The whole technical power of painting depends on our recovery of what may be called the innocence of the eye; that is to say, a sort of childish perception of these flat stains of colour, merely as such, without consciousness of what they signify, – as a blind man would see them if suddenly gifted with sight. ” John Ruskin

Discus John Ruskin’s coined phrase and give an interpretation of  THE INNOCENT EYE TEST, by Mark Tansey, in the light of this. (1000 words)

The painting to be discussed depicts a cow staring at a painting of two cows next to trees that is being unveiled, there are also  six well-dressed men standing around and the painting is in monochrome.  This event happening within the painting is placed in an art gallery,  and you see a painting of hay bales to the right – a work of the early Modernist painter Monet.  On the Right side two men, seemingly  scientist and or researchers watching on and or taking notes of the cows lying down, and a third man holding onto the painting,  on the left of the painting  there’s a man with a mop waiting at the edge, presumably ready to clean up any mess the cow makes in the gallery, and two other men, also holding the huge painting of the cows and the veil.  All the men in the painting look interested in the cow standing in front of the picture of the two cows. For the art historian there is recognition that the painting inside the painting is similar to a painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter,  Paulus Potter’s, The Young Bull, 1647.  It is currently exhibited at the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

The work is done in oil, it is monochrome and the size is 198.1 x 304.8 cm.  The genre of this painting is figurative and the style is Contemporary Realism, Surrealism. The shades of dull brown creates a blend of antique photo and classical painting at my first impression upon viewing the work.   On the website of The MET Museum the following about the painting of Tansey is published :  “In this wry painting, a cow stands in front of Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull, 1647, now at the Mauritshuis, The Hague, while the human experts wonder if the cow can distinguish artifice from reality. Will she bellow a greeting, or admire Monet’s Grainstack (Snow Effect), 1891, on the wall to the right? Tansey offers this critique of the role of representation in modern art as a method of revitalizing the tradition of painting. His use of grisaille, or grey monochrome, relates to the tradition of academic painting. Kelly (Kelly p151 -164) argues  that we live in a world of “impossibilities, that it is possible to paint the impossible”,  by which Tansey hereby illustrates the power of art and painterly imagination.  Mark Tansey’s wit and humor, brings metaphor and discourse back into the art of painting. “In Tansey’s painted metaphor for the perception of art, we are the cow, and the scientists want to know how and what we see .

My tutor asked in her feedback if I can say more about the use of monochrome. It seems that her suggestion implicates that monochrome painting are more of a rarity. In this case I feel this is where Tansey refers to the classical masters, his knowledge of art history and positions his almost dramatised painting where he questions modernist artists moving away from the traditions of painting. This brings forth a form of realism and intellectually shifts the focus to the ‘death of painting’ that could place his work somewhere between questioning high and mass culture. I also agree that it could refer to reproductions of art works and almost seeing a photographic image – a reminder of the historical context.

Tanseys painting refutes the claim that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. The cow in the painting is being manipulated into believing that the cow in the Young Bull painting is real. This manipulation makes the cow a victim of being tricked into seeing the cow in the painting alive. This makes the cow innocent because it is unaware of what the painting is really showing. The title of the painting also shows that the claim is being refuted because it is titled the innocent eye test which itself shows that the perception made on the painting can be completely different than what is really being shown.  Comments about Tansey’s exhibition at Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1994 by David Lehman (Lehman D 1995) describe Mark Tansey is a “definitively post-modernist” painter and he goes on to say: ” His pictures stand at two removes from nature; not art but art history (or art theory) is his subject. Tansey deals in theories and notions, presenting them with the sort of sharp irony found in editorial-page cartoons”.

Ruskin, a British 19th century artists and critic of art and culture, spent is life teaching others how to draw.  He advocated intense study of nature along with the principles of drawing.  The term “the innocent eye” originates from John Ruskin’s book, The Elements of Drawing, Letter 1,  where on page 22, he discuss the first exercise of his drawing course,  and argues that everything the student in art can see in the world around, presents itself to his/her eyes only as “patches of different colours variously shaded”. Here he is referring to colours which have and appearance of lines or texture within them – like a piece of animal skin. His argument is, whether this be the case or not, the first broad aspect of the thing is that of a patch of some definite colour; and therefore the first thing the student should learn is how to produce extents of smooth colour, without texture.    He  adds a note (1), which he states is only for incredulous or curious readers, from where the quote under discussion arises when he insists that this is needed to learn to draw as it obtains a perception that is childlike. (For his drawing course, the students had to  begin with shading of squares evenly with a pen, (not a brush that would be the only proper way to do it, according to him, but the student is to inexperienced and need to practice with a hard and fine point) the production of smooth gradations of tone, gradually moving on to the representation of light and shadow, and only with time into colour and composition. This is indeed a tiresome exercise as he later comments.)  According to Ruskin, this innocent transparency of vision was displaced by conventions learned from society. He explains as children we go through processes of experiment with colour unconsciously; and having once come to conclusions touching the significance of certain colours, we always suppose that we see what we only know, and have hardly any consciousness of the real aspect of the signs we have learned to interpret. His example is looking at grass, when lighted strongly by the sun in certain directions – the colour would turn from green to a somewhat dusty looking yellow.  He stressed that ” a highly accomplished artist has always reduced himself as nearly as possible to this condition of infantile sight.”   The artist “transparent visual perception” was developed through the teaching of working-class students, with their artistic skills.

From my understanding of  Ruskin, the teacher, it was his intention to create a space where skill of students was developed, with focus on drawing – and that, coming from a Romantic Realism preference and a most likely fear of losing the skill and craft of drawing and painting, he urged his students to seek with the eyes what is in front of them – see the what, not what the mind perceives, or you think you should see.

Ruskin seeks for an ability to be open to a raw sensation, to see, as it were, without any perceiving.  He sees the artist as an observer, neutral?.  The artist acting only as a vehicle for the transmission of visual sensation.  At this stage I am reminded of what I read in an article ( Mitchell, W.J.T – 179) on his use of the “showing seeing exercise” as  a ” way to accomplish the first step in the formation of any new field, and that is to rend the veil of familiarity and awaken the sense of wonder, so that many of the things that are taken for granted” can be put into question.  He uses it in his teachings about visual studies where he believes  it “may send us back to the traditional disciplines of the humanities and social sciences with fresh eyes, new questions, and open minds.”

Tansey in my opinion is also making that point and using an allegory. I am contemplating how art can show us things invisible for the eye to see.  Is Tansey challenging the view of realism and philosophical interest in art.  I interpret the painting diverging from styles that have come before it and blending old and new forms into one.  Tansey painted a picture about art.  Using monochrome or grisaille,  relates to Ruskin’s classical academic  training ideas – where it is part of a student’s eye training in value and are applied in the painting process in the form of an underpainting. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who worked mainly in cool grays and warm browns  called this training the “probity of art” – which in my understanding relates to integrity and honesty.

Currently we know that our  aesthetic sensations and response and perceptions (perceived realities) are affected by our knowledge ( what we know through seeing, hearing, smelling) and our expectations.  It looks as if there is no seeing without knowing.  Latest neuroscience are showing the brain’s visual biology specialisation – the visual cortex can perceive a straight line at cellular level – so we do not ‘see’ with the eye.   Our neural processes are involved in how we see and what we experience when we see.  I read about cognitive neuroscience of art and it seems that aesthetics can help to unravel the psychological and neural processes involved in phenomena that were formulated in philosophical conceptions of art and aesthetics.

Tansey’s own comments on his work:

I read in a article of the New York Times that he does not see himself as  a realist painter. He refers to the nineteenth century, and that photography co-opted the traditional function of realist painters, which was to make faithful renditions of “reality.” His opion is that the realist project was taken over by Modernist Abstraction, and that Minimalism tried to eliminate the gap between the artwork and the real.  He then postulates that  the problem for representation is to find the other functions beside capturing the real. Accordingly in his own work he describes ” I’m searching for pictorial functions that are based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformational, fictional. I’m not doing pictures of things that actually exist in the world. The narratives never actually occurred. In contrast to the assertion of one reality, my work investigates how different realities interact and abrade. And the understanding is that the abrasions start within the medium itself.  I think of the painted picture as an embodiment of the very problem that we face with the notion “reality.” The problem or question is, which reality? In a painted picture, is it the depicted reality, or the reality of the picture plane, or the multidimensional reality the artist and viewer exist in? That all three are involved points to the fact that pictures are inherently problematic. This problem is not one that can or ought to be eradicated by reductionist or purist solutions. We know that to successfully achieve the real is to destroy the medium; there is more to be achieved by using it than through its destruction.”—Mark Tansey, quoted in Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, by Arthur C. Danto

Tansey’s current work is  densely imaginative canvases derive from a labor-intensive composition process. Using a huge trove of collected material, including his own photographs and magazine clippings, Tansey manipulates, crops, combines, and photocopies the forms. His collages serve as studies for large, monochromatic oil paintings of figures and landscapes, whose precise photographic quality is achieved by applying gesso and then washing, brushing, and scraping paint into it. Though they resemble straightforward narrative scenes, the paintings are full of visual puns and references.

My tutor suggested that above passage could have been added to my research section of the blog as it adds to the word length. A point my made was to think about this painting in relation to Modernisms – Greenbergs’ arguments about the nature and purpose of painting. I do understand that his arguments , especially looking at the subject matter of Tansey’s painting and referring this to historical paintings.


Henry Daniel and Kelly, (2007) Michael, Action, Art, History: Engagements with Athur C Danto. ( Columbia Themes in Philosophy ) Columbia University Press, New York,  Kindle edition

Kelly, Michael, Action Art and History “The possibilities of Appearance” ( p 151 – 164)

Lehman, David  September 1995 AMERICAN HERITAGE MAGAZINE, Volume 46  Issue 5

Mitchell W.J.T (2002)  Showing seeing: a critique of visual culture, Journal of  Visual Culture,

Speed, Harold, The Practice and Science of Drawing

Ruskin, John, Elements of Drawing  in three letters to beginners, August 1857,  Kindle edition

Mark Tansey in an interview from, Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, New York, 1992, p. 132)

Forrest, Erik. “The ‘Innocent Eye’ and Recent Changes in Art Education.” Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 19, no. 4, 1985, pp. 103–114. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Neuroaesthetics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience written
by Marcus T. Pearce,  Dahlia W. Zaidel,  Oshin Vartanian, Martin Skov, HelmutLeder, Anjan Chatterjee, and Marcos Nadal published in  Perspectives on Psychological Science 2016, Vol. 11(2) 265–279© The Author(s) 2016 navDOI:10.1177/1745691615621274

Part B

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism [1851]. Psychological Observations

Discuss the implications of whether perspective as invented of discovered.

We are often told , to ‘get things in perspective’ but, when you come to think of it, this is an odd metaphor to choose for seeing things in their true relative proportions. Perspective is:  ‘The appearance of viewed objects with regard to their relative position, distance from the viewer, etc’ (OED 2018) key observation for the system of linear perspective is that parallel lines appear to meet in the far distance. Perspective is based on rules which is called linear perspective – the foundations lie in descriptive geometry.  Within the philosophy  “Intuitionists” believe that mathematics is just a creation of the human mind. In that sense you can argue that mathematics is invented by humans. Any mathematical object exists only in our mind and don’t as such have an existence.  “Platonists”, on the other hand, argue that any mathematical object exists and we can only “see” them through our mind. Hence in some sense Platonists would vote that mathematics was discovered.

Research in the field of visual optics indicates that the origin of vision lies far back in time, but there is still uncertainty about how this critical event took place. There is a general consensus, however, that the origin of visual systems formed part of the so-called Cambrian Explosion; the great phenomenon that took place around 541 million years ago (Clarkson & Schoenenman 2017)  I would therefore argue that perspective is a natural phenomenon and does not depend on humans for its existence/reality and  would look at art before perspective and consider the possibility that early man did not have the ability to convey an idea of space and depth into/onto their visual images.

The human brain can however ‘sense’ or perceive the fact that we live in a three-dimensional world.  Sensations are the result of the activities of our senses. The ones we are most familiar with: sight, hearing, taste and smell, are not the only senses we possess. Others include what are called somatic sensations – touch, heat, cold, and pain. The receptors for these sensations lie in the skin. We also sense hunger or thirst; those receptors are located within the body.

Before the 14th Century attempts to realistically depict the three dimensional world in art in the way in which we are now accustomed to seeing it, no images are shown to attempt an illusion of depth and space. Italian Masters Giotto (c. 1267 – 1337) began to explore the idea of depth and volume in their art and can be credited with introducing an early form of perspective, using shadowing to great effect to create an illusion of depth, but it was still far from the kind of perspective we are used to seeing in art today.  The works of Donatello and Ghiberti conveys the influence of architecture which was now creating new styles due to Filippo Brunelleschi who invented the system of linear perspective ( Janson HW p 396 -397) Preziozi (1998: 34) argues that credit is due to the moderns, that in the science of perspective modern painters are ‘clearly superior despite all learned defense of the ancients” He states that the laws of composition and arrangement were imperfectly known to antiquity, as well as for the use of color.

In his painting The Last Supper, 1494-98, the attempts of perspective Leonardo da Vinci employs were probably learned creating theatrical diversions for the Milanese court.  However, what could be overseen is Leonardo’s careful manipulation of the painting’s perspective to create a sense of depth while being viewed by admirers who are obliged to stand close to the painting. The central vanishing point is located behind the head of Christ in the middle of the picture. The dining room slopes down sharply, and the apostles’ table is depicted as being unnaturally narrow while the floor is raked forward like a stage. In Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting, the artists wrote at length about perspective. Albrecht Durer invented a mechanical perspective frame after he wrote a treatise on the geometric problems with painting.   Vasari suggested that the artist Paolo Uccello used to wake in the night and cry ” oh, my dear wife, how beautiful perspective is!

I would argue that discovery starts with an idea, that opens up new discoveries which lends to new theories. An answer thus must come from philosophy, not from science. If we look at Perspective,  according to realism, it exists objectively and independent of human thought.  I argue to place perspective as a discovery which lead to even more inventions for artists, sculptors and architects.  The great masters of art overtime looked for improvement, draughtsmanship was pushed – proportion is architecture to sculpture to painting. Things like foreshortening were an artist may not wish to replicate the full brutal effect of foreshortening. Instead, he will often reduce the relative dimensions ( create an illusion) of the nearer part of the object (in the case of The Lamentation, the feet) so as to make a slightly less aggressive assault on the viewer’s eye and incorporate the truncated image more harmoniously into the overall composition. Shortening an object is essentially an illusionistic device to simulate depth in a picture. This enables a painter to suggest three-dimensionality and volume in his figures. This leads to a noticeable increase in realism.

Lamentation over the Dead
Christ. By Andrea Mantegna

Looking at the Cubists, who developed a new way of depicting space from multiple and mixed perspectives. They believed that there was no single fixed view of nature, and that objects and spaces surrounding them (figure and ground) should be given equal importance and broken into geometric components or facets. Picasso wanted to emphasize the difference between a painting and reality. Cubism involves different ways of seeing, or perceiving, the world around us: This confirms how discoveries continue in a space of creativity, questioning and debating new possibilities.

List of discoveries

  • Proportional Ratio -the Golden ratio which is its format, 1.618 to 1
  • Relationships between geometrical forms – lines, curves, ellipse, circle
  • Antigen in human body
  • Bacterium
  • Galileo endorsing the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun
  • Newton discovered the laws of gravity and motion

List of inventions

  • drawing the figure and using the golden ratio proportions
  • measuring as an accuracy tool for drawing – comparative measuring, sight size measuring, etc.
  • using form and halftones to create the illusion of three-dimensionality in art
  • mathematical concepts such a line/curved line
  • symbols such as the tetraktys
  • Calculus
  • antibodies to fight against cancer
  • vaccines
  • internet
  • photography
  • sculpting casting
  • artificial perspective
  • Papyrus, the precursor to paper, was invented by the Egyptians by pounding flat woven mats of reeds.

Clarkson E N K and Schoenemann B,  (2017)Vision in fossilised eyes, Downloaded from IP address:, on 20 Sep 2018 at 06:57:38

Janson, H W (1962) History of Art, Thames & Hudson, London

Neher, Allister. “How Perspective Could Be a Symbolic Form.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 63, no. 4, 2005, pp. 359–373. JSTOR, JSTOR,

OED (2018) Oxford English Dictionary. Downloaded from

Preziosi Donald, 1998, The Art of Art History A Critical Anthology , Oxford University Press New York.

Tolkien, JRR (1997)  Tales from the Perilous Realm, Harper Collins e books (kindle edition)

Wright, Lawrenee, 1906-Perspective in perspective. PDF format


Looking back at  part A of the assignment I came to the realisation whilst trying to explain the painting in words, I was more engaged in representing what I was thinking about having seen the picture.  I came to thinking about having clarity of vision and a sense of wonder.  Thinking and reading about perspective made me aware of re thinking old ideas, perspective is on the one hand an object of knowledge and on the other, an object of reflection.

I read the following words of JRR Tolkien: “I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.” (Tolkien: 373)

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