Painting for the Brain

Philosophy of the arts in the age of computer science

You will never look at a painting the way you did before.

Understanding creativity

Dreaming away with a floor tile

Our brain is eager to see meaningful images, even if they do not exist, as when we look to the clouds, at rock formations or at floor tiles of the bathroom. During the ages artists have used these techniques to stimulate their creativity. These romantic images emerged when I was staring at a floor tile in our room during long winter evenings (see animation). Using information theory one can understand how and why this works for our brain and how you can use it to develop your own creativity.

Paisagen do Arno from Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was already aware of this extraordinary capacity of the human mind to see meaningful images in random structures. In his treatise on painting, he wrote:

“when you look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of stones, if you have to devise some scene, you may discover a resemblance to various landscapes, beautified with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in varied arrangement; or again you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects, which you could reduce to complete and well drawn forms. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose jangle you may find any name or word you choose to imagine..”

Source text: wikipedia(wikisource) Source image : wikipedia

The efficient brain

Our senses are optimized for efficient information processing. Already in the eye the visual data are compressed and separated into modules. In the brain the reduced information is enriched which what we have learned about the world. This process of compression and expansion of information (see animation) is essential for our capacity to make and appreciate art.

Compresion and Association model Compresion and Association animation

Painters cheating on the brain

How understanding our brain helps you to understand painting

Image of brush techniques

The brain first simplifies its input and later enriches it with its own library of experiences. This means that painters can distort their images quite a bit and still get the message across. From a classical realistic style (upper left), via pointillism with dots in primary colors (upper right), and using unnatural colors and contour lines (cloisonism, lower left) to down right fauvism (“wild” painting, lower right). Knowledge of human cognition helps you to understand how painters get away with this.


Fooling the brain with brush strokes

Artwork of St Barbara Church

Our eye contains cells that detect different colors and direction of brush strokes. Here are some experiments with directional hatching with colored brushstrokes.

no1" no2 no3

Pieter used these experiments as a basis a series of paintings called ‘poissons solubles’ (‘soluble fishes’, a term coined by André Breton, the father of surrealism). This painting style, baptized ‘stripe-ism’ by his wife Rini, can be traced in many of Pieter’s works.