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Art, like science, can have an interest in nature that tries to avoid preconception. My own starting point as an artist is that I don't know what's there.  

At the time of Humphrey Davey, Constable and Coleridge, science was still called natural philosophy and art and science were felt to be branches of the same enterprise (Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder). In 1900, C├ęzanne showed a similar view when he called his work ma recherche. However, subsequent modernist painting more or less abandoned the observational, empirical dimension. 

I see the diversity of individualist realist syles at the end of the ninteenth century not as an end but as a beginning. The pictorial exploration of visual experience will always discover new things for visual art. Moreover, in the twentyfirst century, there is a huge amount of new cognitive science to help things along.

mind-body red herring

In recent years the position of observational painting has been depressed by the dominance of discourse theory - a child of the Cartesian spiit between mind and body. Humanities, in German Geisteswissenscchaften, and sciences, Naturwissesnschaften, are institutionally split, and art schools find themselves aligned with geist, not natur. Humanities students study discourse as a world of words, detached from the demonstrable facts of the physical universe, a disaster that produces tensions and ignorance on both sides.

But all is not lost! From both sides of the wall,  'vertical integration' is on the horizon : see Edward Slingerland's What Science Offers The Humanities.

observational painting

Human visual perception is exactly that - human seeing.  So the areas of science most relevant for art tend to bridge the inner and outer worlds, like experimental psycology, neurology and image processing. Man made, observation-based images can be thought of as an expressive interface between object and subject.

other people's knowledge

How we think about what we see effects what we see, so specialist knowledge can be useful too. For example, a geologist can tell you things about rocks that will sharpen your perception of the structure of a waterfall; or a pilot can describe the cloud base in a way that can transform your visual grasp of a skyscape.


Technology, especially digital technology, can help too. For example, the availability of colourmetrically accurate digital cameras has opened up new possibilities for image analysis and visual exploration.


seeing water

With the help of scientist friends I'm trying out some ideas about seeing water. We're also exploring creative linkbetween painting, colour perception and digital photography.

Video clips below introduce some themes, and notes will be added as we progress or otherwise.



colour-textures :   a method of digital mapping  to help paint natural colour distributions.

Studio experience click here.



compression : mind the gap

The gap between the huge dynamic range of colour our eyes see in nature (over 1 / 1,000,000) and the much smaller range possible in a painted image  (about 1 /100) is a fundamental of observational painting.

Can an understanding of dynamic range compression derived from neurology and computer science help painting in any way




water moves at different speeds

The human visual system averages and resolves input between 0.05 and 0.1 second, inversely proportional to light level. This means that sometimes you see momentary shapes in moving water, and sometimes just a blur, especially at dusk. Some of the paintings will explore this difference.