Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do Artists See Differently?

During the recent series of posts on eye tracking, several of you wondered if artists look at the world differently from the general population.


According to a study conducted by Stine Vogt and Svein Magnussen in Norway, the answer appears to be yes.

Trained artists, compared to non-artists, spent less time looking at the focal points (here, a face or a figure) and more time scanning the overall image. In both pairings the artist's scanpath is on the right; that of the non-artist is on the left.

This was true whether they were looking at the pictures without any relevant guiding instructions, or whether they were directed to concentrate on the images in order to remember them.
--------
Thanks, David Palumbo.
Complete Story on Science Daily.
Previous post on eyetracking.

24 comments:

Steve said...

Interesting. Any chance of seeing the images without the yellow lines? (I haven't linked to the original study yet.) It was mildly surprising to see no activity in the upper part of the second picture, the sunburst motif above the passageway.

James Gurney said...

Steve, I haven't seen the images without the lines, but I also wondered why the gaze didn't travel above or to the side of the doorway. Maybe people were locked into the picture-within-a-picture.

One of the criticisms of the study was that the "non-artists" were mostly psychologists, who might have been more predisposed to zoom in on the human stories.

Angela said...

Interesting...and it's especially interesting that they'd go through the work of creating a study, publishing it, but not have taken better measures to keep it objective on the 'non-artists' side...

Sam said...

Hmmmm. Wonder if would make a difference if there were a good looking woman standing in the middle?
Another newbie to your blog Mr. Gurney. Can't believe I didn't find it sooner, but I found it thanks to your book Imaginative Realism.
I've got a lot of work to do.

marcia furman said...

very very interesting!

Erik Bongers said...

Yeah! That's the way I look! (I think) It's all over the place isn't it?

Sean Craven said...

As someone whose skill at draftsmanship varies considerably depending on my current artistic focus, I can say that when my observational drawing skills are running high, it changes the way I see the world. It also changes the way I dream and even the way I edit prose.

It ain't subtle.

Mark Heng said...

Hmmmm...I wonder if art school training has anything to do with it. You know, how students are told to take into account the whole page when drawing and all that...

James Gurney said...

Mark, yes, I think the training has a lot to do with it, since so much of art training is learning how to see.

And as you suggest, Sean, it's a kind of seeing or even thinking that goes beyond just the record of the movement of the center of vision. When I'm looking at a real scene that I'm painting, I'm more conscious of shifting focus and adjusting from narrow vision to peripheral awareness.

Welcome, Sam and all other new visitors. The book and the blog are sort of extensions of each other.

Olaf said...

Right. Now we only have to sort out who is an artist and who isn't.

Tyler J said...

Its very interesting to see a visual representation of visual activity, laying the thought process to bare.

Olaf, your comment got me thinking about what defines an artist. I have tried a few and all of them lead to more philosophical discussions; for example, what is art?

Would a hobby painter qualify? Paint by numbers? An amateur with professional-level skills? Where is the line?

It's fun to think about =)

Tyler J said...

This also got me to thinking, do artists naturally see the world differently, or is it the training? Or both?

I know for myself, my powers of perception are much more keen now that I have been persuing art more seriously. And I realize that learning to see can be taught, but is there a mental shift that occurs? Once you see something you can never unsee it sort of thing.

Steve Somers said...

I wonder about repeated viewings. For instance, take a painting like the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Now I've studied that painting as a print and in person numerous times and I'm certain the journey my eye takes is different every time. The way we see tings at first may not be what we see upon successive viewings.

Timo Hilger said...

wow, interesting study.
I always felt weird not looking at the focal point much, but looking rather at textures and light/colors than the face of a person.

keep up this inspiring goodness James :)

Renée T. Bouchard said...

That's really fascinating and as someone who wasn't always a visual artist, I've definitely found myself looking at the whole picture more and more. And I have no formal training, it's just something that seemed relevant to my work, so I did it. hmmm....

Rebecca S. said...

I'm wondering if this only applies to visual artists ie: if they included musicians and writers in the study, how would they look at the subjects?

Big Blog Collection said...

Interesting blog you have here. We invite you to list it in our Blog Directory

MikenLuisa said...

...and it's very true.

Rachel Brenner said...

Oh so looking at the over picture or on certain details is an artist thing? I thought it was just me ..phew ^^;

ivo.de.wispelaere said...

Well at least finally we have a scientific proof to see wheather somebody is an artist or not ;-).

Natalia M. said...

Woah! This blew my mind! I remember thinking about this when I was looking at something on my trip to Japan. I was so eager to memorize every bit of this specific place I beheld, that I made sure to cover every detail, and started intentionally ignoring the focal points; and I was wondering if the people around me were doing the same! Who knew it was an artist thing!

I see it's been mentioned in previous comments but I guess it makes sense that observational drawing would lead to this kind of different 'habit' of perceiving things.

ana said...

This is interesting. I can remember that there is once this study of where the eye is going around in images and words inside a webpage (not just an image) and as far as I can remember, there is an existing heat map as experts call it that is used to determine where an eye focuses in which part of any given webpage.

I am a blogger from the Philippines and I'm glad to have arrived here in your unique blog. - Ana

Michael said...

Fascinating!

I wonder if it's an issue training vs. inherent differences. For instance, the way a musician hears music vs. someone who is not a musician? Would a savant of music hear the same tune as well as a trained musician?

Sian Houle said...

I tend to annoy people when they post a picture and I point out something funnier in the background. Or when we are out and about and I point out some infinitesimal detail in a scene; I receive some odd looks. The entirety of it is what tells the story