We see and recognize our world partly because of our cultural milieu. Our eyes simply receive raw light information while our brain organizes and identifies it. After Saddam Hussein’s execution many Iraqis thought they recognized Saddam’s face in the moon. I’ll bet that wasn’t the case in my community in Connecticut where Saddam’s face wasn’t commonplace. Seeing the Madonna in a bush or a rock or fountain requires familiarity with her image. Da Vinci noticed that you could put words to the clanging of church bells but of course they would only be words you already knew. We are naturally predisposed to seeing human faces and bodies. We are great at specialized feature detection. We are so good at it we think we see massive differences where others see hardly any. You know the old cliché, “Those people all look alike to me.” They do because you have not yet tuned your feature detective system to the correct differentiating areas. This phenomenon is even true with taste. Remember the phrase, “It all tastes like chicken.” Even rattlesnake tastes like chicken if you have not yet tuned your tasting to new areas of difference.
If you look at the vertical monotype by contemporary artist Kerry Brock you will probably see a figure. Even if Brock titles her piece intentionally to draw your attention away from the idea of a body like, “Unfolding Steel” you will still tend to see a figure in the image because of our predisposition to seeing figures. If I turn Brock’s image horizontally then, the body is less apparent but its impression as a figure is stubbornly glued to your memory. Try looking at Brock’s horizontal version of the monotype and think of the phrase “Unfolding Mountain Landscape.” Because of our human incapacity to simultaneously sustain two different ideas for the same image you will probably be able to will yourself to see the landscape and, the figure will momentarily disappear. Brock has successfully built this suggestive quality into her image. Now, look at the contemporary artist Barbara Morse-Lubell’s work. She has integrated a topo map into her image. We know how to read topographic maps and they are not easily confused with bodies so we are less likely to see her superimposed shapes as bodies. If Morse-Lubell gives us a title like, “Weather Patterns” then, we will see weather patterns over the maps and, if she titles her work “Tea Stains and Fallen Leaves” we will look for them. Our vision works at the direction of our brains. Our brain selects and directs and identifies our vision.