Wednesday, August 29, 2012

re: florida looks

"Presumably, a painter might reproduce the effect of of looking into the water, past the water lilies on the surface & the reflections of what's on the banks, by painting them blurred."

But you see, that is where painting fails in this respect. When the eye changes its focus and efforts into the second mode in order to observe distinctly reflections of sky, etc, it cannot move and it is my speculation that all image from without this eye's concentrated locus cannot be seen clearly, whether on the surface or beneath it. In order to observe these other portions of cloud reflections, etc, the eye has then to "release," pan to the new section and re-concentrate. Thus, a painter who would attempt the depiction of an observed body of water, the observer's eye being in the second, efforted mode, should paint not all under-surface images distinctly, but a locus of cloud, etc, leaving all else, whether above or below surface, unclear. The impracticality of this method is of course that the viewer would need be instructed and required to look upon the painting as if from the literal point-of-view of the painting's implied spectator, who is looking, with this focus, upon this body of water. One cannot browse a painting of this kind in any manner, and it is further interesting to speculate whether or not one must oneself concentrate or not the eye in observing the depiction of one who has done as much himself/herself, and what effect this would have on more ordinary painting. That is, if one were to effort the eye on a painting of a body of water, does one create the same "locus" of clarity and indistinct remainder, which the painting itself does not, as in the above, itself attempt?

"Ruskin castigates the conventional landscape painter for his handling of reflections; but precisely how are they mishandled?"

In nature, one may observe a body of water in one of two ways: concentrated, or unfocused which is the "default," always-already mode of observation. If we suddenly turn our gaze upon a body of water, we observe in the unfocused manner, that is, without an additional effort our eye looks upon the water and what it is prepared to see clearly and distinctly, Ruskin says, is objects upon the water's surface, such as our lily pads. Images which come to us from below the water's surface, such as clouds and far off trees, or a mountain's top, must be indistinct and unclear. This is due to the eye's unfocused character. In order to observe with similar clarity these under-surface images one must concentrate the eye by some effort. Thus, in observing a body of water one of two views is possible, and never both because each negates the other. When a landscape painter depicts with equal clarity lily pads and sky (which is easy to do, if you imagine the literal process of his/her painting, though it is not, I've observed myself, an understanding which comes naturally in reading Of Truth of Water), he/she depicts a visual consistency which is in nature impossible, and thus foreign to any real observing eye. It is that error in the typing of a good story or glance in the direction of the camera which gives away the illusion as such.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you're right -- impossible, or at least impractical, to depict the "under-water" focus. Probably a red herring even to have brought it up on my part. But when you say "When a landscape painter depicts with equal clarity lily pads and sky ... he/she depicts a visual consistency which is in nature impossible, and thus foreign to any real observing eye," you're exactly right, & that's precisely what JR is arguing against.

    I'm interested in the notion of "browsing" a painting, actually -- the painting of course a single, simultaneous visual whole, but one which can only be observed over time, in a temporally unfolding manner. Just read somewhere that JR actually advises students, when looking at a painting of interest, to do so through a bit of pasteboard with a single rectangular (?) hole cut in it, so that they can only see a small portion at a time; forces them to focus on details, individual "moments" (ha! -- temporal metaphor there for spatial experience). So that "browsing" or "reading" is precisely the right term; what's less clear is how one integrates those moments of examination into a higher, more holistic experience.

    And of course that may be the crucial problem with all of JR's criticism; it's certainly more than evident in 7 Lamps, which claims to be a treatise on architecture but ends up being something like a treatise on architectural ornament.