Part 3, a perspective on perspective


Throughout the perspective exercises, I’ve been haunted by Escher and his impossible stairs and landings. I’m fascinated by them but they make my eyes ache and the thought of trying to do anything comparable brings on a mild panic. Why don’t I find it possible to keep track of lines and angles when I’m quite capable of interpreting them both in images and the physical world? Clearly, that information is available to me in a form that allows me to make sense of what I’m seeing (step back, Escher, you’re different!) so why is it so difficult for me to get those lines and angles sorted out in my head in order to put them on the page?

I think there’s a reason. I’ve been described in several contexts – science, therapeutic practice, writing, and even art quite recently – as intuitive which, for many, means unlearned. I’d argue that intuition is not about instinct; it’s not some mysterious magical ability that comes from nowhere, it’s very, very, learned and so deeply processed as to be stripped of its redundant elements, leaving only the principles. Anyone who’s learned to drive a car or play tennis knows this process: at the start, every individual movement and thought is explicit in the forefront of your mind, but gradually those actions and gestures become smoothed and subsumed into a set of general principles, reducing the cognitive load so that important factors like not hitting pedestrians in the road have room to take precedence. Driving becomes ‘intuitive’ not because it’s magical but because it’s deeply learned and automated where automation improves practice.

And now, hoist by my own petard, I’m understanding how practice smooths gesture in art so that shapes emerge with a simplicity to them – the equivalent of serving an ace in a tennis match. Trouble is, perspective involves making the ‘intuitive’ explicit and therein lies my problem because once that happens, I lose sight of the road while I’m trying to find the gear, and I crash into bollards because I’m busy doing the mirror-signal-manoeuvre manoeuvre. Will practice improve this, I wonder? My suspicion is that it will, but not with rulers, with actual drawings in which perspective must be convincing.

I’ve learned a lot from these exercises and I think I know how to proceed without losing my ‘intuitive’ grasp of depth and distance. I believe I’ll find techniques that allow me to represent those qualities and that they will, with practice and experimentation, make the kind of sense to viewers of the art work that best presents to them the work itself.


Engstrom, J, Markkula, G, Victor, T et al. (1 more author)
(2017) Effects of cognitive load on driving performance: The cognitive control hypothesis. Human Factors, 59 (5). pp. 734-764. ISSN 0018-7208.

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