Impressions of Virtualy Reality

VR headsets like Oculus Rift are legitimately amazing. Cnet is right, "This feels like I’ve inserted my head into another world". Once you place the goofy looking visor over your eyes and ears, the sense of immersion is nearly complete. The illusion is so strong that it can induce a kind of vertigo. It feels weird to turn your head and see a VR world rush by. This can be so unnerving that I'd recommend sitting down for the experience.

I've felt that odd sensation of being immersed in another world before. Without chemicals. This is going to get pretty artsy-fartsy...

Yeah, it's goofy looking

Yeah, it's goofy looking

The desire to bring viewers into a scene isn't new. In the 1400's Fillipo Brunelleshi introduced linear perspective into his paintings. He, and the countless artists and illustrators that followed him, used variations of the technique to give viewers the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. By the mid 1400's artists' understanding of perspective was already complex, enabling them to create convincing 3D arrangements within believable 3D volumes.

Leonardo da Vinci, study for the background of the unfinished Adoration of the Magi

Impressionist painting was the punk rock of the turn of the century art scene in France. The paintings were loud, honest and highly individualistic at a time when the Académie des Beaux-Arts demanded that "the artist's hand" should be invisible. The press hated everything about the impressionists. The establishment really hated them. Even the term expressionist, like punk, was originally an insult. Young artists were drawn to the style. There was something that rang true about the paintings. As it turns out, they ended up influencing everything that followed.

To me, the impressionists did something really cool that no other group of artists had done before. They were able to record the larger environments their subjects existed within. Not just the things on their canvases, but the skies above them and the world around them. By furiously attempting to capture their "impression" of a moment in time, their best paintings transcend the boundaries of a flat canvas in ways that perspective techniques alone couldn't.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

If you stare at Renoir's painting and let you eyes relax, you can almost see the sky above Montmartre. By working very quickly, Renoir forced himself to paint only the colors that best represented the light in the environment surrounding his subjects. I really like this painting, but in my opinion the master at capturing an instant in time was Claude Monet.

Claude Monet, Water and Clouds

Obviously, Monet included the reflected the sky and surrounding greenery in this painting of lilies in a pond. He's also managed to paint the ground beneath the water, and the depth of the water itself. The lilies, barely the subject of the painting, are convincingly suspended between the ground and the sky by the surface of the water. If you stare at this image and let your eyes lose focus, you'll begin to have a very 3D and a very VR experience that isn't so different from Oculus Rift.

Claude Monet, Weeping Willow

Monet's failing eyes were operated on in the 1920's. "Weeping Willow" was painted in 1918, while his sight was still dimmed by cataracts. To me, this painting does an amazing job of depicting the environment Monet was sitting in while he painted. This image trades one kind of accuracy for another. Stare at it long enough and you can reconstruct the entire scene in your mind. That's pretty much what a VR headset does. It uses accelerometers, stereoscopic imagery and other technologies to fool your brain into experiencing a simulated environment.

You see bad reproductions of Monet's work all the time. Posters under plexiglass. I'm not an art historian, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but do yourself a favor. Visit a museum and look at one of his canvases in person.  Sit down, let your eyes lose focus and have a turn-of-the-last-century-punk-rock VR experience.