Intelligent Perception

Fundamentals continued…

pages 11-13

The next major idea Andrew Loomis considers is what he calls Intelligent Perception.  This concept is central to Loomis’ idea regarding why some art appeals and why some does not.  His position is that each and every person has a highly-developed ability to perceive what is real and what is fake.  Any common person can tell a store mannikin is not a real person, or that a stuffed animal is not alive.  In certain cases where the ability to perceive is confused, such as in a very convincing magic trick, the viewer is amazed and pleased.  When something is trying to be passed off as legitimate, and the viewer is not convinced, it is their ‘intelligent perception’ which is providing the alarm bell.

Loomis elaborates that every person, whether they are aware of this or not, are specialists at knowing reality.  He maintains that access to this kind of perception is automatic and unconscious.  Willful disregard of reality is possible, but this is evasion of what your senses tell you, and such efforts place one’s consciousness as a primary before what is real.  This is not so. Since the world is not a figment of our minds, our minds are within an actual existing world.  The primacy is not of our consciousness, but of existence, of reality -regardless of whether we are there to perceive it or not.

He says:

At some time or other, our brains accept certain effects or appearances as truth, and abide by these decisions. We learn to distinguish one appearance from another, in size or proportion , in color, and in texture.  All the senses combine to give us intelligent perception.  We have a sense of space or depth, even if we know nothing of the science of perspective.  We are quickly aware of distortion or deformity, since the appearance does not coincide with what experience has taught us is normal or truthful.  Form is registered in the mind, even if we know nothing of anatomy and proportion, so that we recognize a face immediately, though we could not even give a good verbal descriton of it.  Our sense of proportion tells us that this is a child and that is a midget, or this is a puppy and that is a small dog. Intelligent perception includes a feeling of bulk and contour.  We know a swan from a goose, or a goose from a duck.  …such perception is part of nature.

From the moment that the infant is aware of the world around him, he begins to be trained to differentiate and classify things. This begins out of a necessity to make order out of the barrage of sensory stimulation he is faced with.  The process is automatic and natural, as it is how the mind primarily functions -as a tool of order and of classification.  The classification of a recliner into the category of chairs and not into the category of beds is the hallmark of our brain’s method of ordering and recognizing our percepts (meaning what we perceive).  The senses perceive a thing, then the brain automatically weighs that data against the entirety of data it has stored.  When a series of ‘matches’ are made with a certain concept category, such as chair, the process of recognition occurs.  Finally, the viewer says, “that is a chair I see”.

The formal qualities of a chair are constant, but the measurement is abstracted, so that toy chairs and drawings of chairs or giant chairs still register in our consciousness as ‘chair’.  This is what Loomis is pointing out when he is emphasizing our automatic ability to recognize and differentiate swans from geese etc.

After understanding this concept, it is easy to extrapolate why even non-artists are able to recognize poorly executed representation.  When a viewer spots a distortion in proportion, or an unnatural change in lighting or form or colour or texture, he realizes that there is a mistake.  There is no way to fool intelligent perception, and everyone knows a fraud.  Everyone knows the myriad effects of reality, such as the effects of light on skin, and a fraudulent representation will not fool us.  The copious strands of this data have already been registered in our minds just by our being perceptive within reality.

Consider this final quotation from Loomis:

Intelligent perception finds only truth convincing.  The layman does not need to know anything of art to know whether he likes your work or not.  We can use all the arguments, alibis, and defences in the world;  we can explain ourselves hoarse, but we cannot affect something so deeply imbedded in human consciousness.  If what we say in paint is untrue, in color values or effect, the spectator feels it, and there is nothing we can do to convince him otherwise.

Real date                                                                            Not a date

2 thoughts on “Intelligent Perception

  1. The interesting balance is how much information needs to be provided so that the spectator’s intelligent perception identifies an object as a representation of the real, and not a fraud.

    What areas of perception can be cheated?

    What information can be apsimplified and still adhere to our integrated understanding of the world around us?

    Where can we push colour to create contextual mood without becoming slave to our conscious whims


    1. I would say the best place to reference this first question would be with stage magic. We could just as easily ask ” What areas of perception can be cheated in a magic trick?” The answer is going to depend of the context of the magic show. Let us say that the magician is doing a gala display at Las Vegas, on a big stage with stage lighting and music. I would say that he could afford a wider margin of ‘untruth’ to show in his display than would a parlour magician or a street magician whose show is stripped down and very personal. The reason being is that there is more cover provided on a big stage than on the sidewalk. The analogue of this in art would be to consider the artist’s end goal. It must be remembered, Loomis is talking about the technical pursuit of realism in illustration and that is it. If you want to create some other type of art, such as a cartoon, this principle is not applicable (or at least it is less applicable, since some cartoons are more ‘successful’ as drawings than are others in terms of visual appeal, message notwithstanding. Think of a Disney cartoon figure like Aladdin and Jasmine vs Gary Larson’s drawings, for instance)

      What I take out of Loomis’ point is that if you yourself the artist are being fraudulent, and ‘skimping out’ on the adherence to reality in your process, it will show. For instance, whenever I have felt questionable about a section of drawing in a comic panel or a bit of difficult anatomy, that untrue section of drawing gets called out immediately by whomever I show it to -even non-artists. I knew it was questionable, and tried to pass it off as not, and it didn’t work. The point is, you can’t cheat intelligent perception, and when you know it is a fraud, so does the audience.
      In the case of other artists who are not even aware that they are drawing untruth, they need to first become aware of reality before making the step Loomis is trying to impart.

      I have no reference qua Andrew Loomis to the second and third questions you pose. Perhaps you and I could work out some principles to add to this?


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