Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Art & Perception

The art you like is a shortcut to your philosophy.  It really is. And you know, each time I say that here it annoys people.  I mean it really annoys people.  Which tells me that their view of art really means something to them: it touches their values – their own personal philosophy --- something deep inside themselves.

Which means the very virulence of the (over)reaction is evidence for the thesis.

You see, every choice an artist makes demonstrates his own values, his own personal philosophy, just as your reactions to what the artist has done demonstrates yours.

There’s nothing to fear about that, it’s simply the nature of real art.  That’s why art is art: it has the power to tell us something about ourselves and the way we see the world.  Not the way we might pretend to others (or ourselves) about how we see the world, but the way we really see it, and evaluate it.

“But how,” I hear you ask, “does an artist translate his philosophy into his art?” Good question.  And fortunately for all of us, artist Michael Newberry is supplying the answers in a new addition to his art tutorials called ‘Connecting Your Philosophy to Your Art.’  His first post in this new series focuses on perception, using this painting below. He asks, and answers, the question: what do you think the artist’s evaluation of the value of perception is?  What do you think it might be?  And what clues in the painting make you think so?  (Try to answer the question for yourself before looking at Michael’s concise explanation.)


Vase of Flowers in a Niche
about 1732–36
Jan van Huysum, Dutch, 1682–1749

So, what do you think the artist’s evaluation of perception is?  And what, dear reader, is yours?


  1. After looking closely for quite some time I could perceive a few things about the painting which I missed at first glace: the diversity of flora and the various stages of their cycle, from which one is no doubt meant to interpret that our own lives are both unique and ‘here and now’, and will be gone tomorrow – the message: make the most of it while you can (just like the individual flowers are doing in their own way!); the beautiful vase, which is almost hidden from view entirely, and how it peaks out as if to say: “look at the sheer volume of life I am trying to contain”, highlighting the abundance of life at its fullest; the butterflies, which again highlight the life cycle, and from which one may possibly be able to interpret the geography of where the painting is set (?). I am sure that the genus of flowers themselves each signify something, however I am no botanist so that would require some research to appreciate. Lastly, the use of a niche seems to highlight the third dimension of the painting, making it ever more real. So yes, one starts by looking at a nice bunch of flowers, and from there goes on a small journey with the artist with the aid of one’s perceptual faculty and arrives at a philosophical conclusion. I agree with you Peter, there is more than meets the eye to all true art, but without the eye (perception) one can interpret nothing.

  2. Or it could just be a vase of flowers. The painting might signify no more than the visual pleasure of its subject.


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