A leading proponent of this theory is V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UC-San Diego and author of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. Ramachandran outlined 10 aesthetic principles that interest or delight the neurons in our visual cortex. One of them, peak shift, describes the way “we find deliberate distortions of a stimulus even more exciting than the stimulus itself.”
In an article on peak shift in Psychology Today, Jonah Lehrer describes a study in which subjects could more readily identify famous figures like Richard Nixon by cartoon caricatures than by photographs. The part of the brain recruited for facial recognition, called the fusiform gyrus, excels at interpreting the qualities that distinguish one object from another, to the point where it favors slightly warped representations of reality.
Anything to make our paintings more pleasing to the viewer!
So Kevin demonstrated some of the ways to keep abstraction within the picture plane:
- Keep the initial drawing restricted to site lines (where the side of the barn is on the canvas, where the road lines are, etc) In other words, don't draw the "thang"
- Paint in the major shapes and fill them with the correct values and colors but DONT fuss with exact edges or think about what the shape represents. Think of it only as a shape, not a thing; or as Kevin liked to say, mocking our Southern drawl, "here's the thang, don't paint the thang!"
- Watch for and eliminate repeating patterns, such as 4 trees in a row or clouds spaced evenly across a sky. Break them up by making the shapes and spacing random and irregular.
- Pay attention to the so-called "negative shapes", which are the shapes of the spaces between the "thangs." They, too, need to be irregular in size and dimension, so they don't attract and offend the eye. The great thing about negative shapes is they help inform what the representational shape actually represents! You can paint a shape that vaguely looks like a car and by adjusting the negative values around it, sculpt the edges to reveal the subject.
Kevin used a clever technique of dividing the canvas into completely random geometric shapes and lines and encouraged us to use those as we compose our subject matter to paint. This is a bit hard to explain in a blog so you will have to take one of his workshops sometime! I highly recommend it!
(click on photos to read captions)