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Leonardo. Vol. 11, pp. 203-204. 6Pergamon Press Ltd. 1978. Printed in Great Britain. 0024--094X/78/070 I-0203S02.00/0 ON VISUAL ART AND CAMOUFLAGE Roy R. Behrens* In a number of books on visual fine art and design [1, 21, there is mention of the kinship between camouflage and painting, but no one has, to my knowledge, pursued it. I have intermittently researched this relationship for several years, and my initial observations have recently been published [3]. Now I have been awarded a faculty research grant from the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pursue this subject in depth. I am, therefore, collecting documents and personal accounts pertaining to historical and theoretical connections of the kind that are listed below. Military and natural camouflage are often discussed in terms of the visual distinguishability of an object (e.g. or ship moth)in relation to its background or surroundings [4]. The requirements for distinguishability are included in what perceptual psychologists refer to as figure/ground theory [1,5,6].Generally, thedistinguishability of a figure is directly related to (a) the degree to which its components are visually homogeneous, and (b) the extent to which the figure is dissimilar from its surroundings or ground. Effective camouflage may violate one or both conditions through such techniques as blending, in which the color or other properties of the figure tend to resemble the characteristics of the background; disruptive patterning, in which the integrity of the figure is weakened by the visual heterogeneity of its components; countershading, in which a 3-dimensional figure bears a pattern of gradation that contradicts the gradation produced by sunlight, making the object look flat; and mimicry, in which the figure imitates the appearance of some other recognizable object. Descriptions and illustrations of these and various other camouflage techniques may be found in the writings of A major breakthrough in the study of natural camouflage occurred in 1896when Abbott H. Thayer, a painter in the U.S.A., published a paper on The Law Which Underlies Protective Coloration [101. This was followed in 1902by a paper on The Meaning of the White Under Sidesof Animals[1I]and, in 1909,by an influential book on Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise through Colour and Pattern, the illustration of which was assisted by the author’s son, Gerald Thayer, and artists Rockwell Kent and Louis A. Fuertes [12]. The study of natural camouflage, wrote Thayer, ‘has been in the hands of the wrong custodians ...it properly belongs to the realm of pictorial art, and can be interpreted only by painters. For it deals wholly in optical illusion, and this is the very gist of a painter’s life’ [121. Thayer emphasized his discovery of countershading (Thayer’s principle), in which the techniques of chiaroscuro are employed in camouflage just as in painting, but with opposite effectsCott [7-91. *Designerandteacher,Dept.of Art,Universityof WisconsinMilwaukee , Milwaukee, WI 53201, U.S.A. (Received 7 Jan. 1978) countershading makes a 3-dimensional object seem flat, while normal shading in flat paintings can make a depicted object appear to be 3-dimensional. He also discussed the function of disruptive patterning, in which even the most brilliant colors may contribute to the destruction of an animal’s outline. While Thayer’s description of countershadingis stillrespected,hisbook is considered somewhat fanciful because of exaggerated depictions of figure/ground blending, e.g. in one illustration, a peacock blends in with the sky. More reliablestudies of natural camouflageincludethe writings of Alister Hardy, who thinks it likely ‘that there are no finer galleries of abstract art than the cabinet drawers of the tropical butterfly collector’ [13], and Hugh B. Cott who (alluding to countershading) notes that, in military and natural camouflage, one finds systems of coloration ‘the exact opposite of that upon which an artist depends when painting a picture’ [7]. It is significant that both Hardy and Cott are known for their skills as scientific illustrators, and both served as military camouflage officers during World Wars I and 11, respectively. Abbott H. Thayer’s writings on natural camouflage may have influenced another artist and student of protective...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 203-204
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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