Cover image for Vision and art : the biology of seeing
Vision and art : the biology of seeing
Livingstone, Margaret.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Physical Description:
208 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N7430.5 .L54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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This Groundbreaking Yet Accessible study by a noted Harvard neurobiologist draws on history and her own cutting-edge discoveries to explain how the effects of various works of art can be understood by the way the eye and the brain of the viewer work.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Is there a scientific explanation for how Leonardo da Vinci made the Mona Lisa's smile so elusive, or how impressionist painters capture the shimmering molecular aliveness of air? Of course, says Livingstone, an innovative Harvard Medical School neurobiologist devoted to the study of human vision whose enthusiasm for her subject electrifies even the most technical of her excursions into the nature of light and how exactly visual information is conveyed via color and luminance. By combining lively prose, outstanding illustrations, including works by Renoir, Degas, Seurat, and Chuck Close, and easily performed visual experiments, Livingstone explains central and peripheral vision; how three different kinds of light receptors--red, green, and blue cones--enable us to distinguish millions of colors; how our brain's response to luminance "grants us perception of depth, movement, three-dimensionality, and spatial organization"; and much more. By the time readers reach the end of this illuminating tour of the brain as it responds to everything from line drawings to digital images, they will have acquired an enhanced appreciation for the genius of artists and scientists alike. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Harvard Medical School neurobiology professor Margaret S. Livingstone explains how great artists exploit the functions of the human eye and brain in Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing. Livingstone, whose biological explanation of why the Mona Lisa's smile appears enigmatic stirred much interest when it appeared in the New York Times, here offers a detailed explanation of how elements like perspective, luminance, color mixing, shading and chiaroscuro produce certain effects in art works. She discusses da Vinci's use of contrast, the illusory three-dimensionality of Impressionist paintings and why Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie gives the impression of motion. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book is for anyone who has wondered why the Mona Lisa's smile is so haunting or how artists manage to give depth or motion to a two-dimensional piece of art. Not only does Livingstone (neurobiology, Harvard Medical Sch.) clearly explain these things but she also shows how vision works from eye to brain, and she provides fun experiments to illustrate her observations. The book is lavishly illustrated (150 illustrations, 100 in color), with excellent captions that can stand alone for those who prefer to browse. But it is well worth reading the whole book. The practical examples explaining how vision works greatly help the understanding of the process of vision. This unique book helps readers learn about color, luminescence, the What and Where systems, how problems with these systems affect vision, and more. Essential for academic libraries supporting art and neurobiology programs, this is also an excellent book for any library because it is so well written and illustrated. Margaret Henderson, Cold Spring Harbor Lab. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In recent years, several important books have been written, mainly by psychologists or physiologists, which apply the latest advances in the science of perception to the visual arts. Livingstone (neurobiology, Harvard Univ.) offers a significant addition to this list: clearly written and beautifully illustrated, her book is directed toward general readers and especially artists (but neurobiologists should be equally engaged) interested in the neurophysiological basis of perception. The book is based primarily on her research on our differing perceptions of color and luminance (degrees of lightness) due to the disparate ways visual information is conveyed in humans from the cells responding to light through two pathways to the brain. She shows how these account for perceptions of both objects in the physical world and two-dimensional images. She explains some amazing optical illusions, but the major application of her theory is to works of art (weighted heavily toward Impressionism but also drawing on a range of European styles). Her discussions of color and luminance in paintings are extraordinarily insightful. What greater compliment can this reader bestow upon the author than to say that he will see many pictures differently after reading her book? All levels. D. Topper University of Winnipeg

Table of Contents

David Hubel
Forewordp. 8
Prefacep. 10
Acknowledgmentsp. 11
1 Fiat Lux: Let There Be Lightp. 12
2 The Eye and Color Visionp. 24
3 Luminance and Night Visionp. 36
4 The First Stages of Processing Color and Luminance: Where and Whatp. 46
5 Acuity and Spatial Resolution: Central and Peripheral Visionp. 68
6 The Next Level of Color Processing: Surround Effectsp. 84
7 From 3-D to 2-D: Perspectivep. 100
8 From 3-D to 2-D: Shading and Chiaroscurop. 108
9 From 3-D to 2-D: Stereopsisp. 138
10 Illusions of Motionp. 152
11 Color Mixing and Color Resolutionp. 164
12 Television, Movies, and Computer Graphicsp. 188
Epilogue: Talent, Music, and Learning Disabilitiesp. 196
Further Readingp. 204
Indexp. 205
Creditsp. 208