But in a very real sense, all art is pointillism. In fact, all visual perception is pointillism. Our retinas are sheets of photoreceptors, each sampling a finite circular area of visual space. Every photoreceptor then connects to downstream neural circuits that build our perception of objects, faces, loved ones and everything else. Thus, vision itself is largely a pointillist illusion, colored by a tremendous amount of “guesstimation” and filling in on the part of the brain. It doesn’t matter whether a painter uses brushstrokes or candy or whether the “artist” is the sun illuminating the world; the effect is the same—colors, lines, shadows, reflections are processed by the brain to become everyday objects.
Among artists who play with food are those who challenge the brain by changing the scale. Instead of constructing something small (a cupcake) from even smaller items (jelly beans), they build sweeping views. The image above looks, at first sight, like a landscape painting. But examine it more closely. These are actual foods laid out to re-create details of scenery and terrain. London photographer Carl Warner arranges meats, cheeses and vegetables to create environments that could be the setting of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, then photographs the scene in layers from foreground to background to create a composite image.
Warner’s work takes food-based visual illusions to the next level in that here real foods not only represent other things but are juxtaposed in such a way that their various sizes create the illusion of perspective. Some vegetables, for example, appear to recede into the distance: green chili and Romano peppers become cypress trees (the larger Romano peppers placed in the foreground to create the effect), pine nuts are stones for walls, and mozzarella cheese, clouds. The brain recognizes a delicious assortment of Italian edibles, as well as a Tuscan hillside, in the same visual data. Food for thought, indeed.
This article was originally published with the title Hungry for Meaning.