Visual Indeterminacy

This lecture was taken my Robert Pepperwell and it was really intriguing. He discussed why make artist make pictures that are hard to recognise? He spoke about the first time he experienced visual indeterminacy was wen he first watched “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” which is a black an white horror movie. The shapes in it temporarily bewildered him and made him have a different perspective of seeing the world, where we are and what we are looking at. During this scene he didn’t know what he was looking at until Dr Caligari turned around. This 1-2 seconds of uncertainty intrigued him.

fnhum-05-00084-g001Visual indeterminacy occurs when an object or scene is full of information we cannot process.

Visual Indeterminacy occurring in art

Joesph Wright of Derby-“An Experiment on a Bird in the air pump” 1798

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768 (1) An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

This painting is Realistic however the area inside the jar is impossible to recognise. This piece is realistic however this area of the painting makes the audience think “what is is the jar”, curiosity is provoked.

William Turner-“Interior of Petworth House”  1835-40


The Ambiguity in this piece leaves a lot to the imagination indicating objects like a coffin, piano and somewhere a dog. This carefully formed painting is impossible to depict. Indeterminate, Turner paintings we find refined back in the 19th century were mocked and not considered a part of the art culture as it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of inside of Petworth house.


Odilon Redon-“Roger and Angelica” 1912

Redon was a symbolist and a major part of the French literacy movement. His images were very agressive and surrealistic at the time. They are indeterminate giving us no clues other than the title as to what is occurring in the image. Using pastels to create his work you would think they would be easily interpreted however they are impossible to be certain on what is happening in his work. It is superfluous  and does not determinate anything suggestive and provocative.

Claude Monet- “Grainsack at Sunset” 1890SC197958

This piece was of great influence to the artist Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky couldn’t understand what he was looking at, however didn’t find it less, but in fact more powerful and allowed the colours and forms to stand upright. The confusion and fairytale power discredited the objects as an essential element.

kandinsky.pleasuresWassily Kandinsky- “Small Pleasures” 1913

On Kandinsky’s own paintings, upside down reinforced him that paintings can be revoked, unrecognisable and more suggestive than defined. All properties, objects are suppressed. So was Kandinsky the founder of abstraction? In fact he wasn’t trying abstraction. Indeterminacy did not define his work as it wasn’t pure abstraction as he used objects to suggest.

When these type of paintings were being made the difficulty was not the process of which they were made. It was how it was seen was the risk as people could not understand these images and they were a threat to the natural order of art at the time and a threat to society.

c71836009dd67a9ea998ab9b701cb415Pablo Picasso- “Still life with lemon” 1907

All cubist paintings are actually really realistic but indeterminate on how it is depicted. It is a struggle to find what is being shown and there is a sense of achievement to see what is depicted.


Francis Bacon- “Three studies of a Crucifixion” 1962

These pieces the figure is evident in all of them however his technique for incorporating the figure is factual but deeply suggestive. It is not illustration. The evoked suggest a more powerful image than mainly illustration.

alpen-ii-1968-cr-213 (1)Gehard Richter- “Alpine Snow” 1970

Can be interpreted as a bad painting as it takes away our uncertainty, it is not abstract it is very realistic. However Richter uses a squeegee and rubs the realistic interpretation away making the piece more suggestive.


Clare Chapman- “Still life” 2007.Objects we cannot understand, mechanisms that involve our experiences, for example Claude Monet. He was a very radical artist, trying to open our eyes to see the world. Monet shouldn’t paint what you see, it is a patchwork of colours within you eye which you can interpret, paint the palettes of light. This is a realistic approach by painting the light coming off structures not the object themselves. How you see, not what you see instead of seeing reality in a realistic way.

Paul Cezanne was a major artist who shows us how to record our visual experience reflecting that looking can be in many perspectives.

Visual Perception

Vision is an active process of construction which nobody truly understands, not looking but visually exploring your environment in a proactive way. You are not seeing what is there at all.


Rolling eyes in a hallow mask- “The hollow mask illusion”

Seeing faces that stick outwards is a learnt system as when we see a face we instantly see it sticking out. we cannot change our brain. We make assumptions that are incorrect.

Seeing= bottom up, low level, perceptual, form

Knowing=Top down, high level, conceptual

Seeing + Knowing= The experience of reality

Seeing – Knowing= Visual Indeterminancy

Visual indeterminacy- Engages audiences, exploits the seeing and the knowing, defying art. The difference of seeing and knowing creates the fascination with the effects of indeterminacy.

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