Perspective The Art of Illusion

Oh, what a lovely thing is this perspective!

—Paolo Uccello

Long before humans used their eyes, brains, and muscles to guide complex sensory-motor actions, such as assembling a delicate watch or threading a tiny needle, our distant ancestors used the same instruments to hunt elusive rabbits, pick fruit, avoid flying rocks, judge distances over an expansive plain, and remove tiny thorns from their feet. These were all matters of life and death.

It was not enough to know what an object was (although it was important to know one's mate from a rock, edible apples from sour ones, and so on). It was also important to know where it was. Knowing that the furry animal was a rabbit, while part of the act of perception, was incomplete unless you knew where he was. As we have seen in previous chapters, the two main cortical streams are dedicated to the what and where questions.

Much of the interest in the cognition of art has been directed toward visual localization and the perception of depth. How our distant ancestors (and we) perform each of the common acts mentioned above is a difficult question requiring a complex answer. However, a large part of the problem deals with being able to see things "in depth." The native propensity to see, to understand, and to guide one's behavior is contingent on the reciprocal action of the eye and brain as they differentiate near objects from distant objects—a topic called visual perspective, the theme of this chapter.

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