Art and Perception Syllabus (Winter 2007)

Title: Art and Perception (ARTH202, Stanford Continuing Studies)

Instructor: Bob Dougherty (

Office Hours: Wed. 4-5pm in 474 Jordan Hall and by appointment

Class Meets: Wed 7:00 - 8:50 pm, Jan 10 - Feb 7

Location: Cummings Art, Room AR4


Description: Beauty is in the eye (and brain) of the beholder. In this course, we will explore the interaction between perception and art, with a particular focus on the visual arts. We will learn about basic aspects of human visual perception such as color, depth and motion and investigate how these are often exploited by artists for aesthetic effect. We will also study how art is often used to inspire and inform the science of human vision. Specific topics will include: color perception and pigments, the use of perspective in Renaissance art, the visual illusions of Op Art, and the role of symmetry in both art and perception.

Class Format: About 75 minutes of lecture followed by a 30 minute discussion period. Several students will volunteer to lead parts of the discussion.

Grades: Each student will have the opportunity to lead at least one discussion topic. Everyone requesting a grade is required to lead a discussion and will also turn in a final paper on a topic that has been approved by the instructor. Grades will be based equally on the discussion-lead and the final paper.

Suggested extracurricular activity: Visit the San Jose Museum of Art special exhibits Op Art Revisited and M.C. Escher: Rhythm of Illusion. Both run from Sunday, January 28 through Sunday, April 22, 2007. (See

Tentative Class Schedule:

Jan 10: An Introduction to Visual Perception

I'll provide a brief overview for the course and a discussion of specific topics that the class would like to be sure to cover. I'll then provide an introduction to human visual perception. This will (hopefully) be a self-contained lecture- there are no readings.

Additional Resources:

Oliver Sacks article about recovered vision

Wikipedia entry on recovered vision

My slides from the first lecture

Jan 17: Color and Light

We'll learn about the nature of light, the perception of color and the material properties that give visual artists such an expressive medium. This is a big topic, and may spill over into the next session.

Readings: Selected chapters from Lamb & Bourriau's Colour: Art & Science: Mollon and Bomford. You might also want to skim Longair for some background on the nature of light.

Additional Resources:

The Riley chapter in Lamb & Bourriau

Webexhibits Color in Art

Webexhibits History of Pigments

Webexhibits Causes of Color

Webexhibits Feast of the Gods

Some images from the history of color atlases, compiled by Hans Irtel

Color solid/sphere (shows hue, brightness, saturation)

Color puzzles

My slides from the color lecture

Jan 24: Perspective and Depth

We'll discuss the basis of depth perception and the emergence of perspective cues to depth in art. We'll also discuss the debate over the use of optical 'tricks' to achieve photo-realistic perspective in early Renaissance art.

Readings: Summary of the Hockney-Falco thesis and the Stork et. al. refutations: Stork, Scientific American 2004.

Additional Resources:

Michael Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renissance Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986

My slides from the Perspective lecture

Jan 31: Beauty, Symmetry and the Human Face

This week we'll attempt to answer the following questions: What is beauty? Why is an 'average' face considered attractive? Why do we like symmetry? Why is it so easy to see a face in a random pattern?


Renaissance beauty (Haughton)

Human face perception (Kanwisher)

And you may want to skim a review on the perception of facial beauty (Rhodes)

My slides from the Faces and Beauty lecture

Feb 7: The Art of Illusion

We'll discuss the explorations of human perception by artists (Op-Art- including pieces at the SJMA exhibits, light sculpture, motion illusions, etc.)


Wikipedia Op-Art entry

Webexhibits Color in Art

Backus & Oruç article explaining illusory motion

Additional Resources:

Akiyoshi Kitaoka's very cool art: Op-Art 1, Op-Art-2, miscellaneous illusions

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