The Mind's Eye-Part II - Perspectives from The Artist's Road

The Mind's Eye - Part II

Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Still Life with Apples, Vincent van Gogh
Still Life with Apples     Vincent van Gogh

   One of the tricks John and I used to try when we weren’t able to fall asleep was to picture in our minds a simple subject—an apple, for example—and then to visualize drawing it—running a pencil over the shapes of the apple, sketching in the light and dark values, envisioning the color shifts from warm to cool. It was a wonderful way to focus our thoughts and shepherd them away from all the distracting ones that tend to flood the brain at the end of a busy day.  

   We take for granted our human ability to form images in our minds. It serves an important function when we are learning letters and symbols and in tracking landmarks when navigating from place to place, for example.

Some people, though, suffer from a condition called aphantasia, the inability to create images in the mind. It has been called being “blind in the mind” or having an “image-free imagination”. For an artist it seems almost inconceivable! The opposite of aphantasia is hyperphantasia, an almost photorealistic imagination with hyper-vivid mental imagery. Hyperphantasia is more common and, although it may be of value for an artist, in its most extreme, it can be disturbing. Hyperphants often complain of such vivid imagery that they have trouble falling asleep.

   Until recently, incidents of aphantasia have been self-reported, with no scientific way to diagnose the condition. However, psychologist Joel Pearson from UNSW Sydney, Australia, has discovered a way of detecting aphantasia through pupil dilation response. Our pupils change sizes, not only from exposure to light and dark conditions, but also from working on cognitive tasks. A group of subjects, some who report having aphantasia, were shown light and dark images and a record was made of the changes in their pupil dilation. Then the subjects were asked to visualize the same images with their eyes open. Most had similar pupil dilation as they had experienced when looking at the light or dark images. Those with self-reported aphantasia did not have pupil dilation when imagining the light and dark images.

   Rather than seeing these as afflictions, perhaps we can consider them examples of the extraordinary range and diversity of human perception—an understanding that there is a reason we all see things a little differently—and, an appreciation of our artistic imaginations!

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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