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The art of seeing and painting

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For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

The human urge to represent the three-dimensional world using two-dimensional pictorial representations dates back at least to Paleolithic times. Artists from ancient to modern times have struggled to understand how a few contours or color patches on a flat surface can induce mental representations of a three-dimensional scene. This article summarizes some of the recent breakthroughs in scientifically understanding how the brain sees that shed light on these struggles. These breakthroughs illustrate how various artists have intuitively understood paradoxical properties about how the brain sees, and have used that understanding to create great art. These paradoxical properties arise from how the brain forms the units of conscious visual perception; namely, representations of three-dimensional boundaries and surfaces. Boundaries and surfaces are computed in parallel cortical processing streams that obey computationally complementary properties. These streams interact at multiple levels to overcome their complementary weaknesses and to transform their complementary properties into consistent percepts. The article describes how properties of complementary consistency have guided the creation of many great works of art.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems and Center of Excellence for Learning in Education, Science, and Technology, Boston University, 677 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA


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