The innocent eye, or seeing ‘what the eye sees’ is a meaningful expression many artists use to capture their experience in observational drawing and painting. However, a literal interpretation of the innocent eye does not comport with a science of vison focused on object perception. Nor is a two-step model involving a ‘bottom-up strategy’ a plausible account of the notion. Consistent with an emerging body of neuroscientific and psychophysical evidence for the pivotal role of attention in conscious vision, artists’ innocent eye is best construed as an extended proximal mode of vision involving focused attention on pictorial relationships in an identified object or scene. The innocent eye is open to creative expansion, made possible by a competency developed most likely in the early through middle childhood that underpins the visuocognitive skills for flexible deployment of attention, flexible representation, mental imagery and visual memory. The potential challenge from the rare cases of savant-talented artists, who seem to be able to access retinal images directly, is discussed and considered inconclusive. The proposed theoretical framework raises new questions for empirical investigations on the nature and development of the artists’ perceptual expertise, and has implications for science-based pedagogical approaches to drawing, painting, and creativity.

In: Art & Perception