The purpose of this Post is to provide a link with Chapter 29 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour“. Its focus is on the nature of I have been calling “experienced reality”. Here I will introduce it with a slightly edited extract from the “summing up” at the end of the chapter.
How far does a combination of this chapter and earlier ones help us to pin down the nature of what I have been calling “experienced reality”? I am afraid the answer has to be,“very little”, for what we mean when we use the word “see”, will always remain inherently elusive. There is no escaping the fact that this intimate aspect of our daily lives is in constant flux. First, we are confronted with one of the most fundamental truths of visual processing, namely that, in order to look at anything, we have to take it out of context. Second, we find that, when we do so, the object of our attention is subject to the ‘constancies’, a state of affairs which catastrophically disrupts whole-scene-relations. Third, the only way of approaching the task of finding out what these relativities actually are is by means comparative looking. True, this provides us with a succession of instances of what, in some senses, can be called reliable information about differences. But it only does so at the expense of finding a new starting point for each comparison, and this is a manoeuvre that entails resetting the whole system to what is almost certain to be a different lightness range.
One thing this inherent instability of visual perception means is that, when we try to analyse a scene (including if it is a painting), we will be facing a problem in some ways analogous to representing running water with a still image. No doubt this is what made Cézanne describe painting as “So damned difficult”.
But, perhaps finding a definitive solution is not what we really want. As Robert Browning wrote, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” The advantage to artists of the ideas presented in these books is that they can at least help us struggle fruitfully towards this goal. It may be unattainable but, as many of us can testify, groping our way towards it can be a richly rewarding experience. Maybe, this is why Cézanne followed his statement about the difficulty of painting with the heart felt assertion, “I want to die painting.”
Other chapters from the two books contained in “Painting with Light and Colour”:
- Chapter 1 : The dogmas
- Chapter 2 : Doubts
- Chapter 3 : The nature of painting
- Chapter 4: Renaissance ideas
- Chapter 5 : New Science on offer
- Chapter 6 : Early Modernist Painters
- Chapter 7 : The perception of surface
- Chapter 8 : Seurat and Painting with Light
- Chapter 9 : Seeing Light
- Chapter 10 : Illusory pictorial space and light
- Chapter 11 : Colour mixing – definitions and misconceptions
- Chapter 12: The colour circle: Misunderstandings
- Chapter 13 : Finding a maximum of colours
- Chapter 14 – Colour mixing made easy
- Chapter 15 – Colour mixing by layering
- Chapter 16 – Reviewing previous chapters (1)
- Chapter 17 – Reviewing previous chapters (2)
- Chapter 18 – “All you need to know about painting” – No 2
- Chapter 19 – Colour and the feelings
- Chapter 20 – Optical mixing and its legacy
- Chapter 21 – Colour contrast effects
- Chapter 22 – Thin Lines
- Chapter 23 – More on viewing conditions
- Chapter 24 – Colour and Surface
- Chapter 25 – Chiaroscuro
- Chapter 26 – Cast shadows
- Chapter 27 – Shading and surface form
- Chapter 28 – A synthesis of ideas
Other Posts on colour and light in painting:
- What does the word “colour” mean?
- What are colourists? (1): Some of the many meanings of the word
- What are colourists? (2): Difference between meaning of the phrases “Venetian Colourists” and “Modernist Colourists”?
- Modernist painters and illusory pictorial space
- The integrity of the picture surface