Art History:   Grade 2 Lesson 8

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  ART & OBSERVATION- Perspective and Tricks of the Eye



We often hear the saying "seeing is believing." It is a common saying but not always a good one. Our eyes can play tricks on us and we call those tricks "Optical Illusions".

Architects, home decorators, clothing designers and artists use optical illusions. Many artists use techniques of optical illusions and properties of perspective in their work for different reasons. We are going to examine these ideas today.

An artist uses the techniques of perspective when he/she wants the painting or drawing of a scene to show objects having 3-dimensional shape and with some distance apart.

Many pictures are like windows you can see through - they have depth or perspective. Other pictures are like looking at the palm of your hand - they are very flat.

A canvas is flat but artists use lines, shading and sizes in order for you to see through the "window" into the distance. often texture and colors play an important part in how we see things too.



  1. THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, 1863, Albert Bierstadt, German (American) (1830-1902), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Reproduction print

    Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany and moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts as a child. As most young American students of art at that time, he went to Rome and Germany to study painting. When he returned to America, he toured the Rocky mountains and painted magnificent landscapes of the frontier using dramatic lighting. he romanticized the West to look the way Easterners wanted it to look. Using sketches from his trip, he did the finished painting in his studio. he was elected to the National Academy in 1860 and Legion of Honor in 1867. In addition, he received medals in Europe and one of his works hangs in the capitol building in Washington, DC. Bierstadt can be credited with calling attention to the need for Congress to preserve great land areas in America, and the resulting establishment of the National Parks.


    Perspective methods to look for:

    1. Lines of tree tops and tipis

    2. Zig-zag line of the river, people and horses

    3. Shading on tipis on the left

    4. People and objects get smaller with distance

    Using St Mark's Square or Rocky Mountains - find more "tricks of the eye"

    1. Texture - sometimes clear in the foreground, fuzzy in the background

    2. Colour differences - sometimes things in the distance are painted in muted colors.

      (Identify foreground, middle ground and background in the picture you use)


    "An artist has a difficult choice. Should he paint only what he sees? Or, should he paint what he knows is really there even though it would be impossible to see in real life?" Robert Cumming, Just Look, Scribners, NY 1979


    Magicians use tricks of the eye to fool us; artists too, can trick our eyes using perspective methods.



    Bierstadt biography


    More Bierstadt Paintings


  2. Maurits Cornelis Escher, Dutch (1898-1972) 

    a. DRAWING HANDS 1948, lithograph, 28.2 x 33.3 cm (11 1/8 x 13 1/8 in.)
    Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt Collection, Reproduction print

    bulletb. NIGHT AND DAY 1938, 2 block wood cut (black & gray), 39.2 x 67.6 cm (15 7/16 x 26 5/8 in.) Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt Collection, Reproduction print

     What color are the birds? Escher makes us look and look again. He used the space of the sky between the ducks to make more ducks of the opposite color. Can you see the shapes continued on the fields? Each side is a mirror image of the other. Can you see any connection between this print and math? Why? (Order, logic)

    How did Escher fool us into thinking the villages and rivers went far into the distance?

    Escher was born in the Netherlands in 1898. His study of linoleum cuts in secondary school gave him the background for graphics which he continued to study at the School of Architecture and Ornamental Design in Haarlem.



    Nat Gal Art - M.C. Escher Life & Work Tour


    Escher - Biography - Official web site


    What is a Tessellation?

  3. SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN IN THE ISRAEL MUSEUM, Jerusalem, Reproduction Print

         What color is the beam coming out at you? Notice the direction of the lines (not only the white lines but also the lines caused by the edges of color.) The artist used the line method of perspective to make the squares come forward. He used every bit of space as equally important. How is this print similar to Escher's? 


  4. GRAPHIC - Illusions of relative size

          Use this as either an introduction or a follow-up to the lesson, or refer to it in the content of the lesson.

      illusion1.gif (6884 bytes)  illusion2.gif (5316 bytes)  illusion3.gif (5678 bytes)

    click to enlarge


  5. THE SQUARE OF ST MARK, Venice, c. 1735-40,  Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canale), Italian (1697-1768), Oil on canvas, 114.6 x 83 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Reproduction print.

    Canaletto specialized in views of Venice and sold them to wealthy travelers who were visiting in greater numbers each year. His perspective and detail are wonderfully accurate.



    Canaletto Biography


  6. HARMAS, , Victor Vasarely, Hungarian (1908-1997) The Art Institute of Chicago, IL Reproduction Print

    Victor Vasarely was born in Pecs, Hungary in 1908 and is known as the leader of a movement in American Art known as OP Art. he worked with geometric shapes and brilliant colors. His surfaces seem to bulge in or out but they are flat canvases or oil paintings. he used thin layers of oil paint and crisp hard edges on his optical illusions which he does not wish to call paintings.




     Optical Art


    Vasarely Bio


  7. CHAMBON-SUR-LAC, , Marc Chagall, Russian (1887-1985), reproduction photograph

    Chagall was offered membership to the Surrealist Group in Paris, but refused. Color was his most emotional and decorative element. Memories of Jewish life and folklore of his early years in Russia, and the Bible dominated his work. He was prolific as a painter, but also as a book illustrator, a designer of stained glass and of sets and costumes for theatre and ballet. 


    bulletChagall in other Art History Lesson Notes -1.1 and 5.2


  8. PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY, 1931, Salvador Dali, Spanish (1904-1989) Oil on canvas, 9 1/2 in x 13 in, Museum of Fine Art, NY, Reproduction photograph

     Dali was a Spanish painter, sculptor and graphic artist. Throughout his life he cultivated eccentricity and exhibitionism. he described his pictures as "hand-painted dream photographs". Dali was, in his early years, a Surrealist (artist who resolves contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality) and an Automaton (artist who suppresses conscious control over the movement of his hands, so subconscious can take over ... when interesting image appears, it could be exploited with fully conscious purpose).




    Dali - Biography





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