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A Reader's Journal
Principles of Visual Perception

Carolyn M. Bloomer

Published by Van Nostrand Reinhold in 1976
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©1987


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What could be better than a book on visual perception written by an artist for artists? Ms. Bloomer covers the basics of perception using a liberal sprinkling of drawings and pictures to illustrate her point. Any beginning artist would be wise to study this book, to do the homework exercises early in their career, and to keep it handy on their shelf for reference.

On page 9 she gives a suggestion for an exercise involving cutting out pictures and words, turning them over then selecting a picture and word at random and noticing the meanings which result.

The results may shock and astound you, for more than half the pairs will seem to have some meaning, often humorous or ironic. The results are so uncanny that it may appear as if someone had planned it and yet the combinations are completely random, left to the laws of chance. The results seem far above the expectations of chance. Why?

As she goes on to explain, it is the meaning-making function of the mind that is at work in this simple exercise: the same function that is activated during phrenology, palmistry, astrology, I Ching, and Tarot readings. It is a scientifically-grounded approach to explaining these various means of divination to naive beginners. This is a first step, not a complete explanation.

Several important concepts of visual perception that she explains are:

Closure the process of establishing the meaning of a visual stimulus. Fine Art artists strive for intermediate closure (not too fast, nor too slow). Commercial artist strives for immediate closure. (One must recognize a STOP sign very quickly on a public street, but a Dali stop sign in a painting may take a while to sort out.)

Constancy how the images perceived by the eyes maintain their real-world sizes in proportion to their retina-impinged image sizes. This is the reason that artists use pencils in their extended arms: to gauge sizes so as to avoid the size constancy problem.

Grouping demonstrated by the triangle grouping on page 41. In a uniform field of triangles, the eye/mind tries to form groupings, but is doomed to failure. Artists like Yaacham Agam use this grouping concept to create visually interesting artworks from abstract geometric shapes.

Pregnant Moment the pregnant moment concept, in which action is represented not at its climax, but at a moment just before the climax.

The last three chapters are very handy for prospective artists and contain considerable guidance on how to mix paints, select colors, avoid size/color constancy problems, and how to establish closure.

May you, as I do, deem this book to be a worthy addition to any artist's library.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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