The Uncanny Valley

In robotics there’s is this phenomenon called “the uncanny valley”. It describes how humans have no problem getting emotionally attached to something that clearly isn’t trying to look humanoid; but once you start to make something that actually resembles a human the subtle differences act as a repulsive force to actual humans. It’s so much easier to get humans to love their square phones (that talk to them) than it is a plastic human-shaped robot that also talks but has dead-eyes for example.

I think there’s a bit of that uncanny valley phenomenon in representational art as well. I’ve noticed that people can feel a deep emotional attachment to a few sketchy brushstrokes that merely suggest a person, but as you attempt an actual mimetic likeness it really becomes all about the idiosyncrasies that don’t quite line up with objective reality.

I’ve struggled with this particular painting quite a bit more than I had expected to. There’s still a long way to go with it and there are issues yet to be resolved, but I do feel like I’m finally starting to bridge the gap of the uncanny valley with this one. A couple more sessions on the face and clothing and hopefully it will be there. I just hope I haven’t overworked it at that point.

Sarah (in progress)
Sarah (in progress)






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