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[SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2011]

THE ARTS IN YOUR CLASSROOM [9] @ Montalvo Arts Center


CAPTURING CREATIVITY 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga
8:30am – 4:00pm
Presented in collaboration by Montalvo Arts Center,
the Santa Clara County Office of Education,
and the Lurie College of Education at San José State University

Looking at Looking: Visual Arts and Social Practice in the Classroom for
Science, Physical Education, and Literature/Creative Arts/Writing.
with Amanda Eicher
amandajeicher@gmail.com | amandajeicher.net

OBJECTIVES & BACKGROUND:


Learn basic skills in scoring visual and performing arts projects around sight to create dynamic science-based
classroom experiences.
Amanda Eicher, artist educator and instructor at UC Berkeley, has taught and collaborated with preschoolers to adults
for the past ten years.

MATERIALS:
• For each student: a magnifying glass, a pencil, a paintbrush, sheets of paper or cardstock
• For each 2 students: a small set of watercolors

VOCABULARY:
• muscles • gaze • texture
• pupil • vision • color
• iris • vision impairment • watercolor
• light • camouflage

15 MINUTES: LOOKING EXERCISES.


1. Beginning with the lights on, participants are asked to sit in their chairs with their feet evenly on the floor, to relax and
distribute weight evenly, and to breathe easily in and out.
With open eyes, participants will observe their surroundings and begin to bring the gaze to one part of the room, and
to observe what is at the center of the gaze.
2. As the lights are turned out, participants observe the sense of feeling around the eyes as they maintain the gaze.
• If the eyes are moving, what is happening in the muscles around the eyes?
• If the eyes are adjusting to the change in light, is there a feeling in the eye around that gesture?
3. Participants will then follow a series of yogic eye exercises, looking up, down, to the sides, around in a circle, and
finishing with the pose called ‘lion,’ where the tongue and eyes are extended fully and the hands are splayed: the
muscles of the hands follow what the muscles of the mouth and eyes are doing.

Download additional copies online at www.montalvoarts.org/learn/study_guides 1|Page


Handout: Saccades/Eye Exercises – Saccades are the tiny jumps our eyes make in order to take in a whole scene,
studied famously by Alfred L Yarbus in the 1960s.

30 MINUTES: LOOKING AT LOOKING.


4. Each participant will receive a magnifying glass, a pencil and a paintbrush, and a small set of watercolors to share
with a partner. Using a magnifying glass, participants will sit knees to knees and examine one another's eyes, at close
range, for 5 minutes.
Emphasis is placed on the makeup of the pupil, the iris, the sclera, and the lids –
• What is the texture? The color? The history there?
Participants will be asked to draw each element in turn on their card, and to fill in the textures, colors, and details of
what they saw.
A short lesson on basic watercolor skills will follow so that areas may be filled in with some accuracy.

5. As the color dries, participants will talk with each other about the history of their vision, how this is reflected in the
details of their eyes; how they see with or without correction; how they see the world in other ways; and record this in
a short writing exercise.
Handout: Vision dynamics – Function of the eye; rods and cones; retinal function; color vision basics

15 MINUTES: OTHER POSSIBILITIES.


Possible extensions of the activity, including issues of the gaze; where and how gazes meet; how vision scanning and
night vision work; camouflage; color vision; vision impairments.

20 MINUTES: QUESTIONS, ANSWERS, BRAINSTORMING, AND EVALUATION.


Using the group as a source for imagining extensions of the activity; discussing individual classroom ideas and issues;
innovating based on the material; evaluating the workshop.

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(iridology eye chart for the diagnosis of diseases and symptoms)

HANDOUT: Vision Dynamics


From Unit 2, General Psychology, Dr. Ronald Mayer, SFSU, 2007:
The white of the eye is the sclera, the colored portion is the iris, and the black circle is the pupil. But these
visible portions are only a small part of the eye. The transparent dome at the front is the cornea; it is continuous with
the sclera, or white of the eye. The colored iris is a circular muscle that acts like the shutter on a camera; it regulates
the amount of light that enters the eye. When the surroundings are very bright the iris has a tiny opening in the center.
When the surroundings are dim the iris has a very large opening. This opening in the iris is the pupil. Directly behind
the pupil is the lens. The lens also changes shape to focus on objects at various distances. The lens is relatively flat
when you gaze into the distance and quite rounded when you look at something up close, like a book. The space in
the eyeball in front of the lens is filled with a watery fluid. The space behind the lens is filled with a gelatinous
substance.
Covering the inside of the eye, behind the muscles that shape, or accommodate, the lens, is the retina. The
purpose of the lens is to focus images on the retina. If it does not, eyeglasses can redirect the path of light so that the
image is focused on the retina. The actual receptors that produce the sensation of sight are located in the retina. At the
very back are the receptors, the rods and cones. Actually, the receptors are behind at least nine layers of retina. When
light finally stimulates these receptors, a nerve impulse is generated and carried by the small fibers to the optic nerve
at the back of the eye. Thus, before light can contribute to a sensation of sight, it passes through the cornea, the
watery fluid, the lens, the gelatinous substance, and many layers of retina, finally reaching the rods and cones.
The rods and cones are not evenly distributed in the retina. One area at the center of the back of the eyeball,
the fovea, is densely packed with cones. Around the fovea are both rods and cones, but there are fewer and fewer
cones as the distance from the fovea increases. The area of the retina closest to the lens muscles contains mostly
rods. This is called the periphery, or edge, of the retina, and the fovea is considered the center. We still are not certain
how light waves physically stimulate the receptors in the eye.
These two types of receptors seem to have different functions. The rods function especially in dim light, and
they do not seem to produce sensations of color. White, black, and intermediate shades of grey can be seen by a
person who has only rod vision. The cones function best in bright light. They give us sensations of color, as well as of
saturation (degree of color). Damage to the retina, which is fairly common among victims of diabetes mellitas, can
result in different visual sensations. Damage to the fovea can interfere with color sensations.
It is not really known at this point just how different length light waves produce different sensations. One
theory, the Young-Helmholtz theory, assumes that there are three different types of cones, each especially responsive
to a particular wavelength -- that of red, green, or blue. Another theory, proposed first by Hering, also postulates three
types of cones, but assumes that each responds to a pair of wavelengths, red-green, yellow-blue, or black-white
(Hurvich and Jameson, 1957). The Hering theory appears to be supported by the phenomenon of color blindness.
(Downloaded 3/19 from Dr. Ronald Mayer, Ph.D. Psychology 200: General Psychology Online, www.userwww.sfsu.edu/~psych200/, San Francisco
State University: 2007.)

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Cabinet Magazine Issue 30, The Underground Summer 2008
WAYS OF SEEING
Sasha Archibald

At the heart of the study of eye movements—a small field, but one of great interest to advertisers, museum
professionals, radiologists tracking diagnostic errors, and others—is the gulf between physiological reality and what we
feel our eyes are doing. What we perceive, for instance, as a calm gaze at a tree in the distance, is actually a series of
abrupt and disjointed eye movements. Even when seemingly fixed on the most stationary of objects, the eye drifts
away and back again, jumps from side to side, and hovers around, but not on, the point of focus. In short, our
subjective sense of visual concentration has no physiological corollary.

These micro-movements, unremitting and completely involuntary, are called “saccades”—a word originally used
to describe the jittery movements of a horse being dressed. In 1965, Soviet scientist Alfred L. Yarbus proved what
other researchers had long suspected: saccades are essential to vision. It is in between each of these darting
movements that the eye does its essential business of seeing. When the eye is artificially fixed in place to eliminate
saccades, the quick result is blindness. Yarbus was able to show that the symptoms of visual distraction are in fact
indispensable to perception.

Yarbus made his discovery using the “cap,” an optical device of his own invention detailed in his book Eye
1
Movements and Vision. The cap consisted of a rubber disc punctured by a tiny pinhole and fastened directly on the
eyeball. Substantially heavier and bulkier than a contact lens but similar in concept, the cap’s rim was affixed to a small
angled mirror. A tiny suction cup kept the apparatus tightly pressed against the cornea. In Yarbus’s basic study, a
beam of light was directed towards the mirror, which moved in perfect concert with the cornea. As light reflected off the
mirror, its movement was recorded on photosensitive paper, yielding a stunning result: a map of vision itself.

Stunning results notwithstanding, the device appears to be one of the more torturous instruments ever fitted to the
human eye. (Current attempts to accomplish the same ends painlessly involve the use of infrared light.) To apply the
cap, plaster adhesive was applied to pull away the subject’s upper and lower eyelids and fix them in place, after which
the eye was anesthetized, the cap attached, the mirror angle adjusted, and, finally, the object of vision revealed. Tests
were recommended to never exceed (a very long) twelve minutes, but according to Yarbus, most subjects experienced
an alarming and painful drying of the cornea after just two or three. In addition to physical stamina, Yarbus required a
wide-eyed look, which suitably exposed the eyeball’s curvature.

Besides tracking the erratic jerking of an eye focused on an isolated point, the cap enabled the studies for which
Yarbus is best known—studies that investigated the complex process of how we go about looking at an image. In
these, Yarbus allowed his subjects free observation of a picture for a set amount of time. By using the cap, he was
able to trace the route of the eye and then superimpose that path on the picture in question. Among other things, his
tests yielded information on what people looked at first, second, and third; where the eye returned again and again;
and what details most viewers missed.

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Yarbus’s results disproved certain hypotheses of the time: that viewers receive an image much as a blind person
would a sculpture—that is, by exploring its contours first—or that the eye will linger on areas that contain more detail.
In fact, as Yarbus demonstrated, these, and other factors—certain colors, degree of contrast, the image’s medium, the
gender of the persons depicted in relation to the gender of the viewer—have no effect on viewers’ patterns of looking.
Noting that his subjects consistently devoted special attention to some elements of a picture and showed indifference
to others, Yarbus suggested an alternative logic to the distribution of attention, speculating that the eye instinctively
gravitates toward details that promise to “explain” an image.

In Yarbus’s schema, our patterns of looking relate to the task of solving a picture, by which he meant discerning
its narrative logic. Presented with an image, the eye begins a rapid fact-gathering mission, filtering out extraneous
visual information and honing in on bits of explanatory detail. Given opportunity for extended looking, we do not turn
our attention to an unexplored corner, but compulsively reinvestigate those elements that “allow the meaning of the
2
picture to be obtained.” Yarbus tested his conclusions by giving his subjects specific instructions, such as “Remember
the clothes worn” or “Give the ages of the people.” He found that eye movement indeed varied accordingly—and in
entirely predictable fashion. We are physiologically hardwired, the scientist concluded, to pin down a picture’s story.

Yarbus’s eye movement maps are certainly fascinating, but his simple-minded conclusion disappoints. The
scientist’s reticence to find anything random, idiosyncratic, or nuanced in how we perceive images is perhaps
explained by a certain trial variable the repercussions of which Yarbus seems to have ignored: his choice of image.

Most of Yarbus’s studies were conducted using a classic Russian Realist painting by Ilya Efimovich Repin.
Painted in 1884 in support of social reform, the image depicts a soldier returning home from exile in Siberia, greeted by
his mother as his wife shyly lingers behind the door. The soldier’s elder son beams with happy recognition, while the
younger daughter, too young to remember her father, hesitates at the table. Something of a stock image in Soviet
visual culture, An Unexpected Visitor (also translated as Unexpected Return or They Did Not Expect Him), and the
narrative it illustrates, were certainly familiar to Yarbus’s subjects. Given this familiarity, several of the scientist’s
directives, such as, “Estimate the material circumstances of the family,” were perhaps better suited to propaganda than
controlled scientific experiment. Moreover, the narrative of Repin’s painting was in fact its point; the picture circulated
in Soviet culture precisely as an illustrative image.

Though we might be compelled to find explanations for what we see, as Yarbus suggests, we are equally driven
to see what we expect. In the case of a picture without any known narrative, a picture that somehow escapes
reference or recognizable form, a picture that is unlike anything we’ve imagined before, Yarbus unfortunately has little
to say.

1. Alfred L. Yarbus, Eye Movements and Vision, trans. Basil Haigh (New York: Plenum Press, 1967).
2. Yarbus, op. cit., p.190.

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Maps of the eye movements of a single subject asked by Yarbus to
1) examine the painting freely,
2) estimate the material circumstances of the family,
3) assess the ages of the characters,
4) determine the activities of the family prior to the visitor’s arrival,
5) remember the characters’ clothes, and
6) surmise how long the “unexpected visitor” had been away.
All maps are from Yarbus’s book Eye Movements and Vision.
Caveat lector! Yarbus’s original text simply juxtaposes the painting and the maps of the subject’s eye movements. The
superimpositions offered here are our attempt to make the results of Yarbus’s study more vivid for you, our dear reader.
However, the precise alignments between the painting and the eye movements were not always apparent in every case.
These images are our best approximation.
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