When you think about linear perspective, do you think about this? The Virtual Instructor Search the internet for perspective, and that’s pretty much what you’ll see. Billions of lessons illustrating the importance of one point, two point, and three point perspective. Lessons state that this is something every artist needs to learn in order to correctly render the three dimensional world on a two dimensional surface. It is not only useful, it is required for all artists, and it is the only method for drawing the world as it really is. It’s not immediately apparent, but while these linear perspective rules can be useful for some drawings, this is not the only form of linear perspective available for educated artists, and there’s a reason you don’t know about other forms. Western Perspective as we use it today is from the Renaissance, specifically, from Filippo Brunelleschi. In this way of seeing, there is a single point of view (POV), and objects get smaller as they get farther away from the point of view. This is presented as the technique for drawing things as they really are. For proof a piece of glass can be used to trace a scene, confirming that objects diminish towards a common vanishing point. As anyone who has taken a perspective class will attest, this way of drawing does not come naturally for us. We must educate ourselves to be able to draw the three dimensional world correctly. This way of drawing was connected with math, science, Christianity, and due to the forces of history, it was connected with colonization. The strategy was to use all of these Western cultural artifacts to try to bring the other cultures around to the Western way of thinking. For hundreds of years this form of drawing has been part of an assumed dominance over other cultures. Artists who do not draw with these methods are seen as primitive, ignorant to the rules of art. Other forms of drawing were judged according to this perspective, and deemed incorrect. Even in current perspective lessons, it’s written that other cultures do not have any form of consistent or linear perspective at all. So while artists in various cultures are perfectly aware of Western perspective, they recognize it’s failings, and they choose to use something else. Depending on what they do, where they’re from, and what they want to express in their art, cultures around the globe have their own “true” methods for perspective, and we should know about them. A few limitations of this single point of view Natural Perspective is unnatural Western perspective, or Natural Perspective, as it is sometimes called, presents itself as the way to draw things as they really are in nature, but this can often be a significant limitation for artists, causing some very unnatural things to happen. Take a look at The School of Athens, by Raphael. This is a prominent example of one point perspective, historically used to show the superiority of this method in art, yet due to the single point of view, the figures must be positioned in a lineup from left to right, in the same awkward way we find actors must do for the single eye of the camera. If you’ve studied perspective drawing, do you ever puzzle over how to build a narrative scene in which multiple figures relate to the environment and to each other in a natural way? Relationships in three dimensions Similarly, this single point of view is a fixed point, but a benefit of being human is that we get to move around. Physically, we understand the world in three dimensions, and not from a fixed point. Our language developed in ways that allow us to talk about multiple perspectives in the past, present, and future. With our language, we can tell eachother how to find ripe berries in a certain location and during a certain season. This is natural. And many of us are able to draw a map that clearly illustrates various locations of things in space. But within Natural Perspective, if we want to show a relationship of objects in space, or as a meandering walk from one place to another, we might have a difficult time arranging the composition to express what we’re thinking or seeing. What if the destination is very far away? It is likely to be so small we are unable to show descriptive detail of what it is and why we’re going there. The view below shows the few feet straight ahead of us. What if we want to talk about our daily walk from here to the last house, or the house that’s three doors down and to the right? The cone of vision Another issue with so-called Real Perspective is that anything outside of a set area (the “Cone of Vision”) becomes distorted. Related to the cone of vision, the larger your drawing is, the harder you might find it is to draw things as you see them above and below you in correct proportions and relationships. This is because the world around your view is round, not flat. Our cornea are spherical, our heads pivot on our necks. Very little of what we see transferred gracefully to a flat surface. At times, our attempts result in distortions not dissimilar to how a globe of the Earth becomes distorted when spread out to be flat. How long is your painting? While rectangular frames can work within the cone of vision just fine, applied to a scene spread across a long scroll, as is common for Eastern artworks, the Western perspective system is completely ineffective. A scene stretching across the length of a scroll would need to place vanishing points at absurd distance, either hidden for all but the most central region of the picture, or applied along the way to a ridiculous distortion of the picture, due to the limitations of the cone of vision inherent in Western perspective. What forms of perspective do Eastern artists use? As I write this, I’m still learning about the way various cultures in various times and in various artworks used perspective. More information will be in future V. Notes. For now, I can say that Eastern perspective often considers scenes from various points of view, while acknowledging the abstract flatness of the surface, and often viewed the rules of Western perspective as ignorant of education and artistry. The drawings I’ve seen are usually organized in a form of orthographic perspective known as ‘isometric’ or ‘axonometric’ perspective in which the buildings are viewed obliquely with the fronts in undistorted flat shapes, and the orthogonal sides shown to tilt at parallel angles. Perspective in Chinese artworks The earliest lessons I have found are from Gu Kai-zhi, who was a Chinese artist and writer of philosophy of Painting c 300AD. He wrote several texts that defined rules and techniques of painting for artists. In his Theory of Painting, Gu Kai-zhi describes the use of ruled lines as a painting technique. Artists in the Sung dynasty called the technique “ruled-line painting”, as they were drawn with a special tool. “The typical ruler was about three feet long and two inches wide. When split lengthwise in half with joints at either end, exact parallel lines could be rendered. A brush was held in a split tube with cut down to a point to guide the brush. Thus, the ruled-line painters of that era worked with tools similar to those of modern architects when they make scale drawing.” Source: Chinese Perspective as a Rational System Perspective in Japanese artworks Meiji artist Toyoharu Kunichika used a mix of perspective techniques for this six panel print This print by Toyoharu Kunichika incorporates two systems of perspective. The lower half is Chinese: the lines from front to back remain parallel and the same length as they recede into the building. For the upper floor, the back wall of the central room is smaller than the front. Kunichika is using western, one point perspective with a vanishing point somewhere behind the standing woman’s head. Hiroshige Katsushika HokusaiSakai-chô, from the series Twelve Views of the Eastern Capital (Tôto jûni kei)Edo period (1603-1868) Perspective in Indian artworks Indian paintings often show multiple perspectives, turning buildings and space for the benefit of narrative and composition. Rukmini and entourage leave for the temple, c.1800 showing multiple perspectives Persian miniature painting showing multiple perspectives Persian miniature painting (detail) Moghul painting of Noah’s ark, using vertical perspective I have the feeling that I have only scratched the surface, and this post is expanding faster than I can keep up, so I am publishing this post unfinished. To be continued!