No, Learning to Draw is not Learning to see Accurately

I was recently asked to address my objection to a claim that has been circulating for some time. The claim is that "learning to draw or painting (specifically observational representationalism) will teach you to see more “accurately.”

My objection to this claim emanates from the fact that we do not have an “accurate” window on the world. We just don’t have the “biological or neural hardware” for that. To be clear though, what certain types of practice in the arena of observational representationalism CAN develop is the establishment and reinforcement of specific behaviors (i.e., mark/making) to specific types of visual information that are conducive to representational efforts. If one wants to call this cultivated association that is more useful relative to this task, “accuracy”–then so be it. However, this is not a more common usage of this term.

What learning observational representationalism will NOT do is change the fundamental nature of your visual system to allow you to access objective properties or measurements of the physical world.

To better understand the gist of this: The 26 letters of the English alphabet are phonograms. (A phonogram is a written character that represents a speech sound.) Consider the letter “K.” We’ve learned that this letter is equivalent to a sound we might describe phonetically as “kay.”
However, there is no physical “sound” contained in that character. There is no way to objectively detect, let alone accurately “measure” this corresponding speech sound in a way that could be described as “accurate.” Rather, the “kay” speech sound that we reflexively experience upon encountering a written K stimulus is a cognitive association that we have cultivated. And we have cultivated it so strongly—made it so automatic—that it seems almost impossible to “shut it off.”

Similarly, even though a line has a length that can be measured, a physical width (weight), or an orientation–you cannot access these physical attributes objectively as visual perception does not have the “hardware” for it. Like the “kay” sound, these properties are unavailable to us (via visual perception.) Thus, you are left with the task of building and cultivating associations (through methods like deliberate practice) with certain perceptions (e.g. a perception of a line) and behaviors/actions (a mark made that produces a contextually similar visual experience to the original observed line.)

Hopefully, that communicates the idea a little more clearly.

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So why painting manual say "learn to see first, before learning to draw " isnt drawing, teaching to improve those things you talk about so clearly.

Hi Sow,

It obviously depends on what you mean by “learning to see.” If you mean something like “learning what is best attended to in the visual field, in some specific hierarchy, so as to maximize the chances for success relative to a specific effort”—then sure. That usage would make some colloquial sense. However, if the phrase is meant that you will learn to see more objectively—then no—that is not correct.

Thanks,
I was reffering to this type of training https://www.sightsize.com/an-accurate-eye/, Daren Rousar teaches how to “learn to see”, through various assignment such as dividing a straight line into equal half, eyeballing the center of square…thus you develop drawing skills by "learning to see accurately ", without really drawing.

The author state: an Accurate Eye helps you practice:position and angle perception.

So, do you think that it’s good use of student time to spend time isolating and practicing such simple perception exercises instead of just drawing still life or doing bargue, or shape replication.

Cordially

Hi Sow,

It’s hard to say exactly what Darren Rousar means without reading the book as context can significantly impact usage/meaning. However, from the small clips that I have read, there are indeed some significant problems with his statements.

In the one specific case you mention, yes–you can learn how to colloquially “eyeball” the center of a square through practice which includes error-correcting in terms of percept and action. In other words, you can error-correct so that your next “guess” will be the same percept plus the latest or most salient cognitive error correction that will ultimately shape the resulting behavior. However, this will not change the fundamental nature of the way that we see which is a nonveridical process that does not accord with physical measurements in the environment.

For example, let say that when you see this symbol: # (a symbol composed of a slightly slanted set of near-vertical parallel lines intersecting with two parallel lines), you recognize it as a “number sign”. Now through a learning process, you can begin to identify this symbol as “a hashtag”. You have now altered behavior that results from the perception of the symbol. This does not mean that you see something other than a symbol composed of a slightly slanted set of near vertical parallel lines intersecting with two parallel lines, when you look at it–it just means that when you see that symbol you now have a new behavioral response. With practice/cultivation you can even have the new identity surpass the older one in what one might describe as the initial “default”, reflexive response. Does that make sense? Again–you haven’t changed the nature of the visual system or even the percept in this case—you simply altered how you behave when you encounter it.

But let’s be straightforward here. There is nothing that looks to be “accurate” where Darren Rousar’s works are concerned. They are nice but I wouldn’t describe them as accurate depictions of anything. I would be skeptical of any “expert” methodologies that are being put forward by someone that cannot demonstrate the success of their methodology relative to the appropriate task.

So no, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to cultivate behavioral changes through practice. That’s exactly what we do. It’s just that the way he is describing what is possible with his exercises is not supported by evidence.

The visual system is simply the label we place on a particular collection of neuronal tissues and related sensory organs that have been demonstrated to be responsible for our ability to “interact” with a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Of the special senses, vision is bar far the one that has been most studied. The reasons for this attention are often debated—but it would seem probable considering that some rough estimates (via anatomical/physiological frameworks) place approx. 30% of the brain is “dedicated” to visual perception and over 50% is “involved.” According to an often-cited paper by neuroanatomist Fixot published in 1957, 2/3rds of the electrochemical activity in the brain is related to activity we might categorize as visual processes.

While many mysteries of course remain, our current models of this system are supported by a great deal of evidence and continue to improve (as evaluated via explanatory and predictive power.)

Oh goodness no, I don’t mean to imply that at all. It may just sound like that due to what we DO know about what is in fact an incredibly complex system. In other words, if I can tell you 1000 things about a system with a million parts it may sound like something more comprehensive than if we are more used to discussing things with far fewer parts that we might actually have a more comprehensive view of. Regardless, we know enough about this complex system to generate some models with impressive explanatory power as well as some pretty useful predictions but there quite a few significant gaps and mechanisms yet to be understood.

Absolutely. However, we must also be willing to accept that our own personal knowledge (or lack thereof) is not necessarily a reflection of what is actually collectively known about that subject. (And just to be clear, nothing that I posted here (or elsewhere for that matter) is unsubstantiated.) I am very careful about that. If you would like to review the supporting evidence for any claim just let me know. I am always happy to cite my evidence/sources.

I’d be happy to participate in any public discussion with Darren or any artist that holds the position I am arguing against here. However, my goal with this is not to evaluate the applicability of a convenient fiction (which would have merit for sure), but rather promoting that which is the case so as to explore or evaluate the potential of “convenient fact.”

To be fair, I haven’t read Darren’s book so he may in fact state that the claims in question are colloquial in nature and put forward as simple heuristics. However, this is not the impression that I get from others. Either way I’m happy to discuss it (but unfortunately, the appropriate “scientific papers” will be coming along for the ride to the potential dismay of some as these are not matters of opinion.:wink:)

Lol! Generally speaking, with all due respect to Darren Rousar, what he writes or believes about accuracy has no impact on my life or whatsoever, If he wants to discuss this this, privately or publicly (as I mentioned) then I am happy to but I’d rather spend time painting, teaching or studying. Chasing after Darren would be an absolute non-starter for me. It would be as attractive as chasing down or reading a flat-earther for the purpose of rational debate. Sorry—no thanks.

Dear anthony, do you think that copying form from observation and not flat copies will give faster results ?

I have found this old device that allow for checking accuracy, is this can be a way to keep creating stronger stimulus and ajust by checking our guesses. I found this a good complement to shape rep.

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Hi Sow— Yes! Using a transparency of some sort to compare results with a live percept is a great way to build upon our base shape-reps. I don’t know that I would conclude that live percept work would accelerate general development compared to the development possible with flat models. What I would say is that live percept work would provide additional experience in contending with the retinal stimuli changes commonly found with live percepts.

Furthermore, you seem to have this impulse to develop as quickly as possible. I would suggest shelving that concern and rather start focusing much more on development that is long-lasting. If we look at the way relevant processes often work at the neurochemical level as a rough analog—fast-acting processes are often associated with highly transient (short-term) effects. Conversely, more slowly developing processes are often associated with tonic (long-lasting) effects. Now granted, this is not the case in every possible scenario–but I would argue that it’s common enough to be described as a very significant motif across many neural mechanisms in the brain. As such, consider the quality of your practice in terms of pursuing lasting development instead of speedy short-term goal achievement.

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Thanks man, i can say you are making groundbreaking efforts. Here what the author argue.
I have felt myself straining harder when drawing a real model of a cube from life, than drawing the same thing from a drawing in outline.

There is so much wrong here it is hard to knw where to start. I don’t recognize the copy. Send me the title of the book so I can copy-paste text and I will address the claims point by point.

"
Drawing has been taught from copy-books, which lead the pupil to believe that he is learning to draw. At the end of the year his labors are regarded by admiring visitors as wonderful works of art, but ask him when he leaves the grammar or high school to draw a simple group of common objects or a bit of interior from nature, and he discovers that copying is hot drawing, and that he cannot draw. This must be the result of drawing from copies even when they are good, but unfortunately the copy-books have too frequently given for model drawings or representations of the actual appearance, perspective ^drawings which are very different from the appearance. Thus they have hindered the pupil from believing his own eyes, and in the matter of sentiment and expression, their influence has been almost entirely in the direction of rules and ways of doing which must always be bad. Working under these disadvantages, we cannot expect ability in drawing from nature. The drawing-book may be needed for examples of historic ornament and design and scientific work ; it or its equivalent may be necessary for examples of freehand drawing, but the moment the student draws from these copies instead of from the object, he is wasting his time and acquiring no practical ability i

The best wayto begin to make outline drawings from the round, that is from solid objects, by which, under proper direction, he can attain as great steadiness of hand as he could from the flat. In pursuing this preliminary course his object will be to train both eye and hand in an equal degree, by endeavouring to draw with certainty as well as with accuracy; that is to say, he should, after first adjusting on his paper the proportions of the object he is copying, try to make his outline at once clear and correct, and draw it with as firm and steady a hand as a young student can command under the difficulties with regard to accuracy which must beset him at the outset.
The object, then, of the student is first to attain to a definite conception of the form before him, and in this he will fail unless he can express it on paper with a definite outline ; next, to acquire the power of ex¬ pressing the form with certainty and rapidity, which he will never do if he acquires a habit of drawing inaccu¬ rately to begin with, though he may have the full inten¬ tion at the time of altering his lines to get them right in the end. In the third place, he must acquire steadi¬ ness of hand. This he must gain by the habit of drawing his lines continuous from one determined point to another, Without retouching, or, as it is called, painting the line,—a point as important in figure as in painting.

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The book is Drawing in the Public Schools: A Manual for Teachers. What prompted you to read this book, Sow?

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Just général curiosity ans desire to discover old method.

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Thank you Sow and Orlando for the info. I’m only assessing the first page presented here as there are oceans of stuff to evaluate beyond it.

My heart goes out to you Sow as it is indeed challenging to navigate all of this information on your own. Hopefully this little exercise in analysis and evaluation will help you to better evaluate some of the resources at your disposal.

Drawing has been taught from copy-books, which lead the pupil to believe that he is learning to draw . At the end of the year his labors are regarded by admiring visitors as wonderful works of art, but ask him when he leaves the grammar or high school to draw a simple group of common objects or a bit of interior from nature, and he discovers that copying is not drawing, and that he cannot draw.

The term “drawing” can be used to describe a wide range of activities. It can be defined as simply as “a form of visual art or communication in which one uses instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional surface.” Unfortunately, many authors try to sell a sort of privilege claim by engaging in what is called a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. There exists variations of this fallacy, but a very common form involves the exclusion of one or more members of a group via the altering of criteria as inclusion is likely to weaken the position of the person making the claim. For example:

Person A: “All great drawings are always done via observation from a live percept.”
Person B: “What about the many celebrated drawings that have been done from other sources like photographs, imagination, and construction?”
Person A: “Well those aren’t REAL drawings.”

Drawings can be evaluated by many types of criteria. Reference source is only one means by which one may choose to assign value.

The next major issue is the scenario put forward in an attempt to justify or validate the fallacy. So as it reads, the author states that since a student studied with a “copy book” he or she was never really learning to draw. The evidence is supposed to be found with the scenario in which said student could not “draw a simple group of common objects or a bit of interior from nature.

This entire argument is ridiculously problematic. First, I don’t think I need to explain that effective learning sequences run in the direction of simple to complex. As such, the challenge of drawing a group of common objects or interior of nature would likely be approached long AFTER more simple, primary or foundational skills were acquired and cultivated so as to be applied forward. These may include a plethora of foundational mark (line, curve, shape and value) exercises. Even then, there are more foundational principles to address prior to effective percept surrogacy or representation (even simplified) involving principles and techniques for understanding the roles of observation, the nature of perception, the basics of illumination, etc. Therefore, do you think that it is reasonable to conclude that an individual studying foundational elements of drawing is not “really learning to draw?”

Well, let’s try and apply this to any other field. How about music? So if I spend a few months learning and practicing scales, arpeggios, and cadences, music theory, and simple melodies on a piano—learning from books—and then encounter great difficulty when jumping into Tchaikovsky (after only a year) can I assume that I wasn’t really learning the piano after all?

How about learning to read? Let’s say I spent my first year learning to read by sounding out letters, building reflexive word recognition, studying basic syntax rules, and plodding through Dick and Jane books. If, after a year, I cannot write my own novel or get through a Tolstoy, (or even Stephen King), is true that I was never really learning to read?

As you can see, this is a ridiculous argument.
The author continues, “This must be the result of drawing from copies even when they are good, but unfortunately the copy-books have too frequently given for model drawings or representations of the actual appearance , perspective drawings which are very different from the appearance.

Sure, illustrations in books can indeed be wildly different from the experience of a live percept. However this is a false dilemma introduced as more “evidence” for the author’s position. This has no significant bearing (in this context) on the fact that a student cannot draw whatever they like after only a year of study. The reason is that development takes time and quality practice. Such realities are not merely the result of the fact that illustrations and live percepts appear different.

Thus they have hindered the pupil from believing his own eyes, and in the matter of sentiment and expression, their influence has been almost entirely in the direction of rules and ways of doing which must always be bad.

Ok, now this just gets plain stupid. Every activity we engage in is defined by conventions or rules. To argue that to move in the “direction of rules” is always bad is absolute nonsense. I can’t even begin to speculate as to what the “good” alternative is. Additionally, what place does sentiment and expression have in a first year drawing student’s training? (Talk about cart before the horse!)

Working under these disadvantages, we cannot expect ability in drawing from nature. The drawing-book may be needed for examples of historic ornament and design and scientific work ; it or its equivalent may be necessary for examples of freehand drawing, but the moment the student draws from these copies instead of from the object, he is wasting his time and acquiring no practical ability in drawing.

I won’t even critique this last paragraph. See if you can based on what I’ve explained. It repeats with the same problems listed above.

I hope this helps.

I would also recommend reading my article:

It focuses on some considerations for this type of evaluation. :+1:t2:

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Your best argument dear anthony is the wonderful work produced by your students all over the world. Your method work.Period.

But i have a question though @AWaichulis ,why the transition from copying complex flat shape to drawing the simplest solid from life so hard, how do you aquire the ability to flatten the Real world.

I find binocular vision hard to overcome, would you advise closing one eye?