What do you see?

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We all look at the world differently. We see with our personal experience and knowledge and what we perceive something to be is a fusion between what we see and what we know.

Flexible though our eyes may be, they can only digest one visible field at one given time. They scan over a wide area and pan in on objects that are of interest in that moment.

I wear contact lenses. My vision is somewhat blurred when I don’t wear them. It impacts how I can see. My perception is such that one eye can see items better close up, whilst the other can see better further away. But what is the lens that we see the world through – is it the lens of imagination, playfulness, fear, love, confusion?

The way we depict the world has fascinated scientists, artists and philosophers for years. In his essay, Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child, 1953, Henri Matisse states that ‘to see is itself a creative operation, requiring an effort. Everything that we see in our daily life is more or less distorted by acquired habits.’ (Matisse & Flam, 1978, p. 148). In his famous book, Ways of Seeing, John Berger (1972) argues that whilst every image embodies a way of seeing, ‘our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing.’ (Berger, 1972. p.3)

In 2002, Dario Gamboni looked at art history and studied how artists deliberately used elements in their paintings so the viewer’s capacity to identify what they saw was confounded.

The sense of ambiguity, and being confronted with such images arouses within us a desire to seek out additional information within the image to solve the problem – even though it may not be there. Many works of art rely on an imaginative response.

Wassily Kandinksy (Linday & Vergo, 1982, p.369-70) famously looked at his own work and didn’t recognise it. One of his paintings was on its side and he saw it as something beautiful, only colours and forms. This perceptual response gave him fresh insight which led to many years of refining a visual language which expressed what he had seen.

Wassily Kandinsky Composition 1V, 1911

In recent years, artist and writer Robert Pepperell carried out extensive research about the perceptual phenomenon of visual indeterminacy which occurs when a viewer is presented with what appears to be meaningful visual stimulus but is denied easy or immediate identification. (Pepperell, 2006)  According to Britannica (1999), indeterminacy is the state of not being measured, counted, or clearly known. It is about looking at something and asking ourselves is it this or could it be that? Do I see a hand, a face may be? It leaves us questioning.

Over the next few posts I will share some of my experiments in trying to create indeterminate images, that flips continually from seeing the means to seeing the object.


Berger, J. (1972), Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (1999). Indeterminacy. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Gamboni, D. (2001). Potential images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art. London: Reaktion Books.

Lindsay, K., and Vergo, P. (1982). Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art. London: Faber and Faber.

Matisse, H., & Flam, J. D. (1978). Matisse on Art. London: Phaidon.

Pepperell, R. (2006). Seeing Without Objects: Visual Indeterminacy and Art. Leonardo (Oxford), 39(5), 394-400. https://doi.org/10.1162/leon.2006.39.5.394

Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting art and the brain: An artist’s perspective on visual indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5, 84-84, p. 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00084

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