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Creating Art By Noticing Subtle Details

Tom’s Diner, watercolor by Ralph Goings

Photorealist painting is one form of creative expression that demands a high degree of technical prowess and attention to detail – which may be enhanced by the personality trait of high sensitivity.

A profile on the artist notes that Ralph Goings “is a pioneer in the Photo Realist Movement.

“His work is in many prominent art galleries including Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art.”

Goings comments about his choice of creative style:

“In 1963 I wanted to start painting again but I decided I wasn’t going to do abstract pictures. It occurred to me that I should go as far to the opposite as I could. … It occurred to me that projecting and tracing the photograph instead of copying it freehand would be even more shocking.

“To copy a photograph literally was considered a bad thing to do. It went against all of my art school training… some people were upset by what I was doing and said ‘it’s not art, it can’t possibly be art’.

“That gave me encouragement in a perverse way, because I was delighted to be doing something that was really upsetting people… I was having a hell of a lot of fun…” [From Wikipedia profile.]

The image is Tom’s Diner, 1993, a watercolor by Ralph Goings – from the book Photorealism at the Millennium, by Louis K. Meisel, Linda Chase.

High sensitivity and creativity

A CNN article on sensory processing sensitivity – more commonly referred to as the personality trait of high sensitivity – reports that people with this quality “tended to have more brain activity in the high-order visual processing regions.”

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Ultra-sensitive? It’s in your brain, by Elizabeth Landau Health Writer/Producer

“If you are particularly sensitive to the world around you – whether it’s music, caffeine, other people’s emotions, you may have a personality trait called “sensory processing sensitivity.”

“People who are highly sensitive in this way tend to look and observe and process things deeply, as opposed to boldly going ahead, says Elaine Aron, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, who helped pioneer research on the subject in the 1990s.

“Having vivid dreams and being aware of subtleties in your environment are also characteristic of this temperament, she said.”

[One of her main books on the topic is The Highly Sensitive Person.]

A related article with more explanation of how high sensitivity can support creativity:

“The trait of sensory processing sensitivity and neural responses to changes in visual scenes” – “This exploratory study examined the extent to which individual differences in sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), a temperament/personality trait characterized by social, emotional and physical sensitivity, are associated with neural response in visual areas in response to subtle changes in visual scenes.”

Read more excerpts from this and other publications in my article:
Better At Noticing Subtle Details.


Creating Art By Noticing Subtle Details

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2015). Creating Art By Noticing Subtle Details. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Oct 2015
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