How is depth perception achieved in art

Art without depth

To investigate the spatial vision of artists, Livingstone and her team carried out two experiments. In the first, the test subjects saw virtual 3-D images that were generated on the computer. They were asked to assess whether a square in the center of the image appeared to be in front of, behind or on the same level as the computer monitor. Participants were 403 art students and 190 students from other fields.

In the second experiment, the researchers analyzed the position of the eyes of 123 well-known painters and sculptors and compared them with 129 members of the US Congress. To do this, they used portraits from which they cut out the eyes so that it was no longer possible to draw any conclusions about the person. Two experts then assessed whether the pupils of both eyes were aligned or whether there was a slight squint. The latter is practically always associated with a deficit in three-dimensional vision.

The first study clearly showed that the art students had poorer spatial vision than the students in the control group. The second study confirmed this trend: a slight squint was observed more frequently in the successful artists than in the people in the comparison group. "Our results make it clear that artists have less pronounced three-dimensional vision than the average population," write the authors. “However, squinting is not a necessary prerequisite for being successful as an artist. Many of the painters and sculptors examined show no deviation at all in both pupils. "

However, a poorer spatial perception could be an advantage for an artist. For example, painters are often instructed during their training to close one eye and thereby more precisely perceive indirect features of spatial depth such as shadows or changes in perspective. "A less pronounced depth perception could make such features stand out and thus be advantageous for an artist," speculates Livingstone.

Margaret Livingstone (Harvard Medical School) et al: Psychological Science, doi: 10.1177 / 0956797610397958 dapd / - Christine Amrhein
February 3, 2011