Lecture: Cézanne: Narrator: Listen to part of the discussion in an art history class. Professor: So, oh, we just got started with the French painter Paul Cézanne in our last class. Cézanne, oh, he created most of his paintings in the late 19th century, though in many ways, his work is a culmination of the impressionist movement that began several decades earlier, the movement that was spurred, in part, by the growing popularity of photography. Female Student: But, oh ... didn't artist painters feel threatened by photography? Professor: They did, and that's one of the reasons painters of the mid to late 19th century worked so hard to distinguish their paintings from the types of images that are captured in photographs. Here's one argument they used: they argued that the camera could only capture a single moment in time, but for them, that wasn't how people actually perceived reality. Our perception of reality is not a snapshot. It's formed over time they say. So, the techniques these painters used suggest passing of time moved away from the conventional techniques of realistic presentation, you know, sharp detail, sharp outlines. Outlines of objects in their paints became increasing blurred and they experimented with color to create mood. Oh, that painting titled Impression Sunrise that we discussed a few classes ago was a good example. The one with the harbor scene, there was a sense of time passing of the day, just the awakening. The colors were hinted to one another there were no real distinctions between objects. The viewer got a sense of the play of light, of surfaces, of shimmering. This blurring of outlines became the signature of a new style of painting. David? David: This kind of reminds me of something I read in a book recently about Cézanne and the blurring of the outlines and the process of sight. Oh, I ... I think it was ... Professor: Oh, I ... I know which book you're talking about and I'm not sure I ... though it does certainly fit in with what we're talking about. Let me explain a bit about the book to the class. Now, remember when I said about the impressionist movement leading up to Cézanne. Well, took the technique of blurring outlines even further. His paintings, particularly in the later ones, lack boundaries. They're more abstract, they consist of patches of color that blend into one another and you can hardly tell what the objects are. Now, the author of the book that David's talking about proposes that there's a connection between Cézanne's style and the way our visual perception works in general. Modern neuroscience tells us that visual perception is basically a two-stage process. Information in the human eye initially transmits to the brain is this pretty disorganized bunch of lines and patches of color. That's the first stage. But in the next stage, the brain processes this blurred and somewhat chaotic image to create the final picture of sharp outlines and distinct objects. This, of course, all happens automatically and we're only aware of the final result. But this book argued that Cézanne somehow intuited that before the final sharp image is formed, there's this stage where colors and lines are blurred and that's what he represented in his paintings. Mind you, he supposedly did this decades before scientists actually understood this process. Female Student: So, Cézanne just gave us the initial chaotic impression and it's up to our brains to make meaning out of what our eyes see? Professor: Right, that's what the book argues. That Cézanne somehow understood that's how our vision worked. David: So Cézanne, with this abstract style, is simply forcing us to go through the same process of making sense of what we see as the ... as the process the brain goes through to make sense of the information it sees from the eyes? Seems like a pretty strong case to me. Professor: Well, you can certainly make the argument. But to me, it's a stretch. You see, this two stage process happens automatically in our brains. I mean, how could Cézanne be aware of this? I think it's simply the case of Cézanne just continuing the tradition of this new painting style that did away with outlines and experimenting with it to see how far he could take it and what kind of visual experience it would give the viewer. To me, that doesn't make him a neuroscientist.