image above from artrenewal.org
James Gurney did a post not to long ago wherein he collaborated with a company that specialized in tracking viewers eye movements. Usually this is done for reasons other than the fine arts What they found was surprising. You can read James post here. There are several other posts from the same week on the site about this experiment.
They found that the viewers eye traveled across images in a way that had little or anything to do with the pathways that artists have imagined they were establishing with their designs. All of the compositional devices used through our art history and those I have espoused on this blog may be called into question by the results of eye tracking. At least in this experiment it seemed that the human eye tracked about images in a much different manner than previously supposed. When I read the post I began to mull over what all this meant.
I believe that the traditional designs do work on a viewer, but they may perhaps do so for different reasons than we have previously thought. Now, I am just positing this idea, I am not so sure I am right , but here it is anyway. (Disclaimer: next week I may think something entirely different, or perhaps not think at all)
Perhaps the design structures that we as artists build under our paintings may not lead the eye about the painting (though perhaps it does ) but it may present an attractive geometric armature that serves as decorative reinforcement to the flow of the painting. The existence of subtly expressed geometry running beneath the image itself may give a "humanness" that is a counterpoint to the randomness of nature. The existence of a mathematically ordered structure may play counterpoint with the naturalism of the artists subject. We may find our desire for order secretly pleased by the imposition of geometric rationality on the chaos of unselected nature.
I know design works, I am less sure of why it works in the light of the new information coming from eye tracking. Perhaps it is no more than a cultural agreement on what geometrical skeletal substructures should please us and which make us feel awkward.
Either way, for now I will go on using the traditional design ideas because they seem to work both in historic paintings and when I apply them to my own work. But it is interesting to think that they may be cultural conventions and not actually scientifically justified.