Relationships Between Human Visual Coding and Painted Art

Dan Graham

Mathematics Department, Dartmouth College


Though great advances in physiology and microbiology have in recent years illuminated the cellular apparatus of neural codes, the design of neural systems and the evolutionary reasons for this design are less well understood. This talk will describe one approach to the question of why the human visual system is structured as it is, namely the argument from efficiency. Statistical predictabilities in the visual environment place restrictions on the sorts of neural codes that evolution would select as efficient, though the idea of biological efficiency must be carefully defined in this context. I will give an example of how retinal codes appear to be matched to regular statistics of the natural world. Then I will extend this line of reasoning to human-made art, where statistical regularities can grant insights into both vision coding and art-making. The statistical properties of art that are relevant to the neural coding of vision are also of potential use for developing a "stylometry" of artworks. Stylometric techniques under development could be useful for performing authentication and historical ordering and for predicting viewer preferences.

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