality, but our paint has a fraction of that bandwidth, so we have to compress reality into a narrow bandwidth. Then there are the 10,000 values of which we can only discern 30 at most. So we crunch the value range down to 10 manageable values (Munsell).

No! Damnit! It’s either in the light family or the shadow family. If it’s in the light family, it’s either highlight or halftone. If it’s in the shadow family, it’s either core shadow (where light falls off) or cast shadow (where the object occludes or blocks the light). Four values, three gradients between them and voila, a seven value painted reality! Closer to us, end of form, and overlapping forms: hard edges. Farther away: softer edges, duller chroma. Some of us get good at it, and others not so much. It’s tricky!

Origin of Life, 12x9, oil on canvas

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