Saturday, June 25, 2011

More about the eyes that "follow' you

Rembrandt (1606-1669) Portrait of Nicolaas van Bambeeck from

A reader in the comments posted such an excellent explanation of the eyes following you problem that I am going to put it out front here under the proscenium arch. The following is by M.C. Guilmet;

This is not a phenomenon that can be observed by moving about in nature and is an illusion caused by linear perspective and chiaroscuro effects that set fixed points on the picture plane and set a specific point of view for that object permanently, no matter where any viewer stands. There are a few simple examples to better understand the illusion:
1. First, reverse the problem. Find a portrait that is painted where the eyes do not look at you. Then try to find any place to stand in the room where the eyes will look at you. There is no place. The eyes will never look at you. You are looking at an object where everything has been fixed to one point of view. So no matter where you move in the room that fixed point of view never changes. You could stand right in front of the painting, then move 12 feet to the right, and the picture will not change for you, the eyes will never look at you, it will be as if a phantom viewer is still standing directly in front of the painting and that is who the painting is playing to with eyes averted. Contrast this with ‘reality’. Stand a model in front of you. Stand directly in front of them and look into their eyes, now, move slowly around the model. Every step you take, your view completely changes. There is no pre-fixed point of view, there is no middleman. You are creating the pov with each step. You are looking at the front, now side, now back, etc. Each slight tilt of your head in any direction while viewing nature creates a different view to you, a different reality. From almost the moment you are born, your eyes start to take in every “snapshot” of objects in front of them and your brain starts to build a synthesized version of that object until you understand that object in its most “ideal” or generic state. This is Plato’s Heaven, the idea of platonic form. I’m getting off track a bit so...
2. OK, forget about faces entirely. Let’s say you paint a tree that looks about 50 feet away from the bottom edge of the frame. If you stand in front of the painting, the tree looks 50 feet away. If you back up 100 feet, the tree still looks 50 feet from the frames edge. The distance from the tree to the frame edge is fixed and never changes no matter where you go, even if you leave the room. Contrast that with standing in front of a real tree about three feet away. It looks three feet away. Back up 50 feet now it looks 50 feet away. Back up 100…and it looks 100 feet away and so on. Think back now to that painted tree 50 feet from the frames edge. Imagine that tree “looking” at you…see it’s face….and it’s “eyes”…no matter where you stand in the room, that tree will still be looking at you in the same way. The fact is, the whole painting appears to you in exactly the same way no matter where you stand. It is a slice of reality within your reality. For a portrait, the eyes... but also the lips, chin, hair, nose…..look at you in the same way. So this really begs the question, WHY do we notice this so much with a portrait and NOT with a tree…..?


Today I am in Minnesota, I have been so many places in the last six months that I can't even remember them in order. I am going to try to make a demo painting today, and photograph it with my celluloid phone, if that works I will post that next.............Stape


billspaintingmn said...

Hi Stape! If you're in Minneapolis
get on 35W to Diamond lake road. (approx. 50th & 35W)
There is a spanish style church that has been converted into the museum. It's called TMORA (The Museum Of Russian Art) You can't miss it, there are signs and banners. They switch out the displays about every 3-4 months.
Some are displayed more often by popular demand,( The Milkmaids)

Once you've been there, you'll be back!

lobote said...



(at least according to this article):

Journeyman said...

Here we go Stape, Pete and Dud explain the phenomena for you (well at least for ducks and bottoms!)
Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (At the art gallery)

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, e-mail me your phone number would you?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am admittedly slow on the uptake and have to study things a long time to understanding them, but I didn't return from that link with a new understanding of the subject. Could you explain to me in your own words what the deal is?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will have to watch that when I get home. My connection here is too slow to watch a youtube video.

Karen Lewis said...

Standing in front of a very large (long) Thomas Moran painting, I found the opposite to be true. Depending on where you are standing, you might feel that you are on the riverbank, or directly in front of the waterfall. Maybe this effect occurs because the painting is so large that you are nearly in the picture space?