The Realism Continuum, Representation and Perception

By Stuart Medley and Hanadi Haddad.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The realism continuum is a visual model that presents any image as a series of pictures, iteratively reduced in representation from its referrent. A continuum has been used before to gauge the effectiveness of educational instruction (Wileman 1993; Dwyer 1972; Knowlton 1966; Gropper 1963) or to explain the communicative potential of different comics stylings (McCloud 1993). Reference is made in new design theory to less detailed images being easier to scan for pertinent information and generally reducing demand on working memory (Malamed, 2009). None of these theorists explains how it is we can see the less-real-than-real in the first instance, even though we’ve evolved looking only at the real. This paper presentation shows why, psychologically we can see and understand distilled and abstracted pictures and also why our visual systems (the eyes and brain) actually prefer these to photorealistic pictures. The presentation focuses on two major tasks of the visual system and how these tasks are facilitated by pictures chosen from deliberate points along the realism continuum. Images of greater realism help to solve the homogeneity problem: distinguishing objects in the same class. That is, telling the difference between Tom, Dick & Harry. Images of reduced or distilled detail facilitate object hypotheses: distinguishing between classes of objects. That is, telling the difference between a person and any other kind of object or thing.

Keywords: Less-real-than-real, Silhouettes, Perceptual Constancy, Visual Closure, Visual System, Realism, Abstraction

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.145-156. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.231MB).

Dr. Stuart Medley

Lecturer, School of Communications & Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA, Australia

Stuart Medley’s illustrations have been published in Deanne Cheuk’s Mu and Neomu magazines. In addition, Medley was the editor of SiC BAG comics, now in the Michael Hill Collection at the Australian National Library. He currently lectures in graphic design in Australia and New Zealand. He has spoken at various conferences including TypoGraphic2005, Lebanon, and the NewViews2 2008 conference at the LCC in London. His writing about design has been published by the Australasian Medical Journal. Medley’s work on information design was selected as research excellence by the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools, 2009. He is the designer for Hidden Shoal Recordings, a critically acclaimed record label with a roster of international artists. He has a Ph.D based on the paradox that less realism allows more accurate communication. His examiners included Professor George Hardie, who described the research as bringing image into the fold of graphic-design theory.

Dr. Hanadi Haddad

Lecturer, School of Communications & Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA, Australia

Dr. Hanadi Haddad has a background in Interactive Media Development, Design and Interactive Television. She is currently a lecturer in both the IMD and Design areas at Edith Cowan University. Previously she was a Post-doctoral Research Associate at Murdoch University. A graduate of Curtin University her PhD involved multidisciplinary research between the School of Design and School of Computer Science.