How these inherent and artistic rules of the subconscious mind affect our visual interpretation of art
Ever wonder what differentiates Good from Great Art? What gives some images that extra superior edge in comparison to all the rest. What is going on in our subconscious mind when we look at these images? What gives some images that extraordinary ‘wow’ factor and some are just okay.
As a fine art photographer, I was intrigued with these questions and I spent a few years researching everything I could get my hands on that was about the study of the brain and how it relates to our interpretation of the visual world. My research lead me to the difference in the way the two hemispheres of our brain work as each ‘thinks’ and ‘sees’ differently and this is where I found the answers to my questions.
Have a look at this image:
Now have a look at this one, the same image but rotated horizontally
Did one appeal to you more than the other?
Well, in over 90% of people asked, image number one was more appealing and I can tell you that there is a reason for that.
We all suffer a bit from split personality. Our brain, as scientists have found, is divided into two completely separate hemispheres, Left and Right and each reigns over two separate domains. The Left hemisphere is in charge of sequential, analytical and logical thought; it is the home of speech and language. The Right hemisphere is more spatial and visual; it is nonlinear, intuitive and holistic (sees the big picture). In computer terms, the Right brain operates like a parallel processor while the Left is like a serial processor.
So now you might ask: Well, how does all this apply to art? I will answer this question with example of the Capilano Bridge I have shown above but will first touch on another distinct difference between the two hemispheres and that is that they are contralateral. Motoric skills of one side of the body are controlled by the contralateral part of the brain, so each time you move your right hand, it is a region in the Left hemisphere of your brain that is in charge of doing that. This fact is mainly apparent in stroke patients. People that experience a stroke in the Left hemisphere, when blood supply is impaired to that part of the brain, experience a paralysis of the right side of their body and vice versa.
Additionally, the trivial movement like moving your head to the right is controlled by parts in the Left side of the brain. This also applies to the subtle eye movement occurring during reading or scanning the horizon. Now, after explaining a few of the fundamentals, I can touch on how these biological differences affect our interpretation of art.
In art, and namely in photography we may have elements within our image of which their geometry creates a line that leads our gaze from one point within the frame to another. These organically created lines called in art lingo, Leading Lines. Examples of leading lines can be a meandering path through a countryside landscape or a straight side of a building. The point I wish to make in this section is that the direction in which the leading line guides our gaze makes a difference to the way we interpret the image.
In the Capilano Suspension Bridge Image, there are three leading lines that we see instantaneously (simultaneous thinking) but don’t register till giving the image a closer look.
The two outside railings create the diagonal leading lines guiding the viewer’s eyes from the bottom left to the converging point at the top right. The fact that the lines are not completely straight but have a curvature, adds to the softness and flow of the image. The third line is the walkway sandwiched between the railings leading your gaze even more strongly to the ‘peak’ point.
Overall in this image the leading lines are guiding our gaze from left to right in a continuous manner stimulating the left side of the brain, which in nature is a sequential linear thinker.
By moving your gaze to the right you are approaching the Left brain, as if you are knocking on a door waiting for someone to answer, you have something to tell them, now you have to make sure that you are talking to them in a language that they understand. The Left brain understand lines.
The combination of these two characteristics: 1. Moving your gaze to the right and 2. Continuous, linear movement which creates a natural flow and ease to the image, ‘talks’ to us in the innate language our Left brain understands.
A legitimate question can be raised, since English speaking people are already ‘trained’ in reading from left to right, doesn’t that create a bias in their preference for linear sequential images where the leading lines guide your gaze from left to right? I say not and I will make my point.
In my eBook, Left & Right Brain, I open the discussion of the history of the development of written language and the ramifications it has to the way our minds work. Does the fact that our written language in the west is written left to right (Left brain) have any implications on the preference of the image we choose as seen in the example above of the Capilano Bridge. Or perhaps, is it the other way around, Indo-European languages have developed they way they have due to their full-contextual properties and thus just created a growth spurt in the Left brain?
Understanding these differences will help you develop and cultivate tools that will assist you to consciously see the world differently.
When you see the world differently, your images will be different.
Instead of focusing on color tones and post-processing, which I regard as ‘icing on the cake’, this engrossing study of how our two hemispheres interpret the world will help you improve on your intuitive compositional skills.
Article First Published at Luminous Landscape – September 9, 2013
All Photographs Are © Sharon Tenenbaum
Sharon Tenenbaum Photographer Bio
Sharon Tenenbaum was educated as a Civil Engineer in Israel, and practicing as a Professional Engineer in Vancouver Canada. In late 2007 she made a decision to part from engineering in order to pursue her passion for photography after being inspired by a life-changing journey to South East Asia. Her passion for photography started with street photojournalism, yet combined with her original background as a Civil Engineer, her work covers a wide gamut of subject matter from ‘in the moment’ Photojournalism to Fine Art Architectural Photography which is a perfect marriage of her engineering and artistic sides. In a relative short period she has managed to define an artistic direction and distinctive style in her work, acquiring international recognition in the process. Sharon has numerous fine art international awards and her work has been published in several magazines including National Geographic.
As a Photographer, Tenenbaum is a self-taught artist, having learned her craft through personal research and practical experience behind the camera. In her work she incorporates a Long Exposure technique to expand the expressive dimensions of her art. Although an artist at heart, Sharon enjoys teaching and sharing with others her photography techniques and vision. She teaches Fine Art Photography Workshops around the world and has written two ebooks. One on ‘How to Create Long Exposure Fine art Photography’ and the second: ‘Left & Right Brain, A photographers understanding of these mindsets and how the affect our visual interpretation of art’.
Education: Israel Institute of Technology, B.Sc.
Residence: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
eBook: Left & Right Brain