John Kennedy

Selected CV Information

My research is in the psychology of perception and cognition with special reference to representation by pictures. This has been my focus since my first conference paper, on figure and ground (impressions of foreground and background) at a border. I proposed that the original 1914 conception of figure and ground by Edgar Rubin had been misunderstood by those who followed, and that Rubin himself had mischaracterized his own research.
I developed a new analysis of figure and ground as one of a set of foreground and background percepts, which I described as apparent surface borders. I described the complete set of possibilities for surface borders. I then hypothesized which of these were relevant to touch as well as vision.

The key idea from which most of my research sprang was that lines can depict surface borders in vision and touch. Subsequent research on outline drawings confirmed the key idea. Therefore, development in the child and adult of the capacity to draw in outline, I hypothesized, should be the same in the blind and sighted, since surface borders are as relevant to touch as to vision.

The developmental hypothesis has been supported. Indeed, my most recent papers, in press, support the idea that the highest levels of development possible in drawing in perspective are reached by the blind, as they are by the sighted. This line of investigation was described by the NY Times as one of the "ideas that change the way we think" and by The Times as one of the top ten ideas of the year. Associated Press wrote in 2006 my work was seminal and influences the development of new programs in museums and galleries around the world.

The work on drawing in perspective is on characterizing the world in a literal fashion. Since drawings are often metaphoric, I aver, I have developed a theory of non-literal representation, to complete the analysis.

Since perspective is the master geometry for all perception from an oberserver’s standpoint, but vision uses perspective in little understood ways, it has been necessary to develop a theory of persective in perception. Work submitted and in progress with student Igor Juricevic may solve the problem of perspective left the Italian Renaissance. I believe our solution is comprehensive.

Biographical Information

Name: John M. Kennedy

Year of Birth: 1942
Citizenship: Canada and U.K.
University address: Department of Psychology.
University of Toronto at Scarborough
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, Ontario, CANADA M1C 1A4

Office telephone: (4l6) 287-7435


B.Sc. Queen's University, Belfast, U.K. 1965 (First Class Honours: Thesis Supervisor: Dr. P. McEwen)

M.Sc. Queen's University, Belfast, U.K. 1966 (Experimental Psychology: Thesis Supervisor: Dr. P. McEwen)

Ph.D. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 1971
Major Subject: Experimental Psychology
Advisor: Dr. J. J. Gibson
Minor Subjects: Psycholinguistics
Advisor: Dr. E. Lenneberg
Developmental Psychology
Advisor: Dr. H. Ginsburg
Title of Ph.D. Thesis: Line representation and pictorial perception


Present appointment:

  • Emeritus, January 1, 2010
  • University Professor (distinguished rank), Department of Psychology, University of Toronto: June 2009

Date of appointment to graduate school: 1973
Date of tenure award: 1976

Previous positions:

  • Chair, Department of Life Sciences, July 1, 2003-June 30, 2006
  • Full Professor, Department of Psychology 1984-2009
  • Associate Professor, Division of Life Sciences 1976-1984
  • Assistant Professor, Division of Life Sciences 1972-1976
    Scarborough College, University of Toronto
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Social Relations, 1970-1972, Harvard University (Cross-appointed to Harvard
    Graduate School of Education 1970-72, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, 1972; Psychology Department, 1972).

Honours, Awards, Boards


  • March 13th Ulster Museum. Invited address and exhibition, honouring the School of Psychology 55th year, Queen's U Belfast


  • (Esref Armagan, subject of Kennedy papers, awarded UN copyright prize, WIPO. May 1.)


  • Convocation speaker ("Two images"): UTSC Convocation, November 13th ."Der mit den finger sieht" – "He sees with his fingers." Savas Civez, director. MusOna Productions. Winner (Public's Choice Award), 27th March. 10th Deutschen Hörfilmpreis 2012. Berlin, Germany. [Topic: Esref Armagan with interviews with Kennedy.] Exhibition: "Art from the Heart" Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre, Oakville, ON, Jan 20th-March 25th. [Included raised-line pictures by EW with introductory text by Kennedy.]



  • Invited address to Convocation, June 8, University of Toronto Scarborough science graduation. Invited address: Manifesta 8, Cartagena, Spain (Oct 2)


  • University of Toronto “University Professor” (distinguished rank)
  • “The science of the senses: Touch,” (Director B. Dickie: The Nature of Things, CBC). Winner of two Golden Sheaf Awards: Best documentary/short film in Science/Medicine, and Research, at Best of Canadian Film: Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival, Saskatchewan, May 22-25. Sponsor Telefilm Canada.


  • Fellow, Berlin Centre for Advanced Study Sept 2008 – July 2009: Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.


  • May-June, Visiting Professor, Monash University, Australia.


  • Organizing committee: Tactile Research Group meeting Nov 10. (In connection with Psychonomics Society Meeting, Nov 15-18), Long Beach, CA.
  • Elyne Quan funded by Alberta Arts Council to write a play on Kennedy tactile pictures research group.
  • Discovery Channel, November "The real superheroes" (study of Esref Armagan, being tested by Kennedy. Broadcast worldwide. Available 2008 as "Youtube: Extraordinary people: The artist with no eyes.")


  • October-November Visiting professor, University of Salzburg
  • January: Elected Hon. member: St Mary’s, Peterborough, UK, Bellringers.
  • July: UTSC Graduate Students Association, Photography competition, award winner.
  • Organizing Committee: Tactile Research Group meeting Nov 16. (In connection with  Psychonomics Society Meeting, Nov 16-19), Houston


  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Induction: Nov 27)
  • Honoree: Quarter peal of Bells (Bob doubles with bobs and touches): St Mary’s, Peterborough, UK: In recognition of the FRSC: August 4th 6.30— 7.20pm,(Andrew Christie, RM.)
  • Lecture dedicated to JMK: “Art through touch” S. Hayhoe, June 22, London, UK.
  • Organizing Committee: Tactile Research Group meeting Nov 10. (In connection with Psychonomics Society Meeting, Nov 10-12), Toronto


  • Organizing committee: Tactile Research Group meeting Nov 6. (In connection with Psychonomics Society Meeting, Nov 6-9). Vancouver


  • American Psychological Association Council of Representatives ( Acting Council Representative for Division 10) August 5-10th Toronto


  • Organization committee, International Conference on Perception and Action 12, July 13-18th, Gold Coast, Australia


  • The Times (London), Dec 19th: Top 10 Ideas and Inventions of 2002 (p.5)
  • The New York Times, Dec 15th: Ideas that changed the way we think (p. 88)
  • Fellow: American Psychological Association, Division 3.
  • Organization Committee, Multimodality of Human Communication Conference, University of Toronto, May 3-5
  • Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Contributions to Psychology and the Arts: American Psychological Association, Division 10.


  • Advisory Board: The New England Institute of Cognitive Science & Evolutionary Psychology


  • Contributor, "The colours of darkness," Best Foreign Video, New York Film Festival, December. ( Director: Gulnihal Antepli)


  • Visiting Professor, Salzburg University, May 1–Sept 7

For additional awards, please see full CV.

Full CV (Word document)

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