Looking at Looking - Amanda Eicher

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  • 8/7/2019 Looking at Looking - Amanda Eicher



    [SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2011]

    @ Montalvo Arts Center

    15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga

    8:30am 4:00pmPresented in collaboration by Montalvo Arts Center,the Santa Clara County Office of Education,and the Lurie College of Education at San Jos State University

    Download additional copies online at www.montalvoarts.org/learn/study_guides 1 | P a g e

    Looking at Looking: Visual Arts and Social Practice in the Classroom forScience, Physical Education, and Literature/Creative Arts/Writing.

    with Amanda Eicheramandajeicher@gmail.com | amandajeicher.net


    Learn basic skills in scoring visual and performing arts projects around sight to create dynamic science-basedclassroom experiences.

    Amanda Eicher, artist educator and instructor at UC Berkeley, has taught and collaborated with preschoolers to adultsfor the past ten years.


    For each student: a magnifying glass, a pencil, a paintbrush, sheets of paper or cardstock

    For each 2 students: a small set of watercolors








    vision impairment






    1. Beginning with the lights on, participants are asked to sit in their chairs with their feet evenly on the floor, to relax and

    distribute weight evenly, and to breathe easily in and out.

    With open eyes, participants will observe their surroundings and begin to bring the gaze to one part of the room, andto observe what is at the center of the gaze.

    2. As the lights are turned out, participants observe the sense of feeling around the eyes as they maintain the gaze.

    If the eyes are moving, what is happening in the muscles around the eyes?

    If the eyes are adjusting to the change in light, is there a feeling in the eye around that gesture?

    3. Participants will then follow a series of yogic eye exercises, looking up, down, to the sides, around in a circle, andfinishing with the pose called lion, where the tongue and eyes are extended fully and the hands are splayed: themuscles of the hands follow what the muscles of the mouth and eyes are doing.

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    Handout:Saccades/Eye Exercises Saccades are the tiny jumps our eyes make in order to take in a whole scene,studied famously by Alfred L Yarbus in the 1960s.


    4. Each participant will receive a magnifying glass, a pencil and a paintbrush, and a small set of watercolors to sharewith a partner. Using a magnifying glass, participants will sit knees to knees and examine one another's eyes, at close

    range, for 5 minutes.

    Emphasis is placed on the makeup of the pupil, the iris, the sclera, and the lids

    What is the texture? The color? The history there?

    Participants will be asked to draw each element in turn on their card, and to fill in the textures, colors, and details ofwhat they saw.

    A short lesson on basic watercolor skills will follow so that areas may be filled in with some accuracy.

    5. As the color dries, participants will talk with each other about the history of their vision, how this is reflected in thedetails of their eyes; how they see with or without correction; how they see the world in other ways; and record this ina short writing exercise.

    Handout: Vision dynamics Function of the eye; rods and cones; retinal function; color vision basics


    Possible extensions of the activity, including issues of the gaze; where and how gazes meet; how vision scanning andnight vision work; camouflage; color vision; vision impairments.


    Using the group as a source for imagining extensions of the activity; discussing individual classroom ideas and issues;innovating based on the material; evaluating the workshop.

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    (iridology eye chart for the diagnosis of diseases and symptoms)

    HANDOUT: Vision Dynamics

    From Unit 2, General Psychology, Dr. Ronald Mayer, SFSU, 2007:

    The white of the eye is the sclera, the colored portion is the iris, and the black circle is the pupil. But thesevisible portions are only a small part of the eye. The transparent dome at the front is the cornea; it is continuous withthe sclera, or white of the eye. The colored iris is a circular muscle that acts like the shutter on a camera; it regulatesthe amount of light that enters the eye. When the surroundings are very bright the iris has a tiny opening in the center.When the surroundings are dim the iris has a very large opening. This opening in the iris is the pupil. Directly behindthe pupil is the lens. The lens also changes shape to focus on objects at various distances. The lens is relatively flatwhen you gaze into the distance and quite rounded when you look at something up close, like a book. The space inthe eyeball in front of the lens is filled with a watery fluid. The space behind the lens is filled with a gelatinoussubstance.

    Covering the inside of the eye, behind the muscles that shape, or accommodate, the lens, is the retina. Thepurpose of the lens is to focus images on the retina. If it does not, eyeglasses can redirect the path of light so that the

    image is focused on the retina. The actual receptors that produce the sensation of sight are located in the retina. At thevery back are the receptors, the rods and cones. Actually, the receptors are behind at least nine layers of retina. Whenlight finally stimulates these receptors, a nerve impulse is generated and carried by the small fibers to the optic nerveat the back of the eye. Thus, before light can contribute to a sensation of sight, it passes through the cornea, thewatery fluid, the lens, the gelatinous substance, and many layers of retina, finally reaching the rods and cones.

    The rods and cones are not evenly distributed in the retina. One area at the center of the back of the eyeball,the fovea, is densely packed with cones. Around the fovea are both rods and cones, but there are fewer and fewercones as the distance from the fovea increases. The area of the retina closest to the lens muscles contains mostlyrods. This is called the periphery, or edge, of the retina, and the fovea is considered the center. We still are not certainhow light waves physically stimulate the receptors in the eye.

    These two types of receptors seem to have different functions. The rods function especially in dim light, andthey do not seem to produce sensations of color. White, black, and intermediate shades of grey can be seen by a

    person who has only rod vision. The cones function best in bright light. They give us sensations of color, as well as ofsaturation (degree of color). Damage to the retina, which is fairly common among victims of diabetes mellitas, canresult in different visual sensations. Damage to the fovea can interfere with color sensations.

    It is not really known at this point just how different length light waves produce different sensations. Onetheory, the Young-Helmholtz theory, assumes that there are three different types of cones, each especially responsiveto a particular wavelength -- that of red, green, or blue. Another theory, proposed first by Hering, also postulates threetypes of cones, but assumes that each responds to a pair of wavelengths, red-green, yellow-blue, or black-white(Hurvich and Jameson, 1957). The Hering theory appears to be supported by the phenomenon of color blindness.

    (Downloaded 3/19 from Dr. Ronald Mayer, Ph.D. Psychology 200: General Psychology Online, www.userwww.sfsu.edu/~psych200/, San FranciscoState University: 2007.)

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    Cabinet Magazine Issue 30, The Underground Summer 2008WAYS OF SEEING

    Sasha Archibald

    At the heart of the study of eye movementsa small field, but one of great interest to advertisers, museumprofessionals, radiologists tracking diagnostic errors, and othersis the gulf between physiological reality and what wefeel our eyes are doing. What we perceive, for instance, as a calm gaze at a tree in the distance, is actually a series ofabrupt and disjointed eye movements. Even when seemingly fixed on the most stationary of objects, the eye driftsaway and back again, jumps from side to side, and hovers around, but not on, the point of focus. In short, oursubjective sense of visual concentration has no physiological corollary.

    These micro-movements, unremitting and completely involuntary, are called saccadesa word originally usedto describe the jittery movements of a horse being dressed. In 1965, Soviet scientist Alfred L. Yarbus proved whatother researchers had long suspected: saccades are essential to vision. It is in between each of these dartingmovements that the eye does its essential business of seeing. When the eye is artificially fixed in place to eliminatesaccades, the quick result is blindness. Yarbus was able to show that the symptoms of visual distraction are in factindispensable to perception.

    Yarbus made his discovery using the cap, an optical device of his own invention detailed in his book EyeMovements and Vision.

    1The cap consisted of a rubber disc punctured by a tiny pinhole and fastened directly on the

    eyeball. Substantially heavier and bulkier than a contact lens but similar in concept, the caps rim was affixed to a smalangled mirror. A tiny suction cup kept the apparatus tightly pressed against the cornea. In Yarbuss basic study, abeam of light was directed towards the mirror, which moved in perfect concert with the cornea. As light reflected off themirror, its movement was recorded on photosensitive paper, yielding a stunning result: a map of vision itself.

    Stunning results notwithstanding, the device appears to be one of the more torturous instruments ever fitted to thehuman eye. (Current attempts to accomplish the same ends painlessly involve the use of infrared light.) To apply thecap, plaster adhesive was applied to pull away the subjects upper and lower eyelids and fix them in place, after whichthe eye was anesthetized, the cap attached, the mirror angle adjusted, and, finally, the object of vision revealed. Tests

    were recommended to never exceed (a very long) twelve minutes, but according to Yarbus, most subjects experiencedan alarming and painful drying of the cornea after just two or three. In addition to physical stamina, Yarbus required awide-eyed look, which suitably exposed the eyeballs curvature.

    Besides tracking the erratic jerking of an eye focused on an isolated point, the cap enabled the studies for whichYarbus is best knownstudies that investigated the complex process of how we go about looking at an image. Inthese, Yarbus allowed his subjects free observation of a picture for a set amount of time. By using the cap, he wasable to trace the route of the eye and then superimpose that path on the picture in question. Among other things, histests yielded information on what people looked at first, second, and third; where the eye returned again and again;and what details most viewers missed.

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    Yarbuss results disproved certain hypotheses of the time: that viewers receive an image much as a blind personwould a sculpturethat is, by exploring its contours firstor that the eye will linger on areas that contain more detail.In fact, as Yarbus demonstrated, these, and other factorscertain colors, degree of contrast, the images medium, thegender of the persons depicted in relation to the gender of the viewerhave no effect on viewers patterns of looking.Noting that his subjects consistently devoted special attention to some elements of a picture and showed indifferenceto others, Yarbus suggested an alternative logic to the distribution of attention, speculating that the eye instinctivelygravitates toward details that promise to explain an image.

    In Yarbuss schema, our patterns of looking relate to the task of solving a picture, by which he meant discerningits narrative logic. Presented with an image, the eye begins a rapid fact-gathering mission, filtering out extraneousvisual information and honing in on bits of explanatory detail. Given opportunity for extended looking, we do not turnour attention to an unexplored corner, but compulsively reinvestigate those elements that allow the meaning of thepicture to be obtained.

    2Yarbus tested his conclusions by giving his subjects specific instructions, such as Remember

    the clothes worn or Give the ages of the people. He found that eye movement indeed varied accordinglyand inentirely predictable fashion. We are physiologically hardwired, the scientist concluded, to pin down a pictures story.

    Yarbuss eye movement maps are certainly fascinating, but his simple-minded conclusion disappoints. Thescientists reticence to find anything random, idiosyncratic, or nuanced in how we perceive images is perhapsexplained by a certain trial variable the repercussions of which Yarbus seems to have ignored: his choice of image.

    Most of Yarbuss studies were conducted using a classic Russian Realist painting by Ilya Efimovich Repin.Painted in 1884 in support of social reform, the image depicts a soldier returning home from exile in Siberia, greeted byhis mother as his wife shyly lingers behind the door. The soldiers elder son beams with happy recognition, while the

    younger daughter, too young to remember her father, hesitates at the table. Something of a stock image in Sovietvisual culture, An Unexpected Visitor(also translated as Unexpected Returnor They Did Not Expect Him), and thenarrative it illustrates, were certainly familiar to Yarbuss subjects. Given this familiarity, several of the scientistsdirectives, such as, Estimate the material circumstances of the family, were perhaps better suited to propaganda thancontrolled scientific experiment. Moreover, the narrative of Repins painting was in fact its point; the picture circulatedin Soviet culture precisely as an illustrative image.

    Though we might be compelled to find explanations for what we see, as Yarbus suggests, we are equally drivento see what we expect. In the case of a picture without any known narrative, a picture that somehow escapesreference or recognizable form, a picture that is unlike anything weve imagined before, Yarbus unfortunately has littleto say.

    1. Alfred L. Yarbus, Eye Movements and Vision, trans. Basil Haigh (New York: Plenum Press, 1967).

    2. Yarbus, op. cit., p.190.

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    Maps of the eye movements of a single subject asked by Yarbus to

    1) examine the painting freely,2) estimate the material circumstances of the family,3) assess the ages of the characte...