Was Matisse a Neuroscientist?

Was Matisse a Neuroscientist?: Henri Matisse was a master of the Modernist movement. His art exploded with colors, leading one outraged critic to exclaim, “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public!”. If you have ever tried to paint, you quickly learn (to your chagrin) that the bright red that looks so good when you first apply brush to canvas becomes disappointingly different when you paint in the background. The brain “mixes and muddles” adjacent colors. So what was Matisse’s secret?

Achromatic shielding: Notice that Matisse leaves portions of the raw canvas untouched. These white (or black lined) regions separate different colors, insulating them against chromatic induction, and allowing him to use vibrant, saturated colors, often straight from the tube. To see illusions of color changes depending on the surrounding colors: http://goo.gl/SWFJ7

Color perception: Starting with cone-shaped photoreceptor cells in our retina, electrical signals travel to at least five different cortical regions where they are decoded and interpreted based on complex calculations and prior experience before being assigned a color. No wonder that neuroscientist Eric Kandel said, “a painting isn’t complete without its beholder,”

Matisse understood the importance of achromatic shielding. He said, “If upon a white canvas I set down some sensations of blue, of green, of red, each new stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding ones. Suppose I have to paint an interior: I have before me a cupboard; it gives me a sensation of vivid red, and I put down a red that satisfies me. A relation is established between this red and the white of the canvas. Let me put a green near the red, and make the floor yellow; and again there will be relationships between the green or yellow and the white of the canvas which satisfy me. But these different tones mutually weaken one another. It is necessary that the diverse marks [signes] I use be balanced so that they do not destroy each other.” Color shielding comes with a cost: Matisse’s paintings appear flat, sacrificing depth for hue.

Read more: http://goo.gl/f1jLJ

Ref: Color consilience: color through the lens of art practice, history, philosophy, and neuroscience.  Bevil R. Conway (2012) Annals of the NY Acad. Sci. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06470.x

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49 Responses to Was Matisse a Neuroscientist?

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, yes..I think neuroscientists are just beginning to understand Matisse rather than the other way around 😉

  2. Paul Melrose says:

    Should one have an iPad (shortly to become a burning offence on G+), there’s a free book on colour which has some nice examples of how we process it. (Lynda.com has a good course on colour too, but it costs.) Link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/color-uncovered/id470299591?mt=8

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link, Paul Melrose . iTunes university is awesome. Lol on the burning offense comment 😉

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Feisal Kamil , you would wish upon me multiple paper cuts? 😦


  5. Tom Lee says:

    Color shielding comes with cost: Matisse’s paintings appear flat, sacrificing depth for hue. That is not an understatement, and that is what I was thinking about Matisse’s paintings versus other renowned painters such as Monet, Cezanne, Edouart Manet…

    Will Matisse’ painting be presented vividly on today’s 3D graphic technology as we are in a 3D era? I’m just wondering. Can an art conoisseur see the difference between Matisse’s technique and others’ ?

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Tom Lee , my understanding is that Matisse made the deliberate choice to paint in vibrant colors and achieve a “flat” look versus the 3D effect. For example, in the painting Little Gate of the Old Mill (http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-matisse/the-little-gate-of-the-old-mill-1898) an earlier work, he apparently struggled to get the perception of depth. The colors are rather dull. In later paintings, he seems to have gone out of his way to achieve that flat look. He influenced Max Beckman, who painted two self portraits that are quite different..one with that realistic look and muted/blended colors and the other in the style of Matisse.

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Alexander Becker , thanks! Feisal Kamil , The article I read made an interesting point about color. Pigments used to be expensive and hard to make out of natural agents. But the industrial revolution changed all that by making synthetic dyes that came in glorious hues.  Matisse was particularly reverent about color: “It is only after years of preparation that the young artist should touch color—not color used

    descriptively, that is, but as a means of personal

    expression. A great modern attainment is to have found the

    secret of expression by color.”

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    Wow, a year to get the color right? I never understand how so much money and effort goes into advertising..it is so fleeting!

  9. Paul Melrose says:

    Feisal Kamil – because I have nothing better to do right now, I Googled purplish-tinged blue and got this: http://hypebeast.com/2009/01/reebok-pump-omni-lite-bluered/ , but I guess this is not what they came up with. I really hope this is not what they came up with. 

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, Paul Melrose , we would call that Coomassie Blue in the lab after a popular (but virulent) protein stain. I once bought an item of clothing in that color, and immediately regretted the purchase because it reminds everyone in lab of a procedure known as SDS-PAGE. It goes reasonably well with bright white 🙂

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Useful table of colors and hexcodes, thanks Feisal Kamil ! Reminds me of my experimentation with background colors for powerpoint presentations in my early days (best to stick with white or black, though). 

  12. Chad Haney says:

    black or white in PPT, never!

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney : Pink? 🙂

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    +100 for use of the abstruse chartreuse, Chad Haney ! Move to the top of the class 😉

  15. Chad Haney says:

    OK, I don’t really use chartreuse. I just wanted to see the reaction.

  16. Chad Haney says:

    In my world you can use different color spaces. You’ve probably heard of RGB (red-green-blue). Some journals ask for figures in CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black). But have you heard of CIE L*a*b* (CIELAB)? It’s an interesting color space. It can be helpful for image segmentation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lab_color_space

  17. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney , I would refuse puce. Not heard of CIELAB, sounds interesting. Stone Bryson , think of all the times mothers have chided kids for not filling in the colors properly when they were actually being mini-Matisse.

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Perhaps Matisse was channeling his inner child. He must have been aware that his style was different because he said, “It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”.

  19. It’s sad: I used to like Matisse before my visual processing ability became garbled. The “flatness” and “blobs” you refer to have now come to dominate. Stranger still, I now find quite  kitschy stuff appealing. Could it be due to lupine spongiform encephalitis?

    BTW Did your own application of brush to canvas result in anything other than chagrin Rajini Rao ?

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    I do my painting with words, John Condliffe . In the language of flowers, lupines are a symbol of imagination and creativity.

  21. Yes, indeed Rajini Rao  and you do so in a vibrant mix of  scientific stringency and artistic flair.

  22. Flagged.  Lol, these guys are all over your threads.

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Michelle Beissel . Deleted! It used to be worse before..in general, I get less spam these days.

  24. Chad Haney says:

    He just arrived 😛  Good morning Feisal Kamil Rajini Rao and Michelle Beissel 

  25. Morning, Chad, how are things, still hot (weather wise of course, lol)?

  26. Chad Haney says:

    Yes Michelle, the hot weather has returned. Sorry Feisal that misimi is back. Is that the 9-10 year-old?

  27. Chad Haney says:

    Report & block. Done.

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    RAJEEV was here, but we scrubbed him off. I noticed your 9 yr old tormentor first thing this morning, Feisal Kamil 😦 I found her comment on the DP tribute bothersome. Some no-nonsense soap and scrubber would do her/him/it good.

  29. It’s best to nip stuff in the bud, Feisal, or you might get really irritated and become very stroppy.

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    If not block, then at least delete her comments, so further comments on the thread don’t trigger notifications and a return of the troll.

  31. Contain the damage, selectively (good idea),  Feisal.

  32. Chad Haney says:

    You guys are too nice. I’d block it. I already reported its profile after the first batch of irritating comments. If it is really a 9 year-old that’s against the policy. If it is an adult pretending to be a 9 year-old, that’s wrong.

  33. Yup, Chad, it is a case of being too nice. Some people need to learn to be nice, others need to do the opposite.  Not mentioning any names here of course.

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    BTW, Michelle Beissel , can you decipher the French in the comment by the last guy on my stomata post? I had no idea what he was saying, but I didn’t delete because I responded to him the first time (hope that was not a sign of encouragement).

  35. Yes, I did at the time.  His French was not that good.  I need to go back to translate exactly, but it was in general not appropriate as it being too emotional.

  36. Rajini Rao says:

    Google translate made a hash of it, so I left it alone. Just curious.

  37. Just reviewed it again, he wants you to accept his invitation to be friends.

  38. Rajini Rao says:

    LOL. Thanks, Michelle Beissel .

  39. I’m still very gullible, it seems, An easy victim for a psychopath, I  thought that her remark was just bad old prurient, vulgar taste muscling in, because there’s plenty of it out there, but you warded off the malice that I didn’t see. In retrospect.I suspect “she” may be” he” and ” it”,: a vulture in sordid sheep’s clothing, but now, blocked forever more with its “false profile”  and foetid smell reported.  Please keep up the good work Michelle Beissel

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