psychodyanmics of vision

I have been stumped over the past three weeks as to how to portray choppy water of a river. I finally decided to base the sign on shallow scrolls and bringing any brush strokes out in the rhythm those scrolls: I did capture the energy of the water; but the result was so far out of my normal painting that I questioned its “truth” or even whether it worked: in my view, it looked too much as though it was made for comics. I had a trusted friend – who is an artist and a theater set builder – come over to look at it yesterday: the glyph did capture the energy; but it was like a comic book rendering; and it failed in terms of regression into space.

This morning, with my failed attempt in the back of my mind, I came across on Facebook a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection of Vincent Van Gogh. I followed the link to the collection’s online catalog and selected Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses.

What am I looking at? Van Gogh’s successful attempt at capturing energy in his brushstrokes and painting. He understood that the brushstroke carries the intent of the focused artist: One can perceive the wind blowing through over the wheat field, not just because he bent the image of the wheat, but because he held the form of the wind energy and the resistance of the wheat stalks in his mind as he put down the strokes. The same can be said of the tree in middle of the field. The strokes of cypresses convey their living energy. One can go through the entire painting perceiving his recording of the energy or vitality he perceived.

One has to stay on focus to be able to do this sort of painting: this is proof that he did not paint in a frenzy; rather, he painted slowly, as his pigment laden stroke reveals; and he painted each stroke meticulously as he conscientiously recreated the energy in each stroke.


The Visual Dynamics of Related and Unrelated Shapes (Rectangles)

Each shape has its own dynamics: each shape has its own energies and arrangement of those energies; the rectangle is the classic shape in the visual arts. Two classical divisions of the rectangle are handed down to the artist; but to the modern artist, these are for the most part curiosities: interesting but no necessary in composing – or rather, spewing forth a painting – at best, they are recipes on how to lay in a picture: where to conveniently hang objects. The reality is that these systems are maps of the rectangle’s dynamics.

The eye will naturally divide a line in half: the mid-point; in a rectangle, this leads to the bipartite system. The eye also naturally divides a line into thirds leading us to the tripartite system. Interestingly the bipartite system includes the tripartite: the latter is a subset of the former.

Yet, what about the shape area in terms of its nature divide into sub areas? Does the area easily divide into fourths and thirds?


  1. Is there a perceived relationship?
  2. Is this too subtle to consciously register?
  3. Does the eye grasp the relationships? Can the eye recognize a shape as based an original


  1. Create a rectangle with each side easily divided by three
  2. Enter the tripartite guidelines
  3. Create rectangular shapes based on those divisions
  4. Create an wholly unrelated rectangle having no proportional relationship with any of the rectangles or the master rectangle.
Rectangle with related rectangles and one unrelated


    • The eye does perceive the relationships: there is an harmony between shapes based on the initial rectangle;
    • The harmony and disharmony are immediately perceived. The red rectangle is perceived as out of harmony with the other rectangles.


  1. Can compositions be created that play off  the relatedness of different proportioned rectangles (or simply objects); for the eye is attracted to and tends to group by likeness.



[Edited 3/10/2017. This experiment was initially done as to understand why the eye quickly recognizes the misshapeness of a drawn human figure; but I have since come to understand that the mind has an internal sense of proportion. Yet, this is a possible way for the artist to create pleasing proportions of the human figure.]

For the past few years, I have made use of a color’s fifths. By that I mean using the color triangle (as I wrote below in the entry “The Color Triangle: Mixing Pigments”) to determine the fifth colors from a root color and use that relationship to determine pigment mixtures.


The color-triangle_Yellow-Blue-Red-Orange; note that the colors purple, violet, red-violet, and red would be adjusted so that their intensity would lie along the edge of the shaded triangle.

Using yellow as the root and basing the chord on the Pythagorean right triangle of 3, 4, 5; the other chord colors are red-orange and blue; red-orange is three from yellow, blue is four. On the color/note wheel, yellow is A, blue is C#, and red-orange is F#. This gives us the following right triangle:


The yellow, blue, and red-orange chord with yellow’s fifths: red-violet and purple; the fifths of the other two colors are indicated.

it is also possible to keep yellow as the root color; but make the four side yellow to red, and the three side yellow to blue green. In this case, red-violet possesses the relationship purple had in the above figure; and purple now possess the relationship red-violet had.

The right triangle shows yellow at the right angle and the movement is clockwise to blue and then red-orange. Let’s call the right angle position the root position; therefore, yellow is the root color.

I then indicated with red lines the two colors that are fifths of yellow: red-violet and purple. As can be seen in the above figure, the fifths of the other colors in the triad are:

  • the fifths of blue are red-orange and yellow-orange;
  • the fifths of red-orange are blue and green.

Note that the fifth red-violet divides the hypotenuse – five color range – in a natural manner into three and two. Whereas, purple seems to be in a relationship to blue as though it was its sharp : C to C# so to speak. The natural division may be a reason why the yellow-red-violet relationship seems more attractive.


I played “put the fifths descending from yellow.”

I discovered in one of my failed acrylic paintings that using the fifth of a color gives air or breath to the painting at the same time it is creating distance between colors.

In painting these fifths, one’s eyes become accustomed to the relationship between a color and its fifth; so, it becomes easy to determine when one has mixed the true fifth. Here is a key understanding: one can train his eye to recognize the particular relationship he is seeking: the color relationship, when achieved just seems to harmonize; there is a visual “yes”; in fact, many times when the right color is found, the color just seems to disappear.

The relationship creates an implied line between the two colors; in fact, the color intensities withing the relationship can be adjusted to incorporate an emphasis on a compositional power line or intersection of the implied power lines.

My use of the fifth has become an integral part of my painting, not only because of the breath the fifth seems to give; but also, because the painting seems to come alive

Several years ago I created a web site for an artists’ guild to which I belonged to at the time; on that now defunct site, I created a page on how to hang an exhibition. The image below is a screen shot from that page.


Screen shot of instructions: click to enlarge.

The simple instructions were based on kinesthetic and visual principles:

  • The visual energy of an artwork is the key to placement in an exhibit;
  • Movement around the room is based on the focal length of the art work: this is the distance at which the piece is apprehended; the energy of the piece will force you to move the proper distance to perceive it;
  • Determine how the viewer is going to move naturally through the gallery space: clockwise or counter-clockwise;
  • Work should be arranged so that the movement around the room is a gentle flow: the shifting from one focal length to the next is not abrupt;
  • Keep similar energies together (back in the eighties, I was accused of having a corner for bad artists: no, it was based on energy: unfortunately a good artist was placed in the same spot because of similar energies);
  • The focal length of a piece should not force you against a wall: this would be the case if you hung a strong piece in a narrow hallway;
  • Use focal length to determine where to put a sculpture in a room with paintings: a viewer looking at paintings should not bump into someone looking at a sculpture; worse yet, the focal length of the painting should not lead the viewer to bump into the sculpture;
  • Use the energy of the works to determine spacing between pieces: keep moving the artwork apart until the energies release;
  • The longest focal length is where you are walking into the room; therefore, the strongest pieces – those having the most energy – are opposite the doorway;
  • The height of the artwork is determined by hanging the center of the piece five feet from the floor; if there is a group, arrange the group and have the center of the group be five feet high.

Examples of how a shape can be created,

Examples of how a shape can be created,

This post is a first installment on this subject.

The power of an artist derives from his intellect and his interaction with form.I learned this concept early; yet it grew in importance over the passing decades.

I first expressed this concept in the above manner in the thesis I wrote as an undergraduate: then it was simply an expression of how one may view an object: as a swelling form, as a collapsing form, or as a static form; this is easily translatable into the academic use of positive and negative space. In graduate school, when I was still doing retinal drawing and painting, I was instructed to feel the movement of a line (parabola) as it moved around the form of the model; as my mentor Peter Agostini was involved in creating a swelling human shape (look up prana).

[An aside: Peter Agostini had been involved with the creation of swelling forms from early in his career: inflated inner tubes (I didn’t see any but he did describe working with them), plaster balloons, and large swollen heads; this consideration of swelling from within carried over into his representation of the human figure and that of the horse. I did not realize Peter had comprehended prana until I spent an overnight in his studio when I drove his “Old Man” sculpture up to NYC: on a shelf over the entrance to his studio, he had displayed a few small figurines of Indian sculptures exhibiting prana. I first learned of this quality of inner swelling from George Weber but had not seen it directly applied until I saw Peter’s work. The figure to the left in the above image illustrates prana.]

Later on, while still in graduate school, I did a quick what if experiment and learned that if I held an objects’ position in relation to its environment in my visual field, the drawing carried the expression or feeling of the objects spacial relationships. The what if experiment was to retinally multiple focus on a column and on the cabinet doors behind it and to include an awareness of the space between them: The few strokes I put down conveyed in their meaning the spacial relationship of the original objects.

[aside two: when I refer to drawing from the retinal image, I mean that I had learned to draw an object while looking at the object and not at the drawing. the image below is an example.]

An example of looking at the object and not the image as I drew.

An example of looking at the object and not the image as I drew.

This manner of drawing continued until the early 1980s when my mind simply stopped wanting to be enslaved to the retinal image. I had to find a way to move inward that would satisfy my imagination.

To be continued.

In 1969, Dr. George Weber Jr. at Rutgers at Newark, New Jersey introduced me to the nature of meaning in art: I was taking his “Art and Aesthetics” class as a requisite for majoring in art education; George introduced the class to the Venus of Willendorf, explaining what it meant, how it conveyed that meaning both tactilely and visually, how it represented an existing canon and, by extension, the existence of a master apprentice system; then, he demonstrated how the modern artist fails to convey this meaning even when he attempts to replicate the piece for a museum exhibit. Then George went on to discuss the art of cave painting and the canon of glyphs.
I was hooked. I became George’s student and research assistant: my job was to take slides and run the slide projector; in addition, I was taught to draw Chinese bronze ornament designs: this line of training came to an end following a summer when the slide librarian failed to make the requisitioned slides and I had to haul my tail to produce them for the art history class.
I spent three years under George’s tutelage, taking a second senior year. Not only did he teach me the basics of drawing and color, he introduced me to the psychodynamics of seeing: the formal elements of vision and how they create effects in the viewer. In the final year, as part of an assignment, I wrote a manuscript on these dynamics: this entailed reading the writings of the three initial founders of Gestalt psychology, and the writings of the artists Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Albers, and Paul Klee; yet, in the end, it came down to taking the formal elements (i.e., light and dim, area, shape, line, and point), contemplating them as they were in front of me, and discovering their psychodynamics: what did they do individually and when in a group. At the end of the year, I turned in a thin volume that fulfilled the assignment (there is more but that involves my being an ass and I won’t cover that here).
The understanding which I acquired of the psychodynamics of vision after many hours of observation is the foundation of all my work I have done since. My plans for this blog include writing on this understanding.
At the end of the year, as I was leaving his office and his private assistant was packing the office, George pointed his finger at me and said, “The next thing you need to learn is the parabola.” That statement set my direction on a path that led to my mentor at graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in North Carolina.