The Innocent Eye Test


The Innocent Eye Test, Mark Tansey, 1981

The Innocent Eye Test, Mark Tansey, 1981

In this wry picture, we see a cow standing in front of the 1647 painting by Dutch painter Paulus Potter, The Young Bull. While human experts watch the cow and wait for its reaction, we watch them watching. Will the cow be fooled by the realism of Potter’s painting and bellow a greeting or instead choose to admire Monet’s Grainstack (Snow Effect) on the wall to the right? Cows are famously fond of haystacks. Or is the guy on the left, holding the mop, standing there just in case the cow’s reaction is less salutary and comes from its other end? Every man save the mop guy, who might end up getting the short end of the stick here, is wearing glasses. What does that say about their view of the painting? The Innocent Eye Test is a large painting, measuring 120″ x 78″. While at the Met, I took a step back from the painting and then took the opportunity to watch my fellow patrons of the arts, who were watching it. Then I turned around to see if anyone was also watching me. The term innocent eye generally refers to the eyes of a child or the uninformed, here it is a cow, but it could also signify you the viewer. What do you see? This painting has been interpreted by many as a not-so-veiled commentary on art critics. Be one here. What do you think? The use of a grey monochrome by Tansey comes from his day job as an illustrator for the New York Times.

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