I like it when my paintings mimic reality. The images seem like they are jumping off the canvas. It’s still a painting; obviously so, but it seems real in some ways. I have always considered this to be illusion and I thought that it was attributable to the level of detail in the image. Detail isn’t necessarily a good thing for an impressionist. However I’ve noticed recently that some digital reproductions of my paintings exhibit this illusion and others do not. My first thought is that it has to do with how big the image is on screen and the distance between the screen and my eye. I now think it has more to do with how the image is processed by my brain.
I’ve noticed that occasionally my work will display this illusion even though there is clearly very little detail involved; in a background for example. I’ve often wondered if there is a way to quantify the levels of tone, detail and colour to determine how close they replicate reality. There has been quite a bit of research about the resolution of the human eye. Sometimes it’s given a very high quantity but that’s likely because the value used was based on our Fovea’s resolution. Our Fovea has a much higher resolution than the rest of our retina. On a painting I was working on some time ago I started by painting the background. When I returned to the painting after washing brushes the area that I had just painted looked very good. By that I mean that it had a realistic appearance. There was very little detail in this area, in fact it was the epitome of impressionistic with large brush strokes indicating flowers and foliage, but it looked unreasonably lifelike. I thought this was a good omen for the rest of the painting but sadly the lifelike quality was not impressed on the rest of the work.
I wondered how this was possible and I’ve decided it must have a lot in common with laptop fingerprint readers. A fingerprint reader doesn’t scan a whole fingerprint, it records the information from one or more small sensors as we swipe our finger across the reader. Similarly as we glance at a scene our brain receives a sequence of messages from our eyes and we make a determination as to the reality of the scene. If it conforms to something that we associate with reality then we have that illusion even though when we look more carefully it obviously isn’t.
Unfortunately, true or not, this theory doesn’t help me improve my paintings. It might explain why a digital photo of my painting doesn’t look as good as the actual painting. My best hope is that someone reading this will be sparked into some additional research that will lead to better art reproduction.
This YouTube video touches on many of the same ideas.