We bestow our visual attention very selectively, and that hierarchy of awareness is called the attentional (or foveal) spotlight. It's like exploring a pitch-black house at night with a narrow-beamed flashlight.
The fovea is the central spot of the retina, which is packed with photoreceptors, especially color receptors. In the peripheral retina there are fewer receptors, and they tend to be more responsive to tone and movement.
As I understand it, the attentional spotlight is more than just a structural feature of our photoreceptors. It also describes an aspect of our cognitive awareness of the world around us; some would say it's a central quality of consciousness itself. We focus our attention on elements of our world that match our conscious or unconscious search parameters, or distractions that pop up, competing for attention.
Painters can capture the experience of the attentional spotlight, by helping the viewer know what's important, and downplaying the rest. It helps to darken, simplify, or blur areas that are less important. In the painting by Robert Blum, look at how much he downplays the peripheral areas in the foreground, and below the chairs, and keeps our attention within the circle of illuminated faces and hands.
Introduction to the attentional spotlight
4 Comments on Gurney Journey: Attentional Spotlight
What a powerful tool. So much great art has this in it, and so many great illustrators from the past were masters at this.
What a powerful tool. So much great art has this in it, and so many great illustrators from the past were masters at this."