Artistic Adjustment of Image Spectral Slope

in Art & Perception
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The Fourier spectral slope of 31 artworks was compared to the spectral slope of closely matched photographic images. The artworks were found to display a relatively narrow range of spectral slopes relative to the photographs. Two accounts for this range compression were investigated. The first proposes that the band-pass nature of the visual system’s psychophysical ‘window of visibility’ is responsible. Simulation of this effect by application of an appropriate spatial filter to the original photographs could not explain the range compression, unless one assumed a consistent relation between the visual angle subtended by the scene at the artist’s eye, and the scene’s spectral slope (such that scenes with a steep slope subtended larger angles than scenes with a shallow slope). The second account involves more complex ‘artistic’ filtering which smoothes out textural details while preserving edges. Application of two such filters to the photographs was able to reproduce the spectral slope range compression evident in artworks. Both explanations posit a central role for the artist’s visual system in adjusting image spectral slope, which can be modelled using visual filters.

Artistic Adjustment of Image Spectral Slope

in Art & Perception



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  • View in gallery

    Spectral slope values for 31 matched pairs of artworks and photographs in three samples. Filled circles: Cezanne landscape paintings (Machotka, 1996); filled triangles: Piranesi etchings of Rome (Levit, 1976); open circles: Mather’s (2014) sample of 15 artists. The grey line represents unity, and the dotted lines show best-fitting straight line functions through each data set.

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    Filled circles: Human contrast sensitivity as a function of spatial frequency (data taken from Owsley et al. (1983) Table 5; for adults aged 30). Solid line: frequency response of a Difference-of-Gaussians filter with excitatory and inhibitory space constants of 0.033 and 0.198 degrees, respectively, and a balance ratio between surround and centre sensitivity of 0.9.

  • View in gallery

    Spectral slope values in the sample of 31 photographs before and after filtering by the Difference-of-Gaussians filter shown in Fig. 2. The horizontal axis plots the spectral slope of each photograph before filtering, and the vertical axis plots slope after filtering. The dotted line represents the best-fitting linear function through all data points (gradient 0.97), and the grey line represents unity. Filtering assumed that each photograph subtended 40 degrees of visual angle (before cropping).

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    A source photograph (top) and ‘artistic’ versions of it based on Photoshop’s ‘watercolor’ filter (middle), and Papari et al.’s (2007) ‘artistic’ filter (bottom). See text for details of filter parameters.

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    Spectral slope values in the sample of 31 photographs before and after ‘artistic’ filtering using the filters illustrated in Fig. 4. Open symbols shows results using Photoshop’s ‘watercolor’ filter, and filled symbols show results using Papari et al.’s (2007) filter. The dotted lines represent the best-fitting linear functions through all data points (gradient 0.29), and the grey line represents unity.


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