M. Massironi and Arte Programmata e cinetica: visual research and art, art and visual research

Massironi and Arte Programmata: a brief review of research into perception

Ugo Savardi

Manfredo Massironi started his research into the psychology of perception well before he began his academic research. His extended experience of individual research interweaved with the development of an artistic movement known as Arte programmata e Cinetica (or Gestaltic Art), which had its origins in the late fifties and which still continues today in the work of various international artists. The phenomena studied range from the interaction between light and environment to perceptual invariants in anamorphoses, anomalous contours, figure-ground segregation, the perception of folding, reflections and many more. These topics will be analyzed synoptically and their link with research on the same phenomena which has been carried out in university labs will be discussed. This will demonstrate how the contribution offered by the Experimental Phenomenology of perception to both art and the psychology of perception is still topical.

Canaries from doodles and other visual exercises

Daniele Zavagno

Manfredo Massironi was indeed a contemporary Renaissance humanist, driven by endearing curiosity towards the fields of architecture and interior design, art, perceptual sciences, visual communication, psychology of art, and story telling. Both his intellectual and his artistic works are rich of insightful ideas. Sometimes such ideas were offered to the reader in terms of a playful exercise, some other times they were disguised in the form of a short story. I will attempt to trace the imaginary line that connects Manfredo's stories and his proposed exercises to his own scientific and artistic interests. If my hand and mind are steady enough, the result should deliver an imaginary portrait of Manfredo Massironi.

The visual arts as on-field experimentation

Rossana Actis Grosso and Daniele Zavagno

Starting from the seminal study by Massironi (2002) on the way in which a temporal dimension is conveyed by means of static images, we develop a general hypothesis, according to which the evolution of the representation of the time course in visual arts is mirrored in the evolution of the concept of time in children, who, according to Piaget (1946), undergo three stages in their ability to conceptualize time. We preliminary tested this hypothesis with an experiment where 40 children (aged 4-7 years old) were presented with the reproduction of two medieval paintings (and the respective line-drawing cartoon versions), which stand, according to our hypothesis, for an intermediate stage in the evolution of art. We hypothesized that only children who are at Piaget's Stage II of time conceptualization should immediately understand the pictorial representation. Despite the small sample of children examined, results are consistent with the hypothesis. A follow-up on the same children was also run one year later. Results suggest that the study of the visual arts can help to distinguish between the perceptual and the cognitive constraints in the representation of the succession of events, as Massironi suggested.

Pictorial representation and the psychology of visual art

Daniela Bressanelli and Enrico Giora

The representation of reality is one of the most fascinating issues in aesthetics and art theory. It has been pointed out since the ages of ancient philosophers that a painting is not a mere copy of a natural object but it consists in an active interpretation of it. Correspondingly, a pictorial image implies a fine balance between the information embedded in the natural scene and the elements chosen by the artist. Figurative images have therefore to satisfy two requirements: (i) the similarity to the depicted object to which they refer to, and (ii) the creative way to represent that object, depending on the artist's aim. In graphic representations a crucial role is thus played by the employment of pictorial cues. Few pictorial features are sufficient to represent the characteristics of a visual object with exhaustiveness and communicative power. The combination of simple pictorial signs like lines and textures may elicit complex perceptual outcomes regarding objects' shape, material properties, depth information, up to expressive qualities as causal relationships and time displacement of events. Manfredo Massironi's contribution in the study of pictorial representation is here presented and discussed in the light of the current theories of psychology of visual art.

Exploring the visual structure of reflections inside and outside a laboratory

Ivana Bianchi

Reflections are interesting perceptual phenomena. They have inspired both scientific research into the psychology of perception (and naïve optics) and also research into art. After a brief review of some of the main questions and findings which have emerged from experimental studies on the perception and understanding of reflections (Bertamini et al, 2010, Attention Perception & Psychophysics, 72, 1948-1964; Bianchi & Savardi, 2008, Perception, 5, 666-687; Lawson & Bertamini, 2006, Perception, 35, 1265-1288; Savardi, et al. 2010, Acta Psychologica, 134, 1-15), we will explore the use of mirrors and the manipulation of reflections carried out by Massironi in a series of works of art as well as considering other artists of the Arte Cinetica e Programmata movement. Both art and science can make us aware of some of the processes involved when we look into a mirror.

Op Art and Perceptual Intuition

Gert van Tonder

The 1960's Op Art movement is best known for their characteristic use of bold black and white patterns, remembered well because these works elicit vivid perceptual effects. The metaphors chosen by artists themselves to convey their own sense of what is occurring, perceptually, resist direct translation into scientific terms. Yet, they are the originators of these powerful works and as such, their intentions and opinions should be of considerable interest to scientists wishing to explore perception in Op Art. In this presentation, I would like to show examples where the appropriate interaction with Op Art enables specific scientific insight into a long standing problem related to contrast processing in the human visual system. The insight goes as far as providing clear evidence regarding the theoretical and physiological origins of the observed perceptual effects. Surprisingly - or in hindsight, perhaps not surprisingly - this insight reciprocally leads to greater understanding of the composition of the artwork. This understanding culminates in fresh insight into the artistic intuitions and intentions behind the visual effects used, offering a clear scientific translation of the apparently obscure metaphors used by Op artists when describing the role of visual perception in their compositions.