See Inside February/March 2007

A Moving Experience

How the eyes can see movement where it does not exist

THE GREAT RENAISSANCE scholar and artist Leonardo da Vinci left a legacy of paintings that combined beauty and aesthetic delight with unparalleled realism. He took great pride in his work but also recognized that canvas could never convey a sense of motion or of stereoscopic depth (which requires that two eyes simultaneously view slightly different pictures). He recognized clear limits to the realism he could portray.

Five hundred years later the limits of depicting depth in art remain true (except of course for “Magic Eye”–style prints, which, through multiple similar elements, basically interleave two views that the brain sorts out for each eye). But Leonardo could not have anticipated the Op Art movement of the 1960s, whose chief focus was to create the illusion of movement using static images. The art form grew wildly popular in the culture at large—the mother of one of us (Rogers-Ramachandran) even wallpapered an entire bathroom in a dizzying swirl of such black-and-white patterns.

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