Artists look different

These two pictures represent the eye motions of two viewers as they scan a work of art with the goal of remembering it later. One of them is a trained artist, and the other is a trained psychologist. Can you tell which is which?


How about for this picture?


i-eca0cf2af9fc3ac4445c7dff7d8aab70-research.gifArt teachers have noted that when beginning students attempt to draw accurate portraits, they tend to exaggerate the size of key features: eyes and mouths are too big relative to the size of the head. Trained artists learn to ignore these temptations and draw the world as it really appears. Even world-famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci have had to resort to tricks such as looking at their subject through a divided pane of glass in order to render proportions accurately. As you can see from the two examples above, even when looking at a picture, artists look differently. So which is which? I'll let you know at the end of the post.

Stine Vogt and Svein Magnussen showed 16 pictures including these two to trained artists and non-artists (psychologists) enrolled in Norway's top graduate programs in their respective disciplines, using eye-tracking cameras and software to monitor where they looked. The viewers were unaware of the purpose of the test -- they were told the study was about pupil size and response to pictures. In the first phase of the experiment, viewers simply looked at each picture in random order, and in the second phase, they were asked to view the pictures again, but to concentrate in order to remember them.

Vogt and Magnussen defined key areas of each picture -- small regions around focal objects such as human bodies or faces. This graph shows how often artists and non-artists looked at these areas:


In both cases, non-artists spent significantly more time looking at these key areas than artists. Interestingly, even artists spent more time looking at these areas when trying to remember the pictures.

So who was better at remembering pictures? At the end of the study, participants gave unprompted verbal descriptions of as many of the pictures as they could, in any order. Overall, the artists remembered more details from the pictures, but surprisingly, non-artists actually remembered more of one type of pictures: abstract pictures with no recognizable objects. Artists were able to change their viewing strategy to remember the non-abstract pictures, but with no recognizable objects in abstract pictures, there was no change in strategy.

So why do artists look at pictures -- especially non-abstract pictures -- differently from non-artists? Vogt and Magnussen argue that it comes down to training: artists have learned to identify the real details of a picture, not just the ones that are immediately most salient to the perceptual system, which is naturally disposed to focusing on objects and faces. With this in mind, there's little doubt which pictures above show the artist's eye movements -- they are the ones to the right, which sweep across the whole picture, not just the human face and figure.

Vogt, S. & Magnussen, S. (2007). Expertise in pictorial perception: Eye-movement patterns and visual memory in artists and laymen. Perception, 36, 91-100.

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It seems pretty obvious to me that psychologists would look more at the people, while artists would look more at the entire picture. Am I missing some nuance here that is supposed to make this hard to understand?

This seems similar to studies of eye-movement in the sightreading of music. Those who are particularly good at sightreading are constantly looking over the entire page, whereas novices look mostly at the exact spot they are playing.


Psychologists don't just look at people more -- even in pictures with no person in them, they look at whatever the primary object in the picture is -- a shovel, a bird, whatever.


Very interesting observation. Do you have a reference for that sightreading study?

I know it would be far more difficult to complete a fair test, but it would be very interesting to see the different eye movements looking at the same scene in real life.

By the looks of it the non-artist is seeing the scene as if it was real, sizing up the doorway and figure on the first, checking the distance from the horizon on the second.

Whereas the artist appears to be looking at the flat image only as a two dimensional space.

Might this be related to right versus left hemisphere control of global and local attention, linking in with visuospatial functions being also more right hemispehere biased?

Though more details were remembered, this could suggest that from the abstract painting data, their recollection was perhaps somewhat less supported by some kind of verbal labelling route to memory ('a black blob and a green blob'), instead trusting their right hemispehere functions, which might subsequently let them down, especially in a verbal recall task

just my 2 cents

It's sometimes useful to compare an artist's early work with their later work, to see how they change their perception.
For example, compare the following two works by Vincent van Gogh: an earlier one, from 1882 and a later one, from 1885. The earlier one looks a bit spooky, not quite human. The latter one looks stylised, but you can she she's human.
The difference between the two is the proportions on the face. Faces are very important to us, which is why we see them everywhere. The eyes, in particular, are very important. When an untrained person draws a face, they tend to exaggerate what their brain processes as important.
If you draw a line from the chin to the crown of the head on a typical person, the eyeballs sit almost exactly half-way along that line. You can see that in the later picture. But they appear to be higher, taking up more space. You can see that in the earlier picture.
Art teachers will tell you that people who say they can't draw are, in fact, completely incorrect. Anyone without a severe physical disability can draw. What they can't do is see what's right in front of them. But that is a skill that can be learned.

By Pseudonym (not verified) on 15 Mar 2007 #permalink

it seems to me that an artist would maybe look at the design at the top of the archway, which they dont.

also, that graph is really funny. it reminds me of the graph used in COX cable commercials. i know what it means and says, but its really silly.

As someone studying both Neuroscience and Graphic Design, this article is fascinating to me. It was immediately apparent to me which set of pictures were those showing the artist's reactions. Artists look at framing, proportion, balance, symmetry, and rhythm (among other things) when examining the world around us. We are trained in composition as it relates to where the eye will go first, and where it will travel (we do this by using color, value, and form to create "movement").

It's always great to see a study that reenforces something that you knew about yourself, but couldn't quite quantify or prove.

the title should be "artists look differently"
differently is an adverb modifying the verb. different is an adjective. it modifies the noun, artist.

I'm an artist and immediately picked the right side maps.
The remark about the response patterns to the abstract pictures is interesting. I was wondering if the 'artists' in the test were both figurative painters. I suspect that an abstract painter would have a different set of memory clues for recalling what they saw. I suspect that most visual memory is fairly coarse, a bit like the low resolution images in a previous post.

As Austin noted, it appears to me that a significant amount of visual recognition is cognitive, and an abstract painter would have a larger set of 'labels' for an abstract picture. This would suggest they might achieve parity in the recall portion of the experiment. In addition, individual artists might have a bias towards one type of painting or another and this would affect their attention.

In the archway picture; the artist is looking at how the illusory space in the painting is constructed, scanning from the doors, through the hallway, to the figure, to the background. Part of the artist's scanning process is also focused on the changing tonalities, the way the 'light' in the picture varies. In essence, the artists perception has a different intent than just looking at what the picture is, rather he/she is looking at how it is constructed (made) visually as well as identifying what it is a picture of.

This view somewhat agrees with Ed's comment, however an artist knows a painting is just a painting, a two dimensional surface. Making painting requires a degree of awareness of the mapping process between two and three dimensions. While an artist might view any real world spatial situation this way, it is a specialized type of 'looking', usually brought into focus by an intentional process.

By contrast the psychologist (non-artist) viewer is concerned with identifying what the picture is. The scanning pattern suggests (to me) this process is in part one of recognition, labeling (linguistically or ?) the elements in the picture. A building, two wood doors, a mystery lump (left), horizontal line bisecting the canvas, the vanishing point (at heavy yellow blob, left of head) and a strong focus on the figure. (The vanishing point is where the perspective lines converge and a strong focal point)

The second picture is less interesting, without the figure it would border on the abstract. Again, the artist is scanning the painting and tracking the structure, along with the tonal or hue changes, of the diagonal bands which lead attention forward towards the swimmer.
The non-artist tracks less of the hot spots and focuses directly on the face of the swimmer.

This was an informative post, being aware of how the eye tracks a painting is part of the painting process and something which can be controlled. Because of the complexities of how visual perception occurs and is processed in multiple ways, it involves more than just decoding visual stimuli which may account for the emotional responses in some viewers.

Sorry for such a long comment.

I suppose the next step would be to distinguish between Caucasian and Asian artists. I seem to recall a study that found that Caucasians tended to focus on the main details of a photo, whereas Asians had a more holistic view, taking in the whole picture.

By David Group (not verified) on 16 Mar 2007 #permalink

While I suspect that Asian, or any other cultural group, might produce different results when looking at a picture, I suspect the general differences between the artists and the non-artists would be generally the same. To me visual perception is an action and somewhat controlled by the intentions of the viewer. Since I am a painter, when I looked at the picture sets presented, I could understand the different intentions evident in the two test groups, because I have an understanding of how and what the artist might be paying attention to.

What might be interesting would be to control the test images differently, by making some initial assumptions about how a viewer might process a scene. What happens if the picture has objects with words in them? Or what happens with a picture that has all the three dimensional spatial clues and a number of unrecognizable objects. Does the viewer spend more time trying to decode an unrecognizable object?

What with this being scienceblogs:

According to Dave (and to the pictures we have seen) the non-artists focus disproportionately on the agents, while the artists seem to be able to divert attention form the agent to other places (and the hypothesis proposed by George in this regard is very interesting).

This actually ties in with things I have read of how our minds evolved to perceive, understand and even invent agents in order to function in the natural world. Here, it seems that we focus on whatever looks to us like an agent at first, and that it is necessary to learn not to do this in order to avoid doing so.

It would indeed be interesting to see how this sort of things work with real scenes, or with video.

By valhar2000 (not verified) on 16 Mar 2007 #permalink

The artists are the ones wearing the berets, with paint spatters on their shirts, eh?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Mar 2007 #permalink

Is there a more profound historical tendency to myopia (nearsightedness) in "Asians"? I vaguely recall once hearing that that might be a factor in the ("Western"?) perception that "Asian" landscape paints tend to have a blurry background.

er, not paints, paintings...

I would be cautious about suggesting a correlation between myopia and paintings with a "blurry background". Even if there is data to suggest that one cultural group tended to have a visual deficit, this could only be analyzed in a statistical way. While some artists might have a visual deficit like myopia, many others would not, to suggest that artists as a group fall into the deficit category is statistically incorrect.

Other reasons for the "blurry background" observation. Reduced focus (blurring), reduced contrast along with a spectrum shift towards blue (blue gray) are classical aesthetic solutions for depicting the illusion of space in painting. Additionally, these techniques are more than a 'creative interpretation', they based on sound real world optical phenomena. Further, a myopic artist would perceive objects at medium distances as blurry also, the fact that this technique is generally limited to depictions of objects in the background suggests that it is a stylistic device and not the result of a perceptual defect.

There are some perceptual defects which may be apparent in an individual artists works but these are generally limited to a particular person and not an artistic or cultural style.

I would love to see video that displays the eye paths as they are being drawn out, rather than the one shot spanning the whole time period. Does the tracking software record this as well? Do they start at different points as well? Where do they go after that? where did they finish?

In looking at this a second time, i've found it interesting to watch where the vision paths exit the frames. The paths of the non-artists seem to fly off in odd directions, as if perhaps they're bored of the image and have tried looking for more information elsewhere. The artists, however, seem content to study the image for as long as they're instructed (or allowed) to.

Don't tell me you are an artist, let me figure that out for myself...


Good questions. I think most eyetracking software includes a time component, and in this case it definitely did because the researchers also analyzed just the first five seconds of each viewer's movements. They found the same pattern: that artists look at the whole picture while non-artists tend just to focus on objects. They did not, however, report on precisely where the eye went immediately after seeing the picture.

As a producer of film and video that often winds up on YouTube, I am extremely intrigued with how both the artist and Mr. Average Joe look at and react to content that MOVES. This goes immediately to what is Art and what is, again, simply content. The implications are enormous. What is copyright. How is technology going to redefine fair use. The manner in which people see things and then interpret them matters. The manner in which people respond to narrative -- the layering of visual and auditory context -- has a lot riding on it culturally, poltically, and those of us who are hip deep into manipulating that want to know how this stuff works. It matters where I place a moving object in a film. Who is my audience and do I necessarily want to limit it to people who see the entire picture and how will interaction between content and audience develop a dynamic. I would suggest that it is far more complex than two boxes of folks, and when the marketing people get ahold of this kind of information the world will change as we know it. It happens every day. It is not the future. It is now and it is yesterday. How you see a book cover to how you react to a character's clothing will be analyzed ad infinitum. What you see will be manipulated to make sure you do, indeed, see it, and what remains peripheral will extend itself to issues such as where do the disenfranchised live and how convenient will it be for us to not have to see them in the symbolism of our daily lives. What I put into a moving image (will it move right to left and where does the car crash get positioned and what about product placement) will count as much as what I leave out and WHO I leave out. Artists have been doing this since the caves of France were inhabited. But how it works is a science studied intently by such movers and shakers as Hitler who by the way and not coincidentally was an artist, too. Both visually and socially. He manipulated. How you see THE ENEMY and how he is portrayed is everything. How do we tell what is real and what is illusion. Trust me: you will NOT like the answer.

Everything you see is real. Why. Because you saw it.

The mystery is plain. Neuroscientists have developed theories that might help to explain how separate pieces of information are integrated in the brain and thus succeed in elucidating how different attributes of a single perceived object--such as the shape, color, and smell of a new car--are merged into a coherent whole. These theories reflect some of the important work that is occurring in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, but they are theories of structure and function. They tell us nothing about how the performance of these functions is accompanied by a conscious experience; and yet the ability to fathom as it studies the ability to fathom consciousness lies precisely here, in this gap in our understanding of how a subjective experience emerges from a physical process. There can no longer be any shadow of a doubt that has consciousness itself has a neural correlate, its existence does not seem to be derivable from physical laws.â¨â¨How we see objects extends itself as far as The Theory of Everything's Holy Grail which is the Theory of Everything. Physicists believe that the Theory of Everything is hovering right around the corner, and yet consciousness is still largely a mystery, and physicists have no idea how to explain its existence from physical laws. How is consciousness connected to how we physically interpret symbolism is important to understand and when I do I will be a very rich man, indeed. It will never happen but the questions physicists long to ask about nature are bound up with the problem of consciousness and how it relates to physical p[rocess. To date (this will change) physics can furnish no answers for anyone. "Let man," declared Emerson, "then learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature are in his own mind."â¨â¨Space and time, not proteins and neurons, hold the answer to the problem of consciousness. When we consider the nerve impulses entering the brain, we realize that they are not woven together automatically, any more than the information is inside a computer. Our thoughts have an order, not of themselves, but because the mind generates the spatio-temporal relationships involved in every experience. We can never have any experience that does not conform to these relationships, for they are the modes of animal logic that mold sensations into objects. It would be erroneous, therefore, to conceive of the mind as existing in space and time before this process, as existing in the circuitry of the brain before the understanding posits in it a spatio-temporal order. The situation, as we have seen, is like playing a CD--the information leaps into three-dimensional sound, and in that way, and in that way only, does the music indeed exist.â¨
The same can be said for the painting. Without the manner in which we perceive it, the thing does not exist.

The graphics reprtesenting where the subject looks does not reveal how much time was spent in the looking. The rythmic component to looking is significant. Artists frequently spend significantly more time than non-artists looking at the contour of an object, and looking in a structured manner. A common training exercise is to draw a contour without looking at the drawing while moving one's focus smoothly around a contour. The idea that foveation = interest is not universally true, particularly for Cezanne's journals where he speaks to the idea of attending to what is not foveated.

By Bill Brody (not verified) on 17 Mar 2007 #permalink

Good points, Bill; in this case the artists and the non-artists looked at each picture for the same amount of time: 40 seconds, and each recording displays the entire time spent viewing the picture.

Reminds me of how a motorcyclist (and probably car driver) looks, as well. Using peripheral vision to widen view & not concentrating on any one object (cos where you look is where you go), as well as scanning constantly. I have to admit i'm both an artist and a motorcyclist & the one thing both fields of endeavour have trained me in is to see in wide vision. Looking for the spaces between things, because in both these disciplines the spaces, in 3d, are every bit as important as the 'things'.

"the title should be "artists look differently"
differently is an adverb modifying the verb. different is an adjective. it modifies the noun, artist."

The headline actually references the Apple campaign, "Think different." It's ungrammatic for a reason.

I am a ski instructor, and the biggest breakthroughs come when students start to look far ahead of where they are going, instead of at the terrain right in front of them.

I remember in high school being told by some of the troglodyte students that my eyes "moved around too much". Who knew that it was a predictor of artistic ability?

I'm an artist with an MA in History of Medicine (thesis on history of psychosomatic medicine)-- but I don't see any picture whatsoever on my monitor, just some grey pixels. in straight lines enclosing white pixels, at 90-degree angles to each other. "Boxes," I think they're called. Or are we playing Malevich white-on-white games, here?

By Lisbeth Jardine (not verified) on 18 Mar 2007 #permalink

That artists view the scene objectively and non-artists subjectively isn't much of a shock, but I am surprised in both images by who isn't looking at what: in the archway, the psychologists spent most of their time focussed precisely on the vanishing point of the perspective, while the artists barely glanced there. (At first it seems it was the head of the figure they were looking at, but I think the head is actually a little to the right of the point of concentration.) Is it that the artists aren't fooled by the optical illusion of perspective, while the non-artists are literally taken in by it?

And in the second photo, the artist's eye-path travels along the horizontal lines of the waves just as you'd expect them to -- they are the only other visual pattern in the image. And yet, the non-artist eye is never caught by the wave lines. This is a surprise, and seems to confound conventional notions of how we compose pictures.

Neat article, neat website (I'm new here.)

The paring of Artist with Phycologist seems odd to me.
Do Artists and Phycologists actually seek the same ends, share the same aims, work with the same materials (emphasis on materials, e.g., people are not materials)? Artists may be self reflective but, that doesn't mean they are occupied or preoccupied in self analysis.

The note that David Group | March 16, 2007 09:10 AM made of cultural if not racial differences in vision and the follow up about 'blurry backgrounds' is not as relevant as what 'type' of artist was chosen to participate? Figure painters, abstract painters, performance artists? Assuming a Phycologists training stems from a similar root (Scientific or Socratic method), art instruction [these days] no longer has (for better or mostly worse) a fixed root. Artists are not constrained by Scientific or Socratic methods, or for that matter, drawing to 3D modeling/sculpture) to practice their craft.

Athletes might be a better choice, as a better choice as cath March 18, 2007 08:02 AM, and jdaily March 18, 2007 12:14 PM bring to this thread from first person experience. A Hank Wessel once told me "you have'soft eyes', an baseball term for the way an outfielder sees the game. Meaning one should be aware of the totality context and content (gestalt) of their environment in a proprioceptive way. Making art is a body, mind and contextual activity, not singularly cerebral.

Scott Spiegelberg | March 15, 2007 01:06 PM, note on sight-reading music as well as, jdaily to skiing and the evolution from novice to intermediate to expert is described well in this (to only name one) article, Hollnagel, E. (1993). Human reliability analysis-context and control. New York: Academic Press.
It does not specifically address the sight-reading example but he does walk us through scramble to strategic modes of observation.

Bill Brody | March 17, 2007 01:59 post that differences of foveal attention is interesting. He makes me recall that we are trained to assume that the central vision of an image within the context (structural contour) of the image frame = interest positive or negative. And relay a puzzle: draw two circles on a 3 X 5 card, then with a pencil describe these two circles as holes (you can only lift your pencil once). Perhaps we should expand concepts of foveal attention and consider the frame/context can also hold the attentive weight of an image in it's own right.

In the words of Fire-sign Theater (1970). Don't Crush that Dwarf, Hand me the Pliers, This Side. "Gimmie two!"

Pardon my ramble, I'm a relative novice at this whole affair with twenty-five years as a working artist, and ten in cognitive science (Human Factors/Ergonomics).

Psychologist, by virtue of their training tend to be more analytical, looking for specifics that stick out and are therefore interetable within a general - less important - context. Artist focus on the entire gestalt, realizing figure and context to be mutually dependent, co-expressive aspects of the whole. It would be interesting to run this experiment on gestalt trained psychologist. Bet it would read like an artist.

By DereK Schumm (not verified) on 19 Mar 2007 #permalink

I would agree that the study is too limited to encompass all artists/psychologists. A group of artists in the same program of study at the same college are most likely going to have the same patterns because of their training. Perhaps the same core classes that teach them how to "look". What is more interesting is that psychologists are not formally trained "visually", but neither is a building inspector for example. I imagine that cab drivers, ski instructors, detectives, film critics, ect... would all have similar results as the artists. Remember Dr Eleanor Maguire's study of London Cab Drivers hippocampus size and spatial memory? Perhaps artists who work in 2 dimensions experience 2 dimensional representation differently than those who work in 3 dimensions. I think the study is a good starting point, but perhaps a more fitting title: Artists look differently than Psychologists. But, everyone knows that. I wonder how the eye movement of a child might differ from that of an adult? I also wonder what the eye movement of subjects who have grown up with television vs subjects from countries without television. I'm pretty sure they are all different and I'm pretty sure advertisement companies already know these answers.

For anyone who wants to follow up by reading the article as published, there's a typo in the citation. You're looking for Perception, Volume *36* (not 26 as shown).

By Linda Carson (not verified) on 19 Mar 2007 #permalink

Really enjoyed reading this. I viewed as the right, but in the first one I examined the arch and it's relationship with the whole more (I think) than the example shown. The second I definitely examined the waves and light as much as I imagine I would have examined the head (I say imagined because it was obscured but those funny yellow lines). Anyway it fascinates me because, as a "scientist", cell biologist infact, I wonder how scientists extract information from visual data. Does anyone know if a similar study has been conducted on scientists (with data and non-data imagery)?

hey im a artist and i look at the pics more like the left side, definitively... kinda superficial analysis i think. .. what about abstract artists? do they look like realistic ones? ...

As an artist you are trained to look more and see more. It sounds ridiculous until you experience it yourself. I know I see the world differently than I did before I started art college and it shows in my painting. When I look at a painting I'm interested in the overall composition, tricks and techniques that I recognize, the use of colour and how the artist has rendered textures, surfaces and feelings. For example how he or she would create the cold, wet, hard, reflective and opaque qualities of a frozen lake. I can study a painting for a long time and continually learn more. Sometimes the forms in a painting that are most obvious in the initial glance are of least interest to an artist. So these findings don't surprise me but it's nice to know I have learnt something after paying out so much money on tuition fees!

Regarding the comment of myopia and the correlation of a blurry background in a painting---well, I'm not so sure. I have had myopia since childhood, and I've noticed that my preference in painting is towards clarity in all aspects of a picture. I have seen the world as "blurry" since childhood, and want to see clear outlines and spaces in my art. If a picture is "blurry" it causes irritation and eye fatigue. I am also a botanical artist, and often wonder if the reason I chose that particular subject is because I am near-sighted. Interesting study and interesting comments, to say the least.

By roseindigo (not verified) on 21 Mar 2007 #permalink

Excellent post. As a painter and a drawing instructor I have allways found that it is hard to teach seeing proportional relationships regarding form and space perception. Starting with large masses - comparing positive and negative spacial shapes and their scale to one another and then working towards smaller areas and then the details seems to be beneficial in capturing a likeness of the percieved subject(s). I think that a drawer/painter has a perceptual process akin to an athlete - who must quickly scan the entirety of their physical field in order to make split-second decisions.

pretty weak
obviously any person who attempted to copy a drawing more than once would have learned his lesson and would remember to take notice of all elements in the drawing rather than stare at the object in focus

By plasticfloor (not verified) on 04 Apr 2007 #permalink

obviously any person who attempted to copy a drawing more than once would have learned his lesson and would remember to take notice of all elements in the drawing rather than stare at the object in focus

I'm not so sure about that. Presumably graduate students in psychology have tried to copy a drawing and still didn't figure it out.

That said, it would be interesting to compare trained artists with beginning artists (with perhaps 1 semester or 1 year of formal training).

Jordan's comments about positive/negative space is interesting. I often looked at objects or landscapes in a "negative" way---that is, the spaces around objects. I do this purposely and deliberately to train my eye to look at negative space, which is just as important in a painting as positive space. I have also trained my eye to look at "large masses" and large patterns before seeing detail. So the way an artist's eye moves in the above photos seems pretty normal to me, from large overall pattern and shapes to ever smaller detail.

By roseindigo (not verified) on 10 May 2007 #permalink

I found the comments on this blog very interesting, people actually added something useful, they did not just write their likes and dislikes. Except me ironically.

Very interesting post. I stumbled across it while researching creative cognition in an effort to understand my practice more.
I am an Australian sculptor currently in my final year of a bachelor of Visual arts degree, majoring in Sculpture.
i would be very curious to read the results of a Sculptor and painter being tested the same way. As a sculptor i am conscious of the fact that i view the world in terms of form. even my photography has a strong sense of form to it. i wonder if the results would show a similar trend. Painters by nature turn 3d into 2d so their visual processing would be slightly different to a sculptor who only deals in 3d, unless of course you are a sculptor who draws/plans first before construction. i myself dont, i work with the material straight away and draw later to statisfy my lecturers documentation/marking needs!
Maybe an experiment with a painter, a sculptor who draws 1st and a sculptor who didnt would be of interest also?

I,m an artist. (painterly type) whenever I study a photo or scene,artistically, for a prospective painting my artistic eye is initially focused on the the point of inspiration. It might be a small area of the whole frame of reference in question or it may be the appeal of all that I see before me. There's always that one one thing that initially inspires me, but once I begin to study what I see in front of me for the sake of a painting I focus on composition first. That is, composition for the sake of better conveying what inspired me.I will look at everything before me, be it live or from a picture, and begin to creatively add or delete(in my case sometimes surreally)shapes,shades and color. I would never stay so focused on one area, unless that was the only area I wished to paint.I would look around the whole picture in a quest to find any supporting actors for my play.

By dave maison (not verified) on 26 Aug 2008 #permalink

As a visual artist for over fifty years, I would assure the non-artists that we do indeed see differently. No one had to teach me to squint to eliminate detail or see values; that came with the territory. I did that as a small child. And although I have a degree in art education, no one taught me how to "see" a painting in the sense of where my eyes should travel. You are looking for a variety of things others don't care or even know about: intervals in size, spacing, varieties in shape, visual paths, tonalities, pattern and texture, lost and found edges, margins, the format of the picture plane, divisions of space, and the list goes on. We also see variations in color others do not see. To a large degree, it is instinct in most serious (non-hobby) artists, not merely training.