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  • Bianca Vinther

Art and the perception of reality

Perception as reality in the visual arts: an exploration of artists’ perception

What does reality mean to you, and how do you perceive reality as an artist?

Listen to short version of this blog article here.

Burning candle and its reflection on a frosted glass

As I mentioned in my blog article about the essence of art, there’s no absolute perspective on what we see. There are only multiple viewpoints.

In the seminal book Ways of Seeing published in 1972, John Berger argued that we don't just see things but we always see our relationship with the things we look at. Because none of us has an uncritical relationship with the world.

Though ideologies, political authorities, and mundane leaders may attempt to conceal their relativity beneath the veil of "ultimate truth", they cannot and will never be able to remove one obvious fact: perception is not impartial. We see a complex mix of who we are, what we have learned, and what we want to see.

We cannot see things as they are, for we are compelled by a necessity of nature to see things as we are. We never can get rid of ourselves.” (From an article published in 1831 in the London based newspaper The Atlas under the title “Things as they are”)

Art is transformation, metamorphosis, change. And transformation is about seeing differently, through and beyond appearances and the limits of physical, cultural, and political vision. It is also about seeing consciously, e.g. finding, recognising, and seeing from within, as well as creating mindfully, which means being in the process and the present moment, and creating with your heart.

Art is about endless possibilities, not about big, fat, final answers. In the realm of visual art, perception is reality, which, in its turn, is a faithful expression of the artists’ multiple points of view.

In this blog post, I’ll address perception as reality in the visual arts, and contrast two approaches to reality and art-making. Because this seems very important to us as visual artists, art historians, teachers, and critics.

If you want to delve deeper into your perception of reality and better grasp its nature, keep reading till the end.

Art and the nature of our perception

Every perception is filtered through one’s worldview, which is a blend of culture, experiences, values, and a variety of other factors. Each of us has a unique perspective, an individual viewpoint on the world, which the world faithfully mirrors. Yes, the world is an expression of ourselves, a reflection of who we are.

Consider the case of a tree. When you look at it, what do you notice? I see its physical aspects, e.g., form, size, colours, and specific traits such as strength, beauty, or even solitude and fragility. I also see lines, surfaces, dots, patterns, and the relationship between them. Close examination of a tree ultimately reveals our personal impression