How to Paint? Change Your Blindness.
“Simply knowing how many things shape perception and that perception shapes what we see can help alleviate miscommunication and misunderstanding, preventing us from getting upset with others when they don’t see things the way we do. The fact is, they don’t. They can’t. No one can see things like you do except you.” – Amy Herman
Working from life requires that we are able to see fully. But what does that really mean? We all know how to see, right? Amy Herman’s book, Visual Intelligence : Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life, may cause you to reexamine exactly what you think you know about your ability to see and take note of the world around you. Ms. Herman has made a career out of exploring how we see and don’t see and is a professional consultant for law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense and the FBI.
As visual artists, we are deeply interested in all facets of seeing, perception, recognition and the personal biases which cause us to notice one thing and disregard another. The problem of not seeing something right in front of us is a common one and Ms. Herman lays out the main reasons for this in her book. The first issue is that the brain is constantly swamped with visual and other information but can process only part of this load. It must sort, often unconsciously, through this mountain of data and pick out the relevant information in a hierarchical process based on our personal needs and preferences. The second issue is that we have perceptual filters which interfere with our ability to accurately assess any situation. The three most common ones are, briefly:
Cognitive or confirmation bias (tunnel vision). We see what we want to see or expect to see.
Seeing what we are told to see. Outside suggestions or instructions, labels or other descriptive information, comments from authority figures, etc., all can bias what we think we observe.
Change blindness. Failure to recognize that everything changes continually. In repeated tests, 50% of participants failed to notice a new person had replaced the first subject, right in front of them, or that someone or something remarkable had entered the scenario unnoticed.
Perception can also be, and often is, shaped by a person’s values, upbringing, experiences and culture. In our painting classes, we focus as much on teaching the art of seeing as the art of painting. As we concentrate intently on learning something, the brain responds by forming new neuronal connections—literally growing a bigger brain, in those areas we need. It is a positive feedback loop. Try hard to see, and you will, over time, have the physical ability to see more. But we must also consciously recognize our biases and filters if we are to gain the power to see more fully what is before us, and that is the key to making better, more personal art.
Join us on The Artist’s Road for more enlightening articles, interviews with top artists, step-by-step demonstrations and discounts in the unique Artist’s Road Store.
–John and Ann