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Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 79
Gender: Male
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30 Apr 2012, 7:28 am

Maybe this belongs to the Consciousness and Reality thread. I think it is to be read as Philosphy of art.

The Other In Art

One day Monet was taking a walk with a child through a field, as no doubt he had done many times before. Suddenly he had one of those rare defining moments, which even for the atheistic artist must have seemed like an epiphany. On this afternoon the landscape was different, for there was a certain something, which demanded to be caught on canvas. The child was made to go back and get the paints, however as any artist will know, the light can change quickly and the essence of what is seen with it. Yet from that afternoon Monet would produce paintings of haystacks, which critics agree have an intangible sense of otherness.

Perhaps most of us have had such experiences for that brief moment in time when nature has seemed more intense and beautiful. We may wonder if it was the warm breeze on a twilight evening, the redolence of a meadow, and the sound of bees gathering pollen, or a heat haze over a field. An emotion is provoked within us, which seems to have a new depth, yet so very often the moment passes and we pass on our way untouched. Or was it something of nature opening itself to us, something in another dimension we cannot see.

It was in 1922 that a young physicist Kaluza teamed up with a mathematician Klein offering a theory, which should have changed the face of science. Kaluza himself had one of those rare moments when he realised that there is in fact another dimension behind the three known to our cognitive awareness. This theory was mostly ignored at the time, yet now physicists are indicating as many as 26 dimensions, which they think can be proven mathematically. The String Theories are far from complete and the math amazingly complex, yet they have now entered into the mainstream of science. Other physicists and mathematicians such as Roger Penrose and John Wheeler are trying to push science far beyond the limitations of human understanding where things are not computable. They say that nature and indeed the universe has more to do with human consciousness than was realised. Wheeler seems to be saying that matter only exists at all when observed. Clearly Wheeler has to be too down to earth than to mean the moon only exists because we can see it. Possibly he is struggling with an idea just outside the field of his own intellectual awareness, and it is presently defying expression.

No doubt the light, which is so very important to painters exists in another dimension. What we see is simply an interaction of light with matter. Sound is nothing but variations in air pressure striking our eardrums. Our sensory organs send messages to the brain, which then processes the information to make of it what it will, and we know much of that depends on our own cultural inheritance. Artists such as Monet and Manet were setting out to record nature and the world before them as they saw it. Often this would mean breaking free from the way almost everybody else saw things, as they strove to understand what really was before their eyes.

During the centuries before artists had tried to paint reality. Jan van Eyk in the early Quattro Centro had produced a hyper real style of painting, although his aim was clearly not to show the viewer any ordinary reality at all. He had statues of virgins, which would climb down from their niches and walk through an imaginary cathedral, and the faithful of those days had actually claimed to see such things. Importantly many other artists took up the technique in order to paint some resemblance of reality. Further on in the Renaissance artists had dropped the superstition and belief in hallucinations. The virgin who might be the artists own wife had much less of a stylised face. Perspective had been understood scientifically, and the way light works in shadows perceived.

The Impressionists were certainly aware of these things as they studied the old masters. However, their idea of reality was not necessarily in showing detail. It was their first sight of a scene, which mattered, the essence of what was before their eyes. They used the Renaissance discoveries, for example, of how it is simply not possible to cast a shadow by laying down a glaze of blue paint. In the shadows things are seen with softness, obscuration is at play, tonal variations are subtle, and colour works differently. I spite of the rapidly changing light they were able to use the advantage of tube paints to observe and paint directly from nature out of the studio. We may0the time of Impressionism is past and all done, but should we not learn the same lessons. Our eyes first look at a scene, on which every small detail capable of being resolved is transmitted to the visual cortex this incredible amount of information is processed by the brain in a fraction of a second, after which the first impression is given. We do not actually perceive all the detail, as our brain will have edited out the unnecessary. After this we usually select detail as a conscious function. We all walk along a certain street and see things according to our own mindset. A lawyer asking for the various witnesses to street crime for hard evidence would no doubt bear this out. However, we do now that our brains can be trained to see far more that is normally the case.

It would seem that our first lesson would be to be like Monet and take those rare moments of heightened awareness seriously, accepting them as nature’s invitation to learn how we should see. It is an exciting possibility, which can open up a whole new world. Yet how can we capture that otherness? If it is truly intangible, a reality working in other dimensions possibly affecting our own, is this possible? Water colourists especially will tell us that much of what they do is happy accident as the paint spreads over the paper of its own accord. Certainly the brushstrokes are not entirely controlled by the intellect and we usually find our greatest success by relaxing our minds and hands in a sense of play. The constant training of exercises will then pay off. The answer must be in loving and absorbing the essence of what we want to paint, then be passionate about the paint itself as it goes onto the canvas. This is not to say that we should like Pollock go into some kind of Dervish trance, or like Clifford Still take up New Age activities in order to paint. Still and Rothko were concerned with expressing their own inner states, not what they saw before their eyes. Figurative artists may well want to use the unconscious, but will need the mind to be boss.

Anybody who wants a case for the necessity of inner vision should think of Monet again. Practically blind, he produced what is arguably his most profound work. Telling a child to select his tube of colour he would then put paint on the canvas and so the masterpiece. And is it not the great artist the one who pursues his or her own vision regardless of the cost or difficulty.