Expression and Space


There are different kinds of space: 1) conventional three-dimensional space, through which we all move, described by the Cartesian coordinate system, which uses the x and y axes to describe coordinates in two dimensions and the z axis to describe height or depth ; 2) the two-dimensional space (x-y plane) of a flat canvas, paper or photograph; 3) spacetime – space governed by the laws of physics, warped by gravity; Metaphorical space include: 4) dream space, not bound by any conscious logic; 5) thought space, logical or imaginative sequences of ideas in pursuit of answers; 6) visual space: “Visual space is the perceptual space housing the visual world being experienced by an aware observer; it is the subjective counterpart of the space of physical objects before an observer’s eyes.” [1]

Experience of space

A topic that has fascinated me for quite a while is the idea that human beings can experience the world as three dimensional when visual space is projected onto the two-dimensional plane of the retinas of both eyes. Note that both eyes are needed for true three-dimensional vision (otherwise known as stereopsis) to occur. One may be able to judge distances with only one eye, but for stereopsis to occur, one needs both eyes, correctly aligned.

One would think that since each eye has its own retina, a person would have double vision with two eyes. Béla Julesz, a Hungarian neuroscientist coined the term ‘cyclopean perception’.  “As we see the world single and not double, binocular vision can be represented by a single eye, the cyclopean eye. The cyclopean eye is an imaginary eye situated midway between the two eyes.” [2]

It seems that when both eyes view the world, the image presented to one retina is offset with respect to the other. This retinal disparity is converted to depth in a specific area of the brain. Charles Wheatstone invented the earliest form of the stereoscope 175 years ago. [3] The stereoscope presents one image to each eye. However one image is displaced by a slight amount. This disparity is presented to the retinae and the brain fuses the images and converts the disparity to depth. The first time I looked through a stereoscope at a 100-year-old paper slide, the appearance of depth brought the scene to life.

But I digress

Visual arts and representation of expressive space

Since I went into expressive mode I have been seeking ways to put the way I feel on paper through painting. Through my reading, I have tried to understand how artists have tackled the problems of presenting what they wish to portray. It was important for Cézanne, one of the pivotal artists of the 19/20th centuries, to resolve the physical space before him into basic shapes. He wrote this sentence, which was to influence the art of Braque and Picasso: “You must see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, the cone.” (from Cubism and Abstract Art by Alfred H. Barr, New York: Museum of Modern Art 1974 print)

Other artists have different perceptions and work with different metaphors. Kandinsky, for example, used color independently and form independently. [4] Miró, considered a surrealist, whose philosophy it was to allow the unconscious to guide the artist. “The already symbolic and poetic nature of Miró’s work, as well as the dualities and contradictions inherent to it, fit well within the context of dream-like automatism espoused by the [Surrealist] group.” [5]

Nothing automatic

In yesterday’s experiment, I found myself thinking intensely. What started as a playful grid became a portrait of my brother. Undoubtedly, my subconscious was at work. The spaces created by the grid did not of their own accord suggest a portrait of any kind. Incorporating the icons that I developed during previous painting experiments allowed me to add meaning that was unambiguous – to me at least.

Today I was thinking of how to approach an portrait that would convey my emotional attitude toward the subject without the scaffolding of a grid. Thus far I have not come up with anything. For me to be successful in this, I would have to incorporate dream space and thought space and yet the result has to be portrayed in two-dimensional space.

Tomorrow is another day.

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