On composing pictures: clouds and disappearing elephants

"A Millenium Falcon is Passing Over" G. Scheckler, digital collage 2010

“A Millenium Falcon is Passing Over” G. Scheckler, digital collage 2010

Despite how our visual senses don’t always tell us the truth, they always seem quite trustworthy even when images are fictions, fakes, or misleads. Perhaps most of the time visual perceptions are reliable – and good artistic metaphors do lead towards important meanings and experiences. But when perceptions aren’t reliable, artists also gain ripe opportunity to use the techniques of art-making to take wild liberties with content and meaning in the same ways that magicians are able to use sleight-of-hand and other diversions to direct audience’s attention. Some artists have done so at great personal risk, putting their lives and reputations on the line. Others have simply relied on disappearing elephants, shimmering ghosts, and invisible gorillas to do their dirty work.

This essay is provided here for educational uses:  “A Cloud is Passing Over: Disappearing Elephants, Astonishing Ghosts, Invisible Gorillas and Putting the Artist on Trial” (click link to open pdf file, ~18 pages) Topics include favorite composition-related moments: magic tricks from Houdini, oddities of the psychology of visual perception, examples of online faked images, and the absolutely brilliant rebellion of legendary artist Paolo Veronese against the rabid Inquisition.

The conclusions are fantastic fun: Change Blindness Rules the World! “In the arts, our occasional sensory blindness, our dishonesty, and frequent misperceptions can be the very vehicles that artists use to lead and mislead the audience, to provoke us to think and to respond and to imagine, in the same ways that a magician, jester or poet might use sleight of hand or metaphor to entertain and delight. How we frame and caption and title those experiences both leads and misleads the audience. That we can now demonstrate how these vehicles are normal parts of our cognition and our senses shows how very ingenious artists of the past have been, that although they didn’t have the scientific tools we can use today they nonetheless were keen observers of the human condition. Those observations helped them create and justify their artworks. It might be wise today to keep in mind Veronese’s artistic license – a cloud is passing over – whenever we encounter artworks that pique our curiosity or arouse our ire. Is the artist doing so on purpose? Is there a deeper message? Beneath all of our artistic productions we must conclude that we simply cannot ignore the human mind including both its successes and accurate representations of the world as well as its mistakes, its blindness, and its sometimes wayward imaginings. All of these processes are brought to the viewing of an artwork just as the artist brings them to the making of the artwork. “

About The Author

Gregory Scheckler