Constructivist perception

You had to know what might be said in order to hear what was said. Expectation created illusion. (Gombrich, 2002, p.171)

I found the second week of Expressing the unseen lecture to be very interesting. We looked deeper into perception of symbolic material, transmission and reception of communication that inform us in building our perception of what we see, hear, express or feel in art.

Physiology of Perception (c19th century)

The psychic activities that lead us to infer that there in front of us at a certain place there is a certain object of a certain character, are generally both conscious activities, but [also] unconscious ones. In their result they are equivalent to a conclusion, to the extent that the observed action on our senses enables us to form an idea as to the possible cause of action (Helmoltz, [1962] 1924, p. 4)

Psychology of Visual Arts

E.H. Gombrich (Art and Illusion – A study in the psychology of pictorial representation)

(Visual) perception is ‘indirect’ to external stimuli, always functioning as a projection of prior experience and imagination (expectation)- it is constructive. The perception of everyday natural life and images has a ‘potentiality’, actualised via the imagination (expectation) of the beholder. Recognising the ’potentiality’ of images allows us to describe the creative, collaborative nature between artist, work and beholder. This is made all the more explicit within ambiguous images.

Gombrich argues that this ‘incompleteness’ of an ambiguous image is incomplete as it must also include the beholder’s psychological experience (what is expected based upon prior experience) that is projected onto the image to be actualised. Painting and statues had no voice, and art had to be satisfied with working its wonders within its own medium and within its own isolated world. Genuine illusion held its own. Incomplete painting can arouse the viewer’s imagination and project what is not there. (Gombrich, 2002, p.174)

Few things that are stated by Gombrich in his book that I like to take on board when planning a drawing, painting or storyboarding are:

  • To understand the art of comic strip and posters that use familiar forms and symbolism (e.g. London Transport posters by Robert Harding, E.C. Tatum or Raymond Tooby).
  • A poster function is to attract attention by the improbable (unlikely to be true or to happen) and hold this attention by extending the process of reading.
  • If an art did not exist to amuse and intrigue us, arts of this kind would hardly be so popular.
  • To study the playful transformation through context and expectation that is provided by the advertisers in making use of stereotypes and identical symbols.

Ambiguity in Saul Steinberg illustration

There is a limit to what pictures can represent without differentiating between what belongs to the picture and what belongs to the intended reality.

In Steinberg’s drawing hand draws a drawing hand which draws it, we have no clue as to which is meant to be real and which the image; each interpretation is equally believable, as such, is consistent.


One Comment on “Constructivist perception”

  1. […] psychology perception that is projected onto the story.  Which I think this would be an example of constructivist based theory as explained by a famous art historian E.H. […]

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