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The Vault of Perception: Are Straight Lines Seen as Curved?

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image of Art & Perception

There is a widespread belief in art praxis that linear perspective is only a geometric approximation to the ‘true’ properties of perspective as experienced in the perception of the world, which are thought to involve some form of curvilinear perspective. The origins of that belief are examined from Roman times to the present, with a focus on the generation of perspective curvature by the active viewer as a means of elucidating the underlying perceptual principles involved. It is concluded that the only valid form of perspective for the flat canvas is linear perspective, and that it is valid only for a viewing location at the geometric center of projection for which the picture was constructed. Viewing from any other location (particularly in the case of wide-field images viewed from greater than the required distance) generates perceived distortions that have often been misinterpreted to imply that linear perspective geometry is inadequate and that some form of curvilinear perspective would be more representative. However, as long as it is viewed with one eye from the center of projection, the perceptual experience of accurate linear perspective is of a full, explorable 3D space, in contrast to any other form of perspective convention.

Affiliations: 1: Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA


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