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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect explored: 7 Lessons About Human Ignorance From David Dunning’s Reddit AMA

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a type of self-deception that particularly seems to afflict well-educated and successful people, who imagine that their mastery of one facet of human activity and knowledge extends to pretty much everything they examine. They casually make confident judgments in areas in which they are ignorant, and their confidence stems from the fact that they are so ignorant that they cannot even grasp how ignorant and ill-informed they are. If they are surrounded by their peers—people who work in the same field of knowledge as they, and who thus respect their ideas (in the field)—then their pronouncements are often accorded attention and respect, even though they may resemble in essence the ramblings of the village idiot, similarly uninformed and confident, but less likely to be believed.

Oddly enough, in the specific area of a person’s knowledge, expertise, and experience, they are often much less confident, because in those areas they are painfully aware of how much they do not know, of problems still unsolved, and the like. (And unfortunately, we tend to value the opinion of the confident though ignorant witness over the unconfident expert—a point well made in Winning Decisions, by Russo & Schoemaker. We trust confidence, but confidence along warrants no trust.)

The phenomenon of self-deception is fascinating and has attracted scientific study, and in many cases the deception’s purpose is self-protection, by avoiding (conscious) knowledge of painful truths. I highly (and repeatedly) recommend Daniel Goleman’s excellent (and interesting) book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. (At the link, secondhand copies for $1.)

Dunning had a Reddit Ask Me Anything that was quite successful, and Pacific Standard extracted from it 7 key facts, beginning with “By definition, you can’t know when you’re a victim of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.” Well worth reading (and pondering).

I fell into the Dunning-Kruger effect recently, though not so spectacularly as Tim Jenison and Penn Gillette did. They made a documentary of Tim’s “discovery” of how Vermeer painted his photo-realistic paintings—“Girl with a Pearl Earring,” for example, or more famously, “The Music Lesson,” the painting replicated in the documentary. But Tim Jenison, an inventor, has no knowledge at all in art (he said it took him 30 minutes to learn how best to use the brush), and Penn Gillette’s expertise is in prestidigitation, not art. And my own background includes no real education or experience in the making of art.

However, Jenison and Gillette are well-recognized for their knowledge and expertise in other fields, and they are confident, knowledgeable people—the very people most prone to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and they fall headlong into it with their documentary, Tim’s Vermeer.

Here’s a viewer’s review from the one-star reviews on Amazon:

The most accurate and important review of this movie was made by the Academy Award committee who decided it was not worthy of Academy Award , much less even for a final nomination.

Tim did not solve any mysteries regarding how Vermeer painted. It has been known for centuries that Vermeer did use lenses and optics, and it is not cheating to use those tools. Without a doubt, Vermeer did not paint with anything even resembling Tim’s gizmo.


Here is the proof.

1. On Google ( images) type in ‘ Monet’s Haystack Paintings’. This series of Monet paintings show how living light changes minute by minute, not to mention hourly and seasonally. Monet changed his canvas every half hour to hour, as the lights, the colors, the values and chroma would change -as the sun rose and set. No one, not even MONET and certainly not TIM with his gizmo, can paint fast enough to record living changing light. If you disagree with this, then you may as well not read the other reasons I will list. I shake my head at even thinking of Tim in the French countryside, painting the haystacks with his ” mirror on a stick, comparator device”. Those who believe he could do it … have been fooled.

2. Vermeer did not faithfully copy living changing light. Not in his interior scenes and not in his outdoor scenes. The magic you see in his paintings is a ‘ creative construct’, like all the masterpieces of all the great Masters. Personal choices in colors, values, composition and paint application, carefully, lovingly, thoughtfully decided, painted, then changed, rethought and repainted again and again and again, until it was exactly ” right” – as his mind wanted it to be.

3. Vermeer painted exactly as Rembrandt painted, beginning with a brown or muted underpainting color ( called the dead color) to establish the composition. On this structure, he applied glazes for transparency, scumbles for translucent optical grays, and impasto for opacity. Every great Master of his era used this method, based on over 200 years of tradition. This method gives their paintings the magic of color and light we see in their paintings, and respond to aesthetically.

4. X-rays by the National Gallery, of ” The Girl with the Pearl Earring” prove his use of a flat dark brown under painting. This proves Tim’s device was not used.

5. David Hockney, in the year 2000, 13 years before this movie, published his book, Secret knowledge’. It proves without any doubt that many of the a Great Old Masters, 250 years before Vermeer was born, perfected the use of mirrors and optical lenses to paint photographic looking paintings. Professor Philip Steadman, published his landmark book in 2000, proving without a shadow of a doubt, that Vermeer used the Camara Obscura.

6. Vermeer used the Camara Obscura like others of his era. With this crude camera, he was able to trace and copy the verisimilitude of nature of an optical projection – exactly like a camera. It would be foolish to outline this verisimilitude, but he could easily paint it with a brown monotone. He painted a monotone because no one can paint accurate colors in the dark. Once his monotone (dead color) was completed, he then painted with colors in studio lighting.

7. There is no question, Vermeer completed his final coloring from both, direct observation of the model and from copying values and colors from a 2 mirror set up. A mirror flattens the colors and values nature’s colors and values.

8. Vermeer had a traditional ‘ light meter’ to gauge variations in values and colors. This dry ” value scale” of ten to 12 values or more, was used by placing it next to the image reflected in the 2nd mirror.

9. Vermeer had access to a ‘ wet controlled palette’, a premixed wet color palette in separate value scales of his primary colors as well as black to white. Many artists today, painting in a realism style still use that ancient method.

10. Vermeer and all the Masters applied an “oil out” as they painted. This kept the colors saturated so new color values could be accurately judged. It is impossible to gauge color values without an “oil out”. Some artists call it a ‘ retouch”. When the Old masters’ painting was finished, it was glossy and had lustrous color depth, and no need for varnish. Both Penn and Tim described their finished painting as chalky and matte. To saturate the colors, Tim varnished it. The Old Masters did not varnish their paintings until the paint cured sufficiently, normally 6 to 12 months later, and it was strictly for protection of the paint, not for saturation of color.

11. If I have not yet convinced you, then imagine this. Imagine TIM overlooking the City of Delft, with his gizmo in place. Imagine him trying to copy the living changing lights and colors of the buildings as the North Sea dark clouds overhead steam by. Buildings are cast into deep shadows while those next to them are in brilliant lighting, only to change in a light flash. See the sparkling reflections of the water, reflecting onto the ships, twinkling and flashing changes of sparkling lights. The thought of any mechanical ” color swatch match” device being able to do this is laughable. BUT , VERMEER did it …. But not with a gizmo comparator device.

CONCLUSION : If I have not fully convinced you, then see a REAL documentary on how Vermeer actually painted, it is the 2009 film, ” Vermeer: Master of Light” by the National Gallery of Art. (It is free on YOUTUBE). It is not as ” entertaining” as Tim’s, Teller’s and Penn’s Hollywood movie, with his daughter in an armature evoking viewer sentimental reaction ( Vermeer used mannequins) . Nor does it have silly comments such as , ” some say he is the greatest artist that ever lived.”.

The National Gallery Documentary, is a well made and accurate scholarly research study.

PART TWO. The first part of my review (above) was written after I saw the film at the theater in January. In June, bought the DVD download version when released . By viewing the movie on an IPAD, one can stop the film to examine it. These are the key points proving Vermeer did not use Tim’s gadget to paint with.

1. Tim and Penn state that Vermeer drew no lines and that x-rays prove no lines are under the oil paint. Scientific x-rays confirm this. YET…stopping the film with an IPAD, lets us see the extensive outline drawing on the Masonite wood panel before Tim begins to paint. This very careful outline drawing shows the architecture of the room, the mirror and painting on the back wall, windows and their glass design, the virginal, floor tiles, furniture, rug, plus many other things, ALL IN OUTLINE DETAIL. Like a paint by number oil painting set for kids. At no time in the film, is there an explanation WHY the under drawing was put there, nor does the film show HOW the drawing was done. It appears to be a tracing from a color reproduction of a color photograph. We simply do not know! But we do know Vermeer did NOT draw any lines…..SO….why and how …did Tim?

2. The Van Eycks were born 200 years before Vermeer, and their paintings are even more photo realistic than those of Vermeer. In 2001, David Hockney’s book ” secret knowledge” eloquently proved they did this by using simple “projection ” optical lenses and mirrors 200 years before Vermeer was born. . Vermeer did not discover this knowledge..he learned it from the long tradition of their use . It is NOT Cheating to use these projection tools to trace reality and it’s verisimilitude. There is NO Vermeer secret, except that he was a genius who expressed his own aesthetic.

3. Tim and his gadget could never paint a view of Delft with his gadget. But, we know Vermeer did it. Imagine Tim overlooking the city of Delft with his Texas high tech studio in place. His trusty gadget in his hand. Hockney and Steadman are by his side. Now Tim begins to paint……with his gadget.

Overhead the North Sea winds blow dark clouds over the city of Delft! The church steeple INSTANTLY turns dark black , covered with shadows..but seconds later it is gleaming, bathed by brilliant light shafts……The people on the shore are walking to and fro, busy with their lives. Just as we see in Vermeer’s masterpiece.!!!

Suddenly, the ships hoist their anchors, the sails billow out with air, and the ships float away!!!!What will Tim do? Will he have everything stand still for five months? His gadget gizmo is a failure because it cannot copy the rapidly changing profound colors and lights and movements of living nature! Mother Nature stands still for no man…and not for Tim’s gadget! This is the absolute proof Vermeer did NOT use any mechanical gadget, gizmo, comparator device, to paint with

In the movie, Tim nailed the coffin on his gizmo when he stood in front of Vermeer’s ” View of Delft” painting in the Mauritshuis museum. Tim said, it looked like a Kodachrome slide. Kodachrome is a 20th century intense color, photographic medium. NOTHING in nature…and certainly not a view of Delft, is ever seen live with Kodachrome colors, appearing like a Kodachrome slide or photograph. This questions Tim’s claim…that Vermeer may have used a comparator device to EXACTLY COPY the colors of nature…Kodachrome colors that do not exist in nature!

4. At the beginning of the movie, the video camera zooms in within an inch of Vermeer’s original paintings. We see the great Master’s beautiful and sophisticated application of the oil paint. Vermeer’s paintings are truly stunning! It leaves us breathless and spellbound! For good reason his paintings are prized and are in the world’s great art museums. At the end of the movie, the film makers DO NOT DARE zoom in closely on the surface of Tim’s finished painting. They SHOULD have – and COULD have – placed magnified zoom details of both paintings side by side so we could COMPARE the Vermeer masterpiece with the “Tim-piece”. For good reasons, the public was never allowed to see it up close to examine it and compare it to the Vermeer.

5. Computer digital Video graphic artists do not use paint colors….they use colored light. Modern video graphics have an unending number of colors. Tim’s “compare” device can match colors that DO NOT MOVE, but it cannot match the living, moving profound changes of natures colors and daylight due to daylight changes of the day and season.
Vermeer and the Old Masters had very few colored paints, but by a sophisticated method of applying the paint, they painted highly realistic and photographic-like images. Vermeer …used an ancient artist’s VALUE FINDER to ” compare” the gradations of values and colors. It is simple to make. You draw ten squares in a line. Place pure black paint in one square and at the other end you put pure white paint.Then you carefully mix each square so it shows the subtle gradations of the grays ( values). Every Old Master knew how to use it. It is as effective as a modern light meter.

Tim did NOT discover Vermeer’s secret because there is NO secret on how Vermeer painted his pictures. Vermeer’s paintings are the result of hard work combined with his genius. OF COURSE Vermeer used optical tools to help him with TRACING space, and perspective and verisimilitude….but he changed the colors and he changed the lights, and restructured the size and shape of objects in the composition. Yes, Vermeer created photographic looking paintings. BUT, Vermeer did not COPY an exact scene of what his optical tools projected. If it were possible to take a modern photo of Vermeer’s subject and then compare it with his final painting, the TWO would NOT look the same. A photo is a frozen moment of time…Vermeer’s paintings are a created construct by an artistic genius.

If you Google ( images) of “Monet’s Haystacks”, series, you will see the profound nuances of nature’s living changing colors and light. Beginning at sunrise Monet painted the same haystack throughout one day. Each hour he changed the canvas. Note how the colors, lighting, and the shadows change. Daybreak colors are muted and cool, early morning they become brighter and warm, at noon the colors are stark bright with dark contrasts, early afternoon colors become romantic, late afternoon they become bluish. Mother Nature holds still for no man ….and for no “comparator” gadget.

To see how Vermeer really painted , see the Youtube film TITLED: The madness of Vermeer: Secret lives of the artists. This 4 part series on Youtube is a scholarly documentary by the BBC. The information in this documentary PROVES Vermeer did not use a ” comparator mirror” device to ” color swatch match” the constantly changing and profound colors and lights of Mother Nature. Tim’s movie reinforces that proof.

– Cordially, Louis R. Velasquez; Professional artist, age 70 , retired art teacher, publisher of books and DVDS on the methods and materials of the Old Masters.
PS: Several readers have encouraged the writing of my comments. I hope my comments are of help to others. I wish Tim, Penn, and Teller and their families the very best in life.

Thanks to reader Arne from Wisconsin for pointing out this splendid example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action: both the creators of the documentary and the enthusiastic watchers of the documentary are prime examples.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2014 at 1:07 pm

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