Odd Effects
Window Paintings
and Abstract Folly

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here is a small percentage of paintings which catch the viewer's eye by virtue of perceptual effects. In every museum I have found myself in ... there are objects which draw one's attention even though their philosophical content may be quite low. Alternatively, such effects may accompany a great work of philosophical insight such as the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo DaVinci - Mona Lisa In this painting there is a curious dynamic effect when the viewer focuses on the eyes and then lowers his sight to the mouth.

Note: You need a good large art book type picture to observe the effect.

The mouth sort of "twitches" into a recognizable smile ... (The Famous Smile). The effect was stumbled on by Leonardo (as most odd effects are) and augmented throughout the years he worked on it. No doubt, he thought it cute as well. To be sure ... it's meaningless of itself ... but ... there it is ... like the glint in a diamond.

I once made a self portrait which was a learning piece with about 600 hours of struggle invested in it over a two year period. It had the curious effect of possessing a completely different "look" when viewed in a mirror. I ascribed the cause to the fact that I am blind in one eye and therefore was able to see and make what others could not see.

You may have seen some dutch paintings (or modern dutch style) of candle flames which look so realistic as to cause one to think twice about touching them. Again, the effect is philosophically meaningless yet it draws the viewers attention as an "oddity".

In the Met in NYC there hangs a painting by Corot which is the only one I have seen which I would want to take under my arm & walk out with. It is a little thing about 12"x15" ... some trees with a road. The curiosity is that it integrates into an artwork at about 10 feet, i.e. it looks like real trees frome ten feet away. Get closer and you're disappointed. There is no modeling at the brushstroke level ... justs dabs of paint so deftly positioned that at ten feet they become the real thing. Again here the effect is philosophically meaningless ... but it is superb enough to get me to stare for several minutes instead of walking on to view other notable works.

The Window Painting

The biggest attention grabber in any museum (for me) is that painting which makes one feel as if one could crawl over the frame and enter the scene. It has the quality of a 3rd dimension (not originating from perspective but rather from deftly fooling the eye ... it's perceptual mechanism). Ther are always 2 or 3 in every museum ... Gerome comes to mind.

Jean-Leon Gerome: The Grey Eminence, 1873

Such paintings need not be that realistic either. The effect can be achieved with surprising brushstroke imprecision. But it must be done consciously ... there are too many integrated brushstrokes to be achieved by chance. The viewer's mind can be fooled into perceiving depth ... but only with great patience, deliberation and experience. I did have the pleasure of "starting" to get into such a window painting ... and I can say that it feels like you are sticking your hand (w/brush) right into a 3-dimensional space ... more like modeling clay than painting a surface. Odd ... but exhilarating.

Abstract Folly

Chiaroscuro is a Renaissance term refering to the play of light and shade in a painting. I believe it would be more accurate to say it referred to the quality of the edges of objects formed by light and shade. Thus, a highly finished and polished work might generally possess quite hard edges ... ala David ... while the opposite would be the soft edges of ... Renoir.

I bring up the subject of edges because there is a rational in the making of edges which bears on the subject of "abstract art" (or, as it is known in my mind ... junk).

It is simply this.

The perception of human beings is so made that we fill in the missing details and see what we expect to see. We extrapolate the absent part and formulate a guess as to what the object is. We "free induce" the finished form. Consequently, in all art venues, a completely finished work leaves this faculty unemployed.

We object to the "realness" of the artwork. It is a photograph.

Imagine your objection to a movie which looks like a video tape. The hard edges of the video taped scene bar us from finishing the picture to our own liking which we can do with the soft edges of the cinema.

Our conscience viewing selects out of a picture what we want or expect to see thus tailoring it to our own psyches. So, two people can, within reason, have two interpretations of the same ... traffic accident, etc. ... AND THEY ARE BOTH TELLING THE TRUTH. It is what they saw ... rather ... what their mind chose to focus on at that moment ... ignoring the rest. We don't add things to the scene ... we subtract them ... the non-essentials.

Now observe these examples:

  1.   2.   3.   4.

The first edge leaves nothing to be imagined.
The second allows you to fill in the best line of your choice.
The third allows too much latitude for guesswork and you're lost.
Where does that leave the fourth line? What comes after lost? Yup ... stupid.

To claim an abstract work is a philosophical work is claptrap no different than the Emperor's New Clothes. Without the input of the artist's philosophy, there can be no philosophical art. And because the "artist" is showing the viewer nothing (other than the absence of his choices), the work is also nothing ... philosophically speaking.

But ... if you claim it as decorative art ... well that's another story. I have seen many "abstract" works of art which would make fine rug designs or curtains and other such brickabrack.




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