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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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4.3 Graphics and video: images

Vision is far and away humankind's most dominant sense. Every sighted person lives their entire waking (and dreaming) life at the centre of a visual field, a sphere of light, shade, colour, form and movement. Painters down the ages have tried to capture the essence of our visual life, as in the beautiful painting in Figure 10.

Figure 10
Figure 10 A Young Woman standing at a Virginal by Jan (Johannes) Vermeer

The theme of this painting seems not so much the young woman toying with her musical instrument as the light itself, slanting down across the room, illuminating her face, and casting deep shadows in the folds of her dress. How could we take that across the boundary? How could such a scene possibly be transformed into mere numbers?

One clue might come from looking at how other painters have tackled the problem of portraying light and colour. The scene in Figure 11 looks quite different from Vermeer's gentle radiance. It has a grainy appearance, as if the light fell in patches of raw colour. Signac, and other artists of the pointillist school to which he belonged, chose to paint in this way because they had particular theories about the nature of light.

Figure 11
Figure 11 The Port at St Tropez by Paul Signac

The point is that Vermeer's vision of light is essentially smooth and analogue; Signac's is blotchy, disconnected, and discrete. So, perhaps if we want to reduce a picture to numbers, we must divide it up in some way, as Signac has done.