Perception September 7, 2012

The artist Fleurette West ( recommended a very interesting blog post entitled: “The Day I saw Van Gogh’s Genius in a New Light”

Though my essay, stands alone, it does refer to and was inspired by “asada’s memorandum”. I recommend you go to that website and read and view his post. The differences in perception of color presented are good food for thought, both for the artist to be aware of as well as to ask themselves, how can I make use of this phenomenon?


Perception Is In The Mind of The Beholder

Color is contained in light, is perceptible because of light and the light receptors in our eyes, which our brains in turn interpret as light and it’s colors. Color perception is further constrained by the predominate hue or spectrum of light within or under which it is viewed or observed.

The properties which constitute color (the spectral composition of wave lengths of radiant energy) are absolute, the perception of those properties (or some of those properties) is not and therefor color is subjective to the individual viewer and that person’s perception and definition of color, i.e., the translation of the absolute into the subjective understanding or perception of the a color by an individual which then becomes the absolute ‘color’ as defined by that individual.

I would not agree that any one color discernment is better than another as offered by 
“asada’s memorandum” ’s quote: Watching works of Van Gogh is the exemplar of “the color deficient individual is sometimes superior to the color normal color individual,” showing those of us who possibly tended to think, “the color normal individual is superior to the color deficient individual (from the point of seeing and understanding color).” It reminds us that it is normal for one human being to excel in certain ways, while another is excellent in other ways.

But for the purpose of Kazunori Asada’s exercise, showing Van Gogh’s work in a ‘light’ which, in theory, mimics the perception of persons with “protanomal” vision demonstrates a very workable hypothesis that what most “normal” visioning persons view as “extra-ordinary” color and color juxtaposition in Van Gogh’s paintings were not the extra-ordinary color choices of the painter, but rather his “normal” given his own vision perception.

The vision of a “color blind” person or person with (as described) “a deficient” type of vision capability vis-à-vis “protanomal”, “trichromatic” or “dichromatic versus “normal” vision, will yield both different perceptions by both artist and viewer.

Perhaps the genius of Van Gogh, as perceived by “normal” color perceiving individuals as Asada suggests, is only the reality in which Van Gogh’s eye perceived its “normal”. In either case Van Gogh is set apart. To the “normal” perceiving viewer Van Gogh’s works may seem etherial or other worldly because of his apparent boldness of color choice and juxtaposition. Whereas to the perceiver with the same color perception as that attributed to protanomal vision and attributed here to Van Gogh, his paintings, his color choices and their juxtaposition seem “normal”.

The question of artistic relevance becomes debatable. Would Van Gogh’s paintings—which were rejected for their color deviant use by the then “normal” viewers of color at the time of their creation and later lauded and prized for this very deviancy—have become popular had one of the following circumstances then existed?

If Van Gogh’s colors (as seen by protanomal vision) had been the norm, would his work have been accepted as laudatory and masterly by the popular viewing public of the day and would they (if accepted) be rejected by those (with non-protanomal vision) who had later acclaimed them for their variance because that variance would not longer be there?

If Van Gogh’s color vision had been the same as was the supposed “norm” of Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Lautrec, Monet, and Gauguin would Van Gogh’s work be viewed as anything other than crude and unimaginative…and out of the mainstream meme of Renaissance, Impressionist, or Post-Impressionist art works.

For me, I would not have been drawn to Van Gogh so strongly if these self-same works had used what appears to be “normal” colors when viewed through the prism off protanomal vision. Van Gogh’s work was less than accurate, but seemingly more attemptive of realism than some of the Impressionists and Post-Impressions who were his contemporaries and themselves rebels of the Academy. It was Van Gogh’s color and use of color (juxtaposition) that often were the defining characteristics that drew me instinctively (an I suspect others) to his work as well those of the Impressionists and Post-Impressions.

Note: One only has to look at the other-worldly color-use often employed by Degas, Lautrec, and Gauguin to wonder if these three (as well as Van Gogh) possessed a color-sense outside what could be considered “normal” color perception. Again, it was these anomalous uses of color that most attracted me as both a viewer or art and as an artist.


Perception is the key! Perception of the Artist versus Perception of the Viewer

Years ago, as a Fine Arts major, I was treated to an art show on campus. One would think that this had something to do with the art department, but no. The college venue was the psychiatry department! The college psych department was working with the then-newish concept of “art therapy”. The basic idea was to introduce psychiatric patients to painting and through painting adjust their “abnormal” view (perception) of the world to conform with the “normal” view of the world; i.e. what “we” see (“we” being “normal”). For example “we” “normals” all know the sky is blue, tree trunks are brown and leaves, like grass, are green.

At this art show, what we viewed was an amazing transformation as seen in a series of paintings by the same “artist/patient” of the same subject. The first painting showed a nicely drawn house next to a tree with leaves; above the horizon line, the sky and in front of the house, a lawn. If memory serves, the sky was green, leaves and grass were red, the tree was blue, the trunk yellow. The point is, regardless of the colors I saw, the effect was completely contradictory to the popularly accepted perception of the color of things in the “normal” world. As time passed (in the linear series of paintings) and this “artist/patient” became more oriented to the real world, the artist/patient’s work became more color-realistic while the draftsmanship became less so. By the end of the series of paintings the now-cured “artist” was using the standard colors, i.e. brown for brown things, green for green things, etc.

I left the art show with four perceptions. First that painting “one” appeared, for all the world to me, to be as wondrous as any Lautrec, Van Gogh or Gauguin painting, whose colors sometimes seem surreal (red horses and pink sand, for example). Second, as the “artist” became more “normal” the draftsmanship and creativity displayed devolved into more crudely produced drawing/paintings using “normal” colors. Remember it was Gauguin who mentoring artist Paul Serusier asked him (paraphrasing) “how do you see this tree?” Serusier reportedly responded: “It’s quite green.” Then, Gauguin told him, “use green, the best green on your palette… and this rather blue shadow, don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.” Third perception I left with was that I had to ask myself, were Lautrec, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin crazy? Did the colors they use make them crazy or did they just see things differently from everyone else? Were they all in need of psychiatric care?. Fourth, what is the dividing line between perception and reality, between normal and abnormal… and where does the mind, the perception, of the artist lie on that continuum?


Perception: Translating It Into Value

For the artist all that matters is translating their internal vision onto the canvas. Their’s is the prime-perception; does the result match their artistic intent, does it reflect (on canvas) the truth of their internal vision or perception? For the viewer there are four levels of perception: hyper-non-appreciation, non-appreciation, appreciation, and hyper-appreciation: a) hyper-non-appreciation manifests as vehement disapproval – proactive rejection; b) non-appreciation manifests as disapproval – ambivalent rejection: not my cup of tea; c) appreciation manifests as approval – acceptance, liking: my cup of tea; d) hyper-appreciation manifests as loving approval – desire to own and ownership.

For the artist understanding why he/she creates art is often the key to their own creativity. The creator of art works solely for the artist’s own creative need will not care or be concerned with a, b, d, or d above. They will produce whatever their artistic desire intends and if they manage to attract c & d those groups only validate that there is a market for what the artist creates for him or herself. Garnering the a & b demonstrates the opposite.

Herein lies the universal conundrum for artists. Do I create art for art’s sake, for my artistic vision, my artistic intent and hope that I can find some d’s to help support my life as an artist, enabling me to produce more art for art’s sake or, do I look to what the d’s want and create works of art that fill that niche? Most artists do some of both. Most do some amount of pandering to the d’s in order to be able to sustain their personal artistic intent. Rare is the artist who does or can work only for themselves and find d’s to make them famous and or wealthy.

That being said, for the committed artist the need to create permeates all they do. It motivates them to express that which is inside of them; to get it out of themselves in a visible, tangible form. To the this artist, the most important (and I think essential) act is to keep creating, to keep piling up the work, to keep learning and experimenting with their craft, their tools.. and again, keep piling up the work. The more work, the more shows, the more substantial the artist’s claim on their commitment to art—regardless of the perception of others.

As I tell writers of all levels and stages: there is no such thing as writer’s block, there are only writers not writing. Likewise for the painter, for example, to not paint is to not be an artist. That is to say, regardless of the the type of artist you are, or the medium you choose to express it, you are, at your essence, a creator—it is impossible to be a creator if you have not created something. And… how can you claim I am an artist (a state of ‘current’ being), someone able of creating, if you are not creating!


An Alternate Perception: Popularity

Though some artists become “popular” early in their careers, most artists realize their worth in the eyes of the c’s and d’s (even to some a’s and b’s) late in their lives as artists. If popularity is earned, early you have a lot of work to do to maintain that popularity and should it come later, imagine the wonder when “finally” discovered that there is a lifetime of your work ready to be “re” discovered!



Also see the following website to re Asada’s ideas as well as others comments:



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