Art and Vision Science:

Part-Whole Relationships in Art and Vision

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

17.30 - 18.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

contour plot diagrams based on observers' responses to a Picasso drawing
The beholder's share: contour plot diagrams based on observers' responses to a Picasso drawing. © Johan Wagemans

Speaker(s): Professor Johan Wagemans (Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Leuven)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Tim Satterthwaite and Dr Meredith A Brown

Part-whole relationships constitute a key topic of research in vision science since the early days of Gestalt psychology, over a century ago. They are also fundamental to the experience of visual art. Johan Wagemans’s lecture explores this central theme, focusing on his empirical studies into pictorial relief and shape (for example, in Picasso’s sketches of female nudes) and on his recent collaborative projects with contemporary artists (Ruth Loos, Wendy Morris, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven). A good deal of what makes an art work visually and aesthetically appealing lies in the way the parts can be integrated into a larger whole. The ‘beholder’s share’ describes the flexible organization of the parts into a coherent Gestalt, a process whose result is the viewer’s pleasure and fascination.

Johan Wagemans is lead researcher of the Gestalt Revision project at the University of Leuven. He has a BA in psychology and philosophy, an MSc and a PhD in experimental psychology, all from Leuven, where he is now a full professor. His research interests are mainly in so-called mid-level vision (perceptual grouping, figure-ground organisation, depth and shape perception) but stretching out to low-level vision (contrast detection and discrimination) and high-level vision (object recognition and categorisation), including applications in autism, arts, and sports (see He is chief editor of Perception, i-Perception and Art & Perception.

The 2013 Frank Davis Memorial Lecture Series explores the intersection between art and vision science. More than fifty years after Gombrich’s pioneering Art and Illusion, the science of perception remains, for the most part, marginal to art historical practice, despite extraordinary recent advances in our understanding of the visual brain. In this series of five international lectures, leading vision scientists and art historians argue the case for a new engagement between art and science, in which scientific models of vision inform the theories and approaches of art history. The complex dynamics of perception, unlocked by contemporary vision science, contain implications for the study of art that are only now being realised.

Sponsored by the FM Kirby Foundation with additional support from The Guarantors of Brain

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