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 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, in order to make order out of the barrage of sensory stimulation he is faced with.  This 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.


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