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Seeing differently

Going out to have a meal with one member of my family who was trained at a top Swiss hotel school can sometimes be a bit trying. Although he rarely voices his opinions on these occasions, I can see him coldly examining the restaurant (layout, decor, cleanliness, scope and pricing of menu, tables/waiter ratio, number of customers etc). As an artist, I suppose I am guilty in much the same way, of mercilessly dissecting paintings  (composition, perspective, focal points, tonal contrast, brushwork etc). “Can’t you just enjoy the experience?” I hear you ask. Well, yes, sometimes.

There has been a study confirming artists do see things differently*. Two psychologists from Oslo University held sessions in which eye-movements of nine artists were tracked and compared to those of nine artistically untrained participants. The two groups looked at 16 pictures; 12 pictures of recognisable objects and structures, and 4 abstract pictures. The non-artists preferred viewing human features and objects while the artists spent more time on structural/abstract features. Both groups recalled about the same number of pictures, but the artists were able to remember more features correctly. Above are the eye movement patterns on two of the pictures. The artists’ are on the right.

Now an interesting experiment for me would be to paint a restaurant scene, show it to my brother and compare notes…or we could try just going out and enjoying a meal together.

*Vogt, S. & Magnussen, S. (2007). Expertise in pictorial perception: Eye-movement patterns and visual memory in artists and laymen. Perception, 36, 91-100.

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