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The importance of perspective in conceptual thinking and visual communication.

1. Introduction

We meet with Renaissance perspective in contemporary painting, in the rigor of modern thinking, in philosophy, in semiotic, and in visual communication. That's why it is important to find models and elements from the art of perspective, which influenced our thinking. It seems strange in the least, but there are several elements in the art of perspective that influence thinking and visual communication by means of specialized studies and even more than that.

The ideologists of perspective had the purpose of finding the appropriate instruments so that the imitative artists of the Renaissance could construct on their canvases a space as close as possible to the space we perceive in reality. The interest in three-dimensionalism made the creation of a faithful copy of reality possible, exhibited in their paintings. When we speak of a faithful copy of reality, we make reference to the artist's technical mode of expression, to the illusion of the three-dimensional space, and not to the realities that they meant to translate into painting, by means of composition.

2. Perspective and Philosophy: From Plato to Brunelleschi, Going through Kant, Deussen, and Cassirer

Traditionally, it is believed that the starting point of perspective is represented by Greek Antiquity. This is where most classic explorations started from and a lot of the modern ones too. This is John Hendrix's opinion: "the painter is the Platonian philosopher of theologist, drawing a painting through perspective, picturing the material world as a veil or a copy of the comprehensible world. (1) Perspective, the three-dimensional representation of space, is rediscovered in the Renaissance, being presented in an intuitive manner at first, so that later, starting with Brunelleschi, the method of the linear perspective was introduced, a rational method, by means of which a coherent, homogenous and infinite three-dimensional space was created. Rigour, gained by the artists of the Renaissance through perspective and mathematical study, was passed on and it may be seen in the thinking of philosophers such as Kant, Deussen, or Cassirer. The issue of space, of emphasizing reality and truth is the same in any area. Thus, we can find elements from the thinking of Renaissance painters with Deussen, who deems space as necessitate, mathematicis, infinitate; with Kant, who presents space as an a priori category; with Cassirer, who believes spatial relations are a result of experimental thinking.

It seems that the issues of space, reality, and truth are the same in each area and it only remains a matter of each person's perception. As artistic perception is rooted in ancient philosophy, and we can find many elements there which led to its occurrence, we can also find elements in present thinking which may be found in the Renaissance, inspired by the rigor, by the illusion of the space suggested by the use of perspective. Among the philosophers who wrote and tried to understand the concept of space as well as the concept of image, referring to and being influenced by the models and elements in the Renaissance period, are also Paul Deussen, Immanuel Kant, and Ernst Cassirer.

"Space is that constituent part of the world by virtue of which objects are determined according to their position with regard to one another," (2) says Paul Deussen in Elements of Metaphysics. Yes, it is a matter known and researched even from the Antiquity, a matter that stood guidance to the perspectivists as well, in their search for methods suggesting three-dimensionalism on a canvas. Space is necessity, mathematics, infinity. (3)

And here is one of the Renaissance models which we can also find explained in Deussen's writings.

Concerning the a priori categories of the intellect, I would like to bring Kant into discussion. According to him, space exists a priori and it is ontologically given before objects. In Renaissance we can find this idea with Pomponius Gauricus, quoted by Panofsky, who defines space as "a continuous quantity, consisting of three physical dimensions, existing, by nature, before all bodies and beyond all bodies, indifferently receiving everything." (4) This existing, by nature from Gauricus foreshadows, in some manner, Kant's a priori, of course, with the amendment that the latter shall not resume at naming space a continuous quantity, nor shall he regard it through the prism of certain physical dimensions. However, one must retain the necessary primordially idea. The real question raised by this brilliant Kantian identification of the a priori elements in our experience is: if so much of what we perceive is a creation of our own minds, how could we gain true, simple knowledge of the real, extra-mental world? Essentially, Kant's answer is that we can distinguish between what is common in the experience of all people and what is particular to a single viewpoint. Here is how we can relate to the way in which people and the painter himself look at a painting. Aren't the scientific, geometric rules governing the perspective that provides a common experience to all people who find themselves in front the artwork?

In The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, even from the first chapter, Ernst Cassirer establishes that the philosophy of symbolic forms does not seek the categories of the consciousness of the object only in the theoretical and intellectual sphere, but it also starts from the fact that such categories should be in action every time when "from the chaos of impressions, a cosmos emerges, a characteristic image of the world. Every such image is only possible by means of a particular act of objectification, of transformation of mere impressions into determined representations and having an own form." (5) He believes that the world of our perceptions is not a mere given fact, but that it is formed following apprehension of certain theoretical facts. This relation stands out if we start from spatial configuration. The spatial relations of joining, drawing near, juxtaposition are not given with the mere sensation, with the sensitive matter being ordered in space, but they are the extremely complex result of experimental thinking. So, according to Cassirer, any organization in space assumes organization in judgment. Every difference in place, size, proportion, and distance can only be perceived through the fact that "every singular sensitive impression is evaluated differently based on the judgment, being awarded a different significance." (6)

Thus, we can see in Cassirer's thinking the same rigor specific to the Renaissance artists and mathematicians concerning the construction of the perspectival space. The long hours spent by them in order to understand and elaborate the perspective theories and practices, towards the construction of the suggested three-dimensional space, come in Cassirer's idea, which agrees that the organization of space assumes the organization of judgments. It seems to be an extremely suggestive apposition, although to certain imitative artists or philosophers the apposition seems exacerbated. Also, he starts discussing the fact that space organization (of the world of perception) relies on acts of identification, differentiation, comparison, and association. It is very much like the space organization in the works of perspectives painters. Cassirer's thinking is obviously influenced by Renaissance thinking and it is widely explained in his studies on space.

3. Perspective and Semiotics: A Semiotic Perspective

In 1927, Erwin Panofsky publishes Perspective as a Symbolic Form. If we are to reduce his discourse to the essence, he believes perspective is a symbolic form. Perspective vision assumes a mental denial of the plane material surface of the painting and its transformation into an open, transparent space. In semiotic terms, his approach refers to the mode in which pictorial material expression disappears and the artist's physical activity is dissolved in the imaginary observation of the painting as a three-dimensional space.

Also we shall approach elements from the art of perspective pertaining to the philosophy of perception and to semiotics. Jacques Fontanille proposed a double interpretation of perspective. There are two cognitive dimensions that govern these two types of semiotic space: "a cognitive abstract dimension, affecting the spatial relations in themselves, and a cognitive figurative dimension affecting the positions and proportions of the figures in the pictorial space." (7) The connection between the two spaces defined by the cognitive operators reduces the technical regime of perspective operation to a semiotic verbal procedure of translating an intersubjective conflict into a multitude of types. This conflict refers to an epistemology of perception, a non-bodily perception, imposing roles and occupying a neutral objective place in the area of analysis.

Semiotics is the study of artworks, of signs and symbols, either individually, or grouped into systems of signs which may bring more clarifications concerning the origin and significance of works. All the artists use a pictorial language, following a set of standards, basic principles and rules of the art of painting. There is a remarkable resemblance between the construction of the pictorial image and the creation of written language, its study, together with the study of individual components of pictorial language as well as of written language, being known as semiotics. This may translate an image or a painting into words.

The linear perspective constitutes a new mode of seeing, characterized by Samuel Edgerton as the most "appropriate convention towards the plastic representation of 'truth' in the Renaissance paradigm (a vision on the universe reflecting our understanding until the emergence of Einstein's theory of relativity)." (8) We have gotten so used to reading the paintings according to this illusive imitative code, that we now find it natural to proceed in this manner; we rarely consider it a code. In the much-quoted essay, "Perspective as a Symbolic Form," published in German in the '20s, the great art historian, Erwin Panofsky quoted serious controversies, asserting that the linear perspective is a symbolic form--a system of conventions, placed in the historical plan, towards the representation of the imitative space, a system reflecting the dominant vision on the universe, on a cultural plane, in the Italian Renaissance era.

4. Conclusion: The Art of Perspective Influenced the Visual Expression

The meditation on perspective is not an act situated beyond the limitations of our logic. It is just that, so far, it has been viewed pragmatically; no one tried to emphasize its importance in close connection to the need of people, within other social and historical conditions, for space, illusion, and rigor. The perspective system left its mark on the mode of judgment, of visual communication and on later artistic and philosophical thinking; not the artistic perspective in itself, but everything it drew after it, namely the rigor, "the picturing of the material world as a veil or as a copy of the intelligible world," as John Hendrix said in Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies and the Visual Art.

At the present time, people are reconstructing space, society seems to feel a tremendous need for space, so that, by resorting to the present techniques and using the rules of perspectives, they rebuild it and manipulate it in all areas. We saw that perspective had a major role in changing modern thinking and played an important role in the development of modern visual communication. As ancient philosophy and culture had a major influence over the development of the Renaissance spirit, the art of perspective influence thinking and visual communication.

The art of perspective, as it was rediscovered by the Renaissance masters, operates with the notion of a homogeneous space, identical to the one that modem techniques and automated projections resort to, used in the achievement of computer three-dimensional images in our times, which techniques could not have been known without the knowledge of artistic perspective. A Renaissance painting and a digitally generated image essentially use the same technique, a consistent set of geometrical and mathematical rules connected to perspective, in order to create the illusion of the existing or imaginary space.


(1.) Hendrix, John (2004), Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies and the Visual Arts. New York: Peter Lang.

(2.) Deussen, Paul (2008), Elements of Metaphysics. Bucharest: Herald, 42.

(3.) ibidem, 43-44.

(4.) Panofsky, Erwin (1997), Perspective as Symbolic Form. New York: Zone Books.

(5.) Cassirer, Ernst (2008), The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 2nd, vol. Mythical Thinking. Bucharest: Paralela 45, 51.

(6.) ibidem, 53.

(7.) Fontanille, Jacques (1989), Les espaces subjectifs. Introduction a la semiotique de l'observateur. Paris: Hachette, 80-81.

(8.) Edgerton, Samuel (1975), The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective. New York: Basic Books, 162.


Arnheim, Rudolph (1979), Arta f percepfa vizualA (Art and Visual Perception), Bucharest: Meridiane.

Bal, Mieke, Norman Bryson (1991), "Semiotics and Art History," The Art Bulletin 73(2): 174-208.

Cassirer, Ernst (2008), Filosofia formelor simbolice (The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms). Bucharest: Paralela 45.

Damisch, Hubert (1995), The Origin of Perspective. London: The MIT Press.

Deussen, Paul (2008), Elementele metafizicii (Elements of Metaphysics). Bucharest: Herald.

Edgerton, Samuel (1975), The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective. New York: Basic Books.

Hendrix, John (2004), Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies and the Visual Arts. New York: Peter Lang.

Hendrix, John, Liana de Girolami Cheney (2004), Neoplatonic Aesthetics: Music, Literature, & the Visual Arts. New York: Peter Lang.

Fontanille, Jacques, Les espaces subjectifs. Introduction a la semiotique de l'observateur. Paris: Hachette, 1989

Panofsky, Erwin (1997), Perspective as Symbolic Form. New York: Zone Books.


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Author:Voloaca, Ioana Diana
Publication:Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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