More on experienced reality

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.”



Three portraits of a man who wanted to die painting


Experienced reality
Cézanne, the wild and passionate artist


Experienced reality
Cézanne making an effort to look presentable


Experienced reality
Cézanne just being himself in a not very elegant white hat


Other chapters from the two books contained in “Painting with Light and Colour”:

BOOK 1 : “Painting with Light”

BOOK 2: “Painting with Colour”

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

Go to list of all chapters and extracts from the books

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