Perception is not always reality

I’ve been trying to improve my drawing skills, and much of drawing is seeing. These days, I think it’s good to remember that perception is not always reality. One’s reality has a lot to do with experience and assumptions. For example, one of my art assignments was copying this master drawing by John Singer Sargent. Here is the original…

John Singer Sargent – Man Leading a Horse

My first observation is that the hindquarters are somewhat small compared to the shoulders. How is it that the shoulder is so large and the rump so tiny? Maybe this is a representation of perspective. I take this to mean that the horse is moving into the foreground away from the man. This is what I perceive. Without tracing, I copied the drawing. Here is my copy…

My Copy – Man Leading a Horse

OK. I thought this looked pretty good. I’ve been drawing horses since I was five. I sent it to the teacher (Emily Hirtle) and her comments came back — there are some proportion problems! Hm! I did not see these! I took the original and put my copy over it, then I could see where I went wrong. The green lines show the original. Wow! I missed the mass of the neck and placement of the left front leg!

The horse’s legs are on the same plane as indicated by the horizontal line in the painting, so I don’t think the horse is moving into the foreground. On closer look, I think Sargent is showing us a more subtle movement of the horse – bending of the rib cage. The quarters are likely smaller because the horse has a slight bend toward the human with the forehand (shoulder) and quarters bending away from the viewer. In many years of studying dressage, I know this is possible. A supple horse can bend his rib cage! My initial perception was that my drawing was not quite right. I missed the subtle bend of the horse’s body and the size of his neck and shoulders. Perception is not always reality!

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