From Retina to Reality: The Art of Perception

This is a brief exploration into the intricate relationship between Art and viewer. Art, in its essence, remains incomplete without the emotional and perceptual engagement of the observer. The observer gives meaning to a masterpiece as they interpret it through their personal lens.

The extent of the viewer's contribution to a work of Art varies depending on its degree of ambiguity. Abstract Art, devoid of recognizable forms, requires more of the viewer's imagination than, for example, a work of figurative Art.

An image projected onto the retina holds countless interpretations, each shaped by our individual experiences. Our brains take incomplete information from the outside world and make it whole.

The images we make as Artists are projected on our retinas as we work, and it is essential to understand because these projections are quite crude. You, as the viewer are filling in the missing information with what you know of the world, what you find beautiful, and the cultures you have been exposed to.

Furthermore, the images we make will be projected into the eye of your viewers. There, again, you only give them a crude retinal projection. Detail is filled in, for better or for worse, by each viewer in their own unique way.

What I want you to understand as artists is that mastery in today’s world is not so simple as being skillful with a pencil. Mastery is highly subjective. But the height of mastery is a necessarily relative to the height of science, technology, and human knowledge that is available at the time we are creating.

In my school, anatomy extends to neuroanatomy in order to understand the process by which crude projections become electrical signals… where color goes when it is divorced from value, how lines are understood, and how the contours of objects emerge.

While it may seem like we have direct access to the world, this is merely an illusion crafted by our minds. Our perception of reality is a fantastical construct that sufficiently aligns with the physical world.

Embrace this understanding as you engage with Art. It will undoubtedly provoke thought, and while artists who don’t engage in deep thinking merely express the human condition, this is not inherently wrong. It’s just easy.


November 30, 2023 — Thomas Hoppe