Light Science pp 357-390 | Cite as

Visual Perception, Illusions, and the Arts

  • Thomas D. RossingEmail author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina


To visually perceive a work of art, or for that matter any object, the brain needs information. This information enters the eye in the form of light. The eye’s optical system focuses this light, producing images of objects in our environment on the retina. Receptors in the retina convert light into electrical impulses that are carried to the brain along neural pathways. Perception of the external world occurs when electrical signals are processed in the brain. In the end, it’s the brain’s business to make sense of sensation.


Glossary of Terms

accelerated perspective

A spatial configuration designed to suggest a distance or depth longer than the actual one.


The depth cue that allows us to judge the distance of an object by the appearance of its color.

ambiguous figure

A picture that may be interpreted in two or more equally valid ways.


The use of light and shadow in painting.


A visual illusion that arises from information-processing mechanisms within the brain.

distortion illusion

A visual illusion in which lines or figures appear distorted due to context.

figure-ground illusion

An illusion in which two aspects of a drawing, both of equal stature, vie for attention.

impossible figure

Figures that lack internal consistency and do not represent actual physical objects.

monocular cues

Visual information that allows a person with one eye to perceive depth. Artists frequently use monocular cues to convey depth in drawing or painting.

linear perspective

A system for representing three-dimensional objects and space on a two-dimensional surface.

physical illusion

A visual illusion that results from physical phenomena outside the body.


A visual illusion that is caused by the functioning of our visual sensory apparatus.

size constancy

The tendency to see the size of objects remaining constant as they move closer or farther away.


The ability of both eyes to see the same object as one image, resulting in a perception of depth.

trompe l’oeil

A style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail.

visual disparity

Two different views of the same scene resulting from binocular vision.

visual illusion

A situation in which visual perception leads to incorrect interpretation of reality.

Further Reading

  1. Cole, K. C. (1978). Vision in the Eye of the Beholder. San Francisco, CA: Exploratorium.Google Scholar
  2. Goldstein, E. B. (1989). Sensation and Perception. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Gregory, R. L. (1970). The Intelligent Eye. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  4. Levine, M. W., & Shefner, J. M. (1991). Fundamentals of Sensation and Perception. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  5. Luckiesh, M. (1965). Visual Illusions. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  6. Rodgers, B. (2017). Perception: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Snowden, R., Thompson, P., & Troscianko, T. (2012) Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception (Revised Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Solso, R. L. (1996). Cognition and the Visual Arts. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Rossing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.New Trier Township High SchoolWinnetkaUSA

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