Plastic Reality

All of this talk about realistic and expressive language, constructing meaning, subjectivity and so on, got me to thinking about how plastic reality can be when we depict it visually.


For instance, in this painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, he has intentionally elongated the proportions of the subject in order to achieve a more ideal (not to mention “impossible”) female form – at least as he saw it. There’s nothing realistic at all about how long the woman in the painting’s neck and spine are, and yet, we don’t necessarily notice it until it is pointed out to us. And to Ingres’ eye, we are all the more open to the purity of her form for it.


Here’s another example of plastic reality, only this time, in the hands of a talented industrial designer and employed to a somewhat more pragmatic ends. Do you see what’s “wrong” with this picture? The car has been drawn in two-point perspective but has been done so, intentionally, incorrectly. If you look closely at the front and driver’s side of the car, you’ll notice that its body curves around the corner closest to us at greater than the roughly 90 degree angle that it should. As with the Ingres painting, we don’t necessarily notice it, and yet this commonly-used “cheat” allows a car designer to show us more of her design than would be possible with a more proper rendering.

Of course, these examples of the clever bending of the mostly mechanical rules of proportion and perspective are fairly innocuous. Can you think though of examples where these or other visual conventions can be similarly manipulated to out and out mislead or even manipulative the viewer? It might be difficult to do so right off hand. Still, that doesn’t mean that you haven’t seen it before, you just didn’t necessarily realize it when you did. I’d like to suggest that you watch for this kind of stuff in the visual content that you consume. It can be very interesting, enlightening, and in some cases, even a little creepy.

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