“Synergistic Seeing” by Elena Maslova Levin
[Portrait by Titian] We see a young man, elaborately dressed in rich attire, some fur around his shoulders (probably leopard), a glistening gold of some garment underneath the fur, a pleated bright-white shirt — and all this creates in our minds a story of wealth and grandeur.
But if you zoom in (as Google Art and Culture project allows us to do), you will see just how little input your mind needed to construct this illusion— no golden fabric, no pleats on the shift, no fur. Nothing but rough colour spots and brush strokes (to see it clearly, zoom in all the way!)… The artist gives us just enough to “trick” the mind into building the illusion (and he probably didn’t anticipate the 21st century technology which allows us to see that…). All the rest comes from your previous knowledge about the world, from your past visual experiences.
And here is the rub: in order to construct these coherent illusions our minds present us with — making us believe that we see what we think we see— the brain filters out anything in the sensory reality that it deems “inessential”, and everything that contradicts our “model” of the world (that is, our deeply ingrained beliefs about how the world is and should be…)
And so we keep seeing familiar “reality” (no wonder, because it is constructed mainly from what we have seen before).
The process of painting interrupts these unconscious illusion-building pathways, and so does contemplation of paintings, if you, even if just for a moment, allow your mind to believe that what we see in a painting can also be seen in the “real world”.
This is the essence of synergistic seeing…