January 16th, 2013

Those paintings in the encyclopedia

When I was little, the only reference book we had in the house besides a dictionary, thesaurus, and atlas was the World Book Encyclopedia for children, an official-looking set bound in blue. On rainy and/or boring days I would flip through it, and even when I was very young and not all that interested in the text of the entries I’d look at the photos.

My favorites were two: “geology” and “art” (or was it “painting”? Don’t remember exactly).

The geology entry featured (as best I recall, anyway; those books have long since gone the way of my brother’s baseball cards) maps of the world or maybe the Western Hemisphere through time, showing how it had changed. I was entranced. The idea that solid land was so mutable both enthralled and frightened me.

The “art” category had full color plates featuring about thirty or so well-known paintings (although they certainly weren’t known to me until I looked at them, which probably started when I about was six or seven or so). The following two were my favorites—or at least they made the deepest impression, because I remember them, all these years later.

I didn’t know why I liked them so much. In fact, I was puzzled by it. The first one was a still life, a type of painting that ordinarily was of no interest to me back then (I preferred people or attractive landscapes; my grandmother had a number of these in her apartment that I was familiar with and liked, especially one of well-dressed courtiers of perhaps the eighteenth century, playing some game like checkers or chess, their silken or satin garments and fancy hairdos gleaming to show the painter’s skill).

The still life was by Cezanne, and it was very plain. I think this was the one but it could have been almost any of them:


When I look back and try to explain why it drew me in so much, I have to say that Cezanne’s still lifes are still one of my favorites types of painting. Even as a child, to me the fruit seemed to take on a universal quality, a Platonic Essence of Fruitness, roundness, solidity, and harmony in the world.

Here’s the other one, a Vermeer. At that time I wondered why I was so taken by it. After all, I thought the woman was ugly. She was thick, her dress was dull, the bread looked coarse (I’d never had anything other than white bread at the time). And yet the whole seemed almost inexpressibly beautiful. Timeless, essential, spiritual (although I don’t think I could have identified it that way).


Looking back, I think now that these paintings, so dissimilar on the surface, share something. I’m not sure how to describe it, but maybe I’ll just call it serenity and transcendence.

45 Responses to “Those paintings in the encyclopedia”

  1. Ann Says:

    It’s the light, isn’t it?

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Ann: Yes, I believe it’s the light for the Vermeer—at least, much of it is the light. But it’s a lot more, too, something I can’t define. As for the Cezanne, the light is part of it, but not the bigger part (unlike the Vermeer).

    I think there’s an air of quiet and timelessness and solidity to both paintings that is very very rare, and although the light is part of it, there’s a lot more that goes into it.

  3. rickl Says:

    So Vermeer was the Thomas Kincade of the 17th Century?


  4. holmes Says:

    You can almost hear the water (or is it milk) being poured. Real, actual art.

  5. Ozyripus Says:

    Beautiful ending statement. Serenity is that competent woman, the foods a comment on how simple it all is when one looks back.

  6. expat Says:

    If you are ever in Europe, try to find a few days to spend in Brugge (Bruges). The town lets you feel how the milkmaid lived,and the museums are wonderful.

  7. Sam L. Says:

    That’s sturdy bread–your teeth know immediately the reality of the bread.

  8. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    The light and color in those paintings — and something else, maybe what you called transcendence — make me think of Zurbaran’s “Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose.” I’ve never seen this painting in real life but I keep running across online articles describing its transcendent, spiritual qualities in tones of awe. Even in dim online reproductions, it does seem capable of stopping a person in her tracks.


  9. neo-neocon Says:

    rickl: not quite :-). Kinkade’s charms escape me, but I can’t even imagine that as a child I would have seen anything out of the ordinary in his work. The quality of light, for example, is completely ordinary, Hallmark-greeting-card-style, even though he calls himself “painter of light.”


    By the way—Vermeer painted very few paintings (almost all were interiors, not landscapes); he was neither prolific nor populist. Even in his own lifetime, his work sold for a lot of money.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatsit: I see what you mean. That one is also surprisingly modern-looking in its starkness. It’s interesting as well because a lot of older still lifes have a theme of tempus fugit. They often explicitly convey this by placing a skull, or decaying meat, or some decaying fruit, or a fly or insect, or something in the painting that is a subtle indication of time and decay. But the painting you link to, as well as Cezanne, do the opposite I think—emphasize the timelessness of the objects in the painting, a sort of frozen moment.

  11. parker Says:

    I adore Cezanne’s still lifes. “With an apple I will astonish Paris.” And, he was a very interesting, peculiar person. John Rewald’s biography is a good read.

  12. csimon Says:

    I don’t personally find the paintings similar, save for the impressionist style, and the featured objects: food and drink.

    Both also are about light — but about darkness, too, particularly the Vermeer. Technically, both also use color, and the intensity thereof, to focus the eye. Note the brights — both use citrus-y tones as centerpieces. A dark corner is also featured in both, but while the Vermeer is essentially bisected diagonally (upper left to lower right) marking the separation of darkness and light, and the bright ness of color runs vertically — from the yellow of the women’s bodice, through those very rich cobalts where folds of her skirt meet light, and the repitition of the blue in the cloth on the table.

    The Cezanne uses those bright light-drenched fruits to focus the eye, as well as the unexpected purple-blue above pink on the wall. The darkness moves to corners in more of a frame, but the placement of color draws the eye horizontally (not referring to the literal placement of fruits but all of the pure color flow from the purples to the greens and then the yellow and oranges of fruit.) This flow is slightly tilted along the same diagonal as that in the Vermeer.

    Perhaps, the feeling of capturing a moment in time is what creates a parallel for some. Though the woman in the Vermeer is actually in action, and the water is pouring, that’s not what you “feel.” It’s almost as if the subject is a snapshot in time — there is literal action happening, but instead of “hearing” water pouring, there is nonetheless a stillness. Like a freeze frame in a movie (which of course didn’t exist at the time either of these were painted.)

    And the still life, is of course, just that — still objects brought alive with the use of color, contrast, and areas of darkness and light.

    Interesting note: in the Vermeer, light enters room through the paned window, yet there are no shadows of the pane outlines on the white wall that should be there. The artist apparently thought it more important to create the diagonal separation of darkness and light, and deliberately left out the shadows on white wall.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    csimon: the paintings themselves are not similar. The objects in them, and the theme of them, are similar (at least to me). It’s both “capturing a moment in time” (as you say), but also making that moment universal and somehow, despite the contradiction, eternal-seeming.

  14. parker Says:

    “Every picture has its shadows
    And it has some source of light
    Blindness, blindness and sight.”

    Joni Mitchell (Shadows and Light)

  15. Susanamantha Says:

    I find that most children enjoy searching for pictures in encyclopedias, or any book for that matter. It spurs them to ask questions if anyone’s about to answer them. They soak up what they see and appreciate a lot of it on their own levels. It’s like the bits of classical music we used to hear in Looney Tunes cartoons. When we first heard them in a more adult setting, we were already familiar with the melodies, the moods, and we were ready to appreciate them differently.

  16. Artfldgr Says:

    It is interesting that you pick Vermeer…

    If you could line up the key works in a line (i have never seen it done), you would notice certain things once you got far enough ahead you could look back.

    from cave paintings which were almost abstract in their lack of reproduction, up through Egyptian representations changing from the old kingdom to the late kingdoms, to then Rome and Greek aesthetics and ideas of balance.

    the theme would keep continuing and each added different discoveries or notices about reality… (this is key, remember this). perspective, two point perspective, three point perspective, composition, treatment, atmospheric perspective, depth by light, shading made by opposing colors not adding black, and on and on (though i am probably out of order).

    as each was discovered, each was incorporated, and the palette of the artist grew in technique as well as color an mediums.

    Vermeer was one of the first to capture reality and break with it at the same time. having the full toolbox of all these techniques that before him was used to capture more of the real (but NOT all of the real), was now being used to make the real seem better than real.

    he captures reality, and then breaks with it, and that then nags at you and keeps you interested, along with great composition and deep saturated silky colors.

    but his view of the world was more cinematic not representational and archetypical in the sense of what was not real, but archetypical contemporary, and what was timeless until recently (given that such was maintained by the thread of family and community).

    to work out the lighting in the painting is to realize that its wrong for reality.

    ALSO, he along with others were the first to perhaps use camera obscura. this allowed them to create a scene and project it onto a canvas. (even with that its not easy to do the painting, and the best artists use that only to get all the proportions and lines and positions right and the rest is built by looking at the real thing and working from that. camera obscura techniques fix the problem of parallax of the eye and that even when still an image shifts due to the watchers head moving).

    if you really want to see that what he did was mostly what he saw, and the light he had (but not perfectly), take a look at the work of Michael Fulks, and his “Stealing Vermeer” project.

    you can see it here, and pictures too.

    The Photo Educator:

    “Stealing Vermeer”: Lighting Project for Advanced Photo Students.

    its wonderful to see this kind of work, because its such breaking with reality in other paintings that show other things about the creation methods.

    too much to do… have to do.. 🙂

  17. T Says:

    Neo, you wrote that “[they make] that moment universal and somehow, despite the contradiction, eternal-seeming,” but I offer that there is no contradiction here.

    The are both common themes. We still pour water the same way today, we still eat peaches that look precisely like the peaches Cezanne ate. This gives us a personal and intimate connection with the subjects that we simply don’t have when viewing an epic work like Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling or a Bierstadt landscape.

    The ordinary subject, however, has been removed from the vernacular association of the everyday world; an elevation rather than a contradiction. The woman pouring takes on the significance of a a ritual libation and Cezanne is intent on showing us the universal qualities of “peachness.”

    The mundane is granted significance and in the process these artists permit us to see these humble and familiar subjects for the first time.

  18. T Says:

    Artfl dgr,

    I must take some issue. You wrote:

    the theme would keep continuing and each added different discoveries or notices about reality . . . .as each was discovered, each was incorporated, and the palette of the artist grew in technique as well as color an mediums.

    Art is not a linear technological development. It is precisely that linear apporach that caused the Renaissance to look with disdain on the art of the Middle Ages (“Gothic”, “of the Goths” was originally a perjorative term) and western cultures to look with disdain upon “primitive” and tribal art.

    In fact, the Egyptians were much more realistically descriptive in their illustrations than the illustrations of any following culture up to the appearance of John Audubon and the “perfectly proportioned” statuary of classical Greece looks good, but is often not anatomically possible.

    The arts are a cultural fingerprint which take universal ideas and restate them in a language which is intelligble to that particular cultural age.

    An ancient style art is not inferior because its artists had not yet “learned” perpspective, but because their cultural perception had no use for it. Medieval artists are not inferior because they paint the illustration of a wall purple instead of stone-grey (the implication is that they didn’t know what they were doing—indeed they did. They were just not doing what we think they should have been doing).

  19. neo-neocon Says:

    T: while I agree with you, that’s not the contradiction I was referring to when I wrote “despite the contradiction.” The contradiction I was referring to do is the seeming one between the words “moment” and “eternal.”

    By the way, it occurs to me that the whole thing is a bit like what Updike tries to do in prose. I have noted that he was originally an art student (he continued to write art reviews), and he wrote about the ordinary in an extraordinary way, with remarkable powers of observation. He also wrote, “Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience.”

    Same idea, no?

  20. Jim Nicholas Says:

    Interesting: I have always thought of the milkmaid herself (the painting also) as beautiful rather than ugly.

  21. rickl Says:

    I was making a funny earlier, but seriously, Vermeer is one of my favorite painters. I can appreciate all sorts of styles, but I especially like extreme realism. That takes a lot of technical skill to pull off, and there’s no way to fake it. As far as I know, Vermeer was one of the earliest artists to paint ordinary people in their day-to-day lives in a very realistic style, without tarting it up with mythology and allegory.

    I looked at his Wikipedia page and found another painting, “The Astronomer”. It almost looks like it depicted the same room in the same house a decade later. This one does have a diagonal shadow on the wall. The globe is a celestial globe which shows the stars and constellations. They were popular in the 17th Century.


    Also on the Wiki page, I learned about the Delft Explosion in 1654, also known as the Delft Thunderclap.

    About 30 tonnes (66,138 pounds) of gunpowder were stored in barrels in a magazine in a former Clarissen convent in the Doelenkwartier district. Cornelis Soetens, the keeper of the magazine, opened the store to check a sample of the powder and a huge explosion followed.

    Now that’s what I call a high-capacity magazine.

  22. csimon Says:

    T —
    While the history of art may not be linear in the various aspects which Artfldgr cited, the experiences of “discovering” or learning about the aspects of translating the 3-dimensional into the 2-dimensional artwork is a transition that most artists undergo. I distinctly remember when I first understood that a person’s head was not shaped like a circle or an animal’s body had varying shapes (i.e. instead of a circle mounted upon another circle with 4 lines indicating legs. I remember when I first began understanding perspective and realizing I could portray it rather accurately by “flattening out” with my brain what I saw before me and focusing on the relative distance between objects and “lines” (i.e. the edges) of shapes and persons. I remember when I realized that most things are not a single flat color and when i began understanding light and shadow. Certain things I figured out over time having had no formal art training until college. Certain things could be learned from how-to books like the astonishingly consistent size relationships between parts of the human body (e.g. an adult is almost always 6 heads tall; if you are drawing a woman, center of her breasts (nipples) are precisely one head length below the actual head — that is, if you placed a second head below the first right at chin, the center of breast is where the chin of 2nd head is). And learning actual anatomy — bones, muscles, etc. better enables one to portray the body…
    The point is that artists usually seek new understanding of what they see — whether physically viewing objects, or what is in the mind’s eye. It is a continuing process with each new revelation being not just an aha! moment but also like a gift one can’t wait to use.
    Once an artist has an intimate understanding of what makes up the elements of what they will portray, then there is the continued quest to learn more or to “solve problems;” sometimes it is through deconstruction of shape or how the human eye takes in color, shadow, light. Picasso painted fine art long before he transitioned into Cubism which reduced subject matter to elemental form.
    I believe there is a validity to what Artfldgr said and there is indeed a progression of “discovery” or revelation or better understanding of the relativity of form, along with the advent of technology (from mixing pigments to the invention of the camera to the application of computers to achieve a means of translating subject matter into what the artist seeks to portray) which have affected the evolution of art. How different groups have regarded/judged the work of others, whether based on cultural difference or historical timeframe or simply some other subjective
    reference is another matter entirely.

  23. T Says:


    as per Updike, you are much more familiar with him that I, but I wold say “Yes” it sounds like precisely the same idea. It’s the Mark Twain(?) quote about traveling far and wide and then coming home to see one’s home town for the first time.


    You make an important point about distinguishing the individual artists’ development v. the broader cultural development. This distinction is with merit yet there is an inherent bias which colors that thought. In many past ages artists were not seen as they are today, as creative “geniuses.” Rather, the Egyptian and most medieval artists (to name only two) were seen as craftsmen akin to plumbers. carpenters and electricians today. While your thesis is not incorrect, it does not apply with the sweeping generalization to all artists across all cultures that we, today, would like to think; that is simply seeing previous societies through 21st century glasses.

    As for Artfl dgrs essay, it is not based upon consistent fact (sorry, Art).

    Firstly, it implies the western chauvinistic principle that one-point perspective and a reproduction of 3-d space in a flat image is “better,” “more highly developed” art than an abstract 2-d image. This is simply nonsense. 2-d and 3-d are both distortions of reality; they are both abstractions just like engineering drawing and blueprints.

    Take the statement about cave paintings. Artfl dgr wrote: “from cave paintings which were almost abstract in their lack of reproduction . . . .” In fact nothing could be further from the truth. The cave paintings of the animals involved were highly naturalistic to the point that the painters actually used the undulations of the cave walls to mimic the three-dimensional volume and mass of the animal they were depicting. Furthermore, these paintings were not placed in the habitibal portion of the cave; they consistently are in difficult to get to locations. Now think about that. These are people who use animal hairs attached to twigs as brushes and who ground and manufactured their own earth pigments, and yet they’re transporting them, with difficulty, deep within the cave. Why? All this in a culture where the predominant concern of the tribe is: “What are we going to eat?” One popular theory is that these illustrations serve a magical purpose—to capture the spirit of the animal in a ritual hunt. Kill the spirit and you guarantee the success of the hunt. If true, this may well explain why paleolithic animal images are so realistic while later humanistic representations are so abstract; like the Orthodox Jewish tradition of never mentioning the name G-d, the spirt is inherent in the name (in this case, in the image).

    Note I wrote “later humanistic images”. There may yet be another reason for the naturalistic animal depictions v. the abstract human representations in cave art; it is my understanding (I am NOT a paleolithic art specialist). If the abstract human images are of a later time than the earliest animalistic images one is comparing two different cultures which invalidates Artfl’s initial thesis.

    To sum this up (sorry for the length), I agree with your (csimon) observation but I offer that it only selectively applies to certain artists in certain cultures. Like politics, art is culture-driven just as most else in our existence, even technology.

    Let me finish by illustrating a parallel. The ancient Greeks toyed with engineering principles but never made them the mainstay of their culture the way the Romans did (think of the Archimedes screw and Hero’s “steam engine”—and no, this doesn’t reinforce Artfl’s premise, but more closely aligns with csimon’s observation) I have long been fascinated by the fact that the Greeks had in their possession everything they needed to create the first phonograph. membranes (drum heads), harder metals (bronze and iron for a stylus and gearing), the complex mechanical knowledge of clock-work type meshed gears (the antikythera device) and beeswax. Yet, no one in ancient Greece ever put these components together (that we know of) to create the first machine that could record sound. It took an Edison 2300 years later to create the first phonograph. Why? All of the technological compoments were there. Perhaps the simple reason is that the Greeks didn’t want to because they simply didn’t see it as important.

    IMO this invalidates the entire linear-accumulation approach that Artfl presupposes because this point of view implies that images based upon complex distortions (one-point perspective) are better art than simple distortions (abstractions). It ain’t necessarily so!.

  24. Lizzy Says:

    You really should visit the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia if you haven’t already done so. It is an amazing collection, displayed in unusual (and very affecting) manner. I was fortunate to have seen the art in its original resting place (see “The Art of the Steal” – a documentary with a viewpoint – for the back story on the art collection’s current home).

  25. T Says:



    Saw the Barnes collection many years ago. If you really like the Impressionists and the Post- Impressionists (Cezanne is technically Post-Impressionist) I recommend the work of the late John Rewald. The work I read many yrs ago (I remember it as The Impressionists but it could have been his History of Impressionism) essentially put the reader at the cafe table with the painters themselves—a good read.

  26. Cornflour Says:

    Of course, I’m not surprised that all the comments are about Neo’s interest in art, and in these two paintings, but does anyone have a reaction to her interest in geology? Neo, has your curiosity faded?

    In the interest of promoting the subject, I’ll recommend John McPhee’s well known books about geology and geologists (e.g “In Suspect Terrain”), but my favorite book — for laymen — about geology is Simon Lamb’s “Devil in the Mountain: a Search for the Origin of the Andes.”

    For people who like to travel, learning the regional geology can add a lot to the experience. And then it’s off to the museum to look at paintings. Forget about politics for a while. Different perspectives and all that.

  27. T Says:


    I’ve had more than a passing interest in the physical landscape since took a physical geography course as an undergrad. The course was not geology per se, but landforms. Since then I haven’t been able to drive on the interstate without noticing the strata patterns in the cuts. It also contributed to my ability to interpret maps on a more than 2-d level. It was a very memorable course that gave me a much greater appreciation of the physical world around me. A very positive influence, indeed.

  28. Mary Beth Says:

    All the painters mentioned herein (Cezanne, Vermeer and Zurbaran) were devout Catholics. Vermeer was raised Protestant but converted as an adult. There most assuredly is a spiritual aspect to these paintings. The light is representative of the divine (God is light), and the sense of order in the still lifes reflects the divine order of the universe as designed by the Creator. Harmony, beauty, truth, elevation and transcendence from the profane to the sacred – these all reflect a Catholic world view. (A world view spurned by modern art, BTW). One might say these paintings reflect eternal truths!

  29. neo-neocon Says:

    Cornflour: my interest in some aspects of geology (not geology as a whole) has not faded. I realized back in college that I wasn’t interested in becoming a geologist (a thought I had once entertained when a child). But the same things that interested me back then still interest me: the changes. When I travel, I have been known (sometimes to the amusement of my travel companions) to buy tour books on the geology of the landscape we’re driving through. I don’t always understand them, but I still buy them.

  30. neo-neocon Says:

    Lizzy: strangely enough, although I’d never heard of the Barnes Collection before, I saw a documentary on TV the other day about the move to the new home. I bet it was the same one? It was fascinating, and I made a mental note to try to go there, although I’m rarely in Philadelphia. Of course, Philadelphia is the home of a lot of art–Eakins in particular.

  31. T Says:

    A general FYI arising out of the Barnes collection is that the U.S. is the best place in the world to see Impressionist art.

    In the late 19th century when the Impressionists were painting, the European art establishment looked down their noses at this new work. American visitors to France, however, were quite enamored of this new upstart style which seemed to speak to the spirit of upstart Americans; that same spirit caused American painter Mary Cassat to join in painting with them. American visitors (Barnes among them) bought this unwanted art for dimes on the dollar. As a result much of the work of Monet, Renoir, Cassat et. al. still sits today in American museums and private American collections.

  32. Lizzy Says:

    Not sure if it was the same one – this movie is long & upsetting (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1326733/). Philadelphia politicians, the Annenbergs and the Pew Charitable Trust maneuvered for years in order to take over the Barnes collection – private property – under the guise of “protecting it”. Might as well go and enjoy it in its new home, though, because it’s an amazing collection.

  33. ahem Says:

    It’s the simplification of forms. An artist doesn’t actually paint what he sees; he paints what he knows. The details are less important than the essence, the underlying geometry of the form. The geometric form is the soul of the object.

  34. Ann Says:

    Interesting that you point up the religious aspects of the Vermeer painting, Mary Beth, because I had thought the light might be working as a sort of halo.

  35. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I’ve been wanting to visit the Barnes collection for years, ever since a friend came home from a visit to Philadelphia raving about it. It’s not easy though; the galleries are small and the museum limits visitors, so you’re supposed to make advance reservations and may not be able to just wander in off the street. I haven’t seen the documentary and know nuthin’ about the alleged skullduggery behind the collection’s move, but here’s an article by someone who does seem to know and thinks the claims are baseless: http://emsworth.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/the-barnes-foundations-moving-blame-albert-c-barnes/

  36. Artfldgr Says:

    T Says “Art is not a linear technological development”

    Puns aside… it WAS up until modern times and the theories of adorno, po mo, etc.

    how is it NOT a linear technological development?
    a BETTER question is how can it not be?

    And this says most dont know what creativity really is… its not finding somethign someone else hasnt done and turning art into a linear search for what isnt been.

    i doubt anyone will read this since its all gone forward into other threads. but it is important.

    since man invented art, and it did not come to use in whole cloth, its travel (prior to recently) was a long line of discoveries just like any other technology.

    those before the discovery didnt use it.
    those after, used it more and more till we didnt notice that that was the key to its apperance changes.

    prior to the modern formless bs and emotion shocking and what i call faux art

    cargo cult art that resembles art on the surface and process, but isnt. with most not willing to see the differences, since most dont actually create art at a very competent level, not a modern level

    so in the past, art slowly revealed reality and its principals. which is why it was always Arts and Sciences. Art gave one the ability to really see. most don’t see, they perceive and think that is seeing. its not the same, and unless one learns the difference, one never perceives their could be a difference.

    but look at it this way, when a person learns English from another tongue, their accents tend to be similar and their phonetic mistakes are also similar so we can actually identify from where they came as this fingerprint is the product of the two languages being mashed.

    when a person learns to draw, they seldom draw what they see very well. drawing still life is comparing what you think, and what you see.

    if i could i would put a link to a drawing i did using architectural pencil.
    its ALMOST photo real. I pull it back a few notches from photo real because i can use my camera if i want photo real. however, few people can see well enough to see why its not real. its so close to real in the right elements that people fill in the rest and never even notice that a lot is not defined.

    so when a person learns to draw, they learn the difference between what they see and what they think they see. this is why a lot of beginners will commonly draw parts of things that are not there, or they cant see.

    smarter art teachers will break the class fast of that if they can get objects that are cut in half and put them in place where no one can see they are incomplete. usually they just go around and look and show people that they are trying to include what they arent seeing but what they think they know. (the half objects make it easier to show what they think they know. otherwise, they do know the other side of a can of soda).

    this is why things are warped in beginning still life drawings
    as people progress, they get better and better at starting forms, orientation, and so on. but what they also do is pick up the history of art in terms of techniques and tool boxes.

    people drawing prior to the discovery of certain things, did not perceive those things in a way that they could separate them. when they compared what they were drawing with what they saw, they just couldn’t figure out why it only sort of matched. and as you go through the ages, as people noted each reality, this noticing was added to the tool box.

    atmospheric perspective requires one to notice

    Saturation decreases with distance.
    Contrast decreases with distance
    Brightness increases with distance
    Edges remain sharp even when far away
    Is visible at night
    appears in media other than air (under water, etc)
    weather or conditions can change the perspective
    may be weakened by strong lighting.

    Aerial perspective was used in paintings from the Netherlands in the 15th Century, and explanations of its effects were with varying degrees of accuracy written by polymaths such as Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. The latter used aerial perspective in many of his paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Atmospheric perspective was used in Pompeian Second Style paintings, one of the Pompeian Styles, dating as early as 30 BCE. A notable example is the Gardenscape from the Villa of Livia in Primaporta, Italy.

    but before those times in those areas, you cant find it…

    art dealers know this and they keep and eye out for such inclusions that put things out of date.

    Systematic attempts to evolve a system of perspective are usually considered to have begun around the 5th century BC. in the art of Ancient Greece, as part of a developing interest in illusionism allied to theatrical scenery and detailed within Aristotle’s Poetics as ‘skenographia’: Using flat panels on a stage to give the illusion of depth

    and the discoveries and things changed as technology did.
    by Vermeers time, they were using camera obscura, which is kind of what i used to do my drawings. (so the person that says it doesnt count because its a tracing of sorts does not know what they are talking about as it was common since camera obscura, and projectors and so on)

    as we moved into the age of history, where things were known, inventors recorded, time periods established. the line of everything follows the time line of discovery.

    that is up until the modern changes. in which abstract expressionism and complete abstraction and formlessness, and emotional shock and all that kind of stuff took over. it has the appearance of art in form, the way a porn movie has the appearance of sex and love or other “nuances” depending on what is what.

    the perversion of something is close enough to the something that its hard to define in a clear way, and becomes harder to see the more you get used to it.

    so the new artists that came after this climb of discovery that put us in a place where some really incredible stuff can be turned out on demand (and styles and ideas continue)… into something that pretty much everyone can do equally or better, and was more a social gig. don’t believe me? then read Kostabe series on how to be a famous artist in the modern era, and it has more to do with who you go out with, talk with, etc. socially constructed in the modern era and has the appearance, but not the substance – an inversion.

    art moves the emotions, so if art moves the emotions, something that moves the emotions must be art – ergo rotting animals presented to domesticated urbanites and considered art because their domestication makes them emotional

    then there are other modifications. art shows merit, and merit makes us unequal, so real art that has merit is to be avoided, and new art that is formless and hard to judge by merits aesthetics will be celebrated and the other stuff will be shunned. ergo formless objects, and games with size, and or color, and so on. but not real art. to anyone but the urbane domesticated affectations persons its barely interesting.

    the sculpture of the word love that is in ny on the street has nothing on boulevard of broken dreams by hopper. – both being modern but one still being real art.

    today the modernists have tried to see what it is that describes art, and so forth, and have decided to try to accelerate its development by the very thing that your talking about. in the past the linear development was natural, now its contrived. in the past it had substance, now its lacking substance, and only has appearance.

    and dont get me started on how wacky the public sounds to the artists. most dont think the way that people think about their work. i know that from personal experience, and working with other artists, and sitting in special gatherings, and so on (my photography added to that).

    even edgar allen poe has a essay on how and why he wrote the raven.
    its a blast to read as it has no bearing on anything common people think or say when they imagine him making his composition.

  37. Artfldgr Says:

    by the way.

    the cave man could not make ‘better’ drawings.
    and that is my point..

    there is an arrow to time and discovery and man growing and knowing, and passing it down.

    so today, we take for granted all these other discoveries that were not obvious.

    cutting through it all and slicing the bullsh*t away

    you can give newton credit for noticing gravity and quantifying it. but not the artists who noticed reality, put it in their paintings, and led scientists to wondering why

    todays art IS better…
    because we can draw like all the forms and ideas BEFORE us… but not ahead of us. just like them.

    i can make fake cave paintings… (and the idea of them mocing and all that is not known… your talking as if people really know what happened in proto human heads.. sorry. they dont. they have no idea other than their ideas… and they claim the one they like most is the right one… so these ideas wax and wane over time if you read the literature, while the painting remains).

    i can also make egyptian style drawings, asian style, french abstractions, and i can put them all together..

    and THAT is what your missing to my story

    the Egyptian artists could only draw that way.
    it doesn’t matter if they were like plumbers. in the past those things were the mark of craftspeople and years of apprenticeship, and have little bearing to what we have now with automation, standardization, regulation, etc.

    do note that without that, they made things that stood for a 1000 years or more… unattended…

    you try that with anything we build today and see what happens.

    the past artists were just what they are today. hacks who wanted to make money.. and did not want to be considered hacks… the painting schools had armies of lesser artists that did all kinds of parts of things. but we forget that… completely…

    these discoveries about reality and noticing were very important, as it allowed one school of art to beat another school, and have more commissions from patrons.

    the truth is that modern artists go through the historical transitions, but they are getting a big tome of discoveries as pointed out. proportions, and musculature, and all kinds of stuff which allowed them to make their art better.

    and better is not what you think it is. better is having more choices. more tools in the toolbox. an artists pallet is not just the colors. do they do something in action? do they contrive a scene? do they fake the light? what style? what tone? how to compose? and on and on it goes…

    is it any wonder that the po mo culture was perfectly suited for the unable judgemental not to bright crowd follower?

    they did not put those things in their art because they did not know those things. they saw it the way you do, but did not notice the details of it. they took it for granted.

    the only way for you to ‘get’ it is to remember when something you knew was familiar, and after knowing it for a while, you discover something about it you never noticed before that was always there.

    to remember that transition… the awakening to the detail in front of you that you never noticed and never saw, perceived or even thought existed until that happened.

    to ask you the day before to describe such, that point would be left out… to ask you to draw the same thing the day after, you might add that thing that you newly noticed.

    thats how artists discovered parts of reality. with the perspectives being learned once mathematics was invented… particularly geometry… which required WHOM? Euclid… and what euclid knew would also have to be disseminated.. so there was also the requirement of the church, and universities. of which they started teaching art.

    it has been claimed that comprehensive systems of perspective were evolved in antiquity, but most scholars do not accept this. Hardly any of the many works where such a system would have been used have survived. A passage in Philostratus suggests that classical artists and theorists thought in terms of “circles” at equal distance from the viewer, like a classical semi-circular theatre seen from the stage.[4] The roof beams in rooms in the Vatican Virgil, from about 400 AD, are shown converging, more or less, on a common vanishing point, but this is not systematically related to the rest of the composition.

    for those of us that are artists, and study art history of man, and have 3 different volumes of jansons history of art on their shelves…

    the above makes a lot more sense than the other arguments. ie. we know about the past and what people thougth because more survived than just a few pictures. writings, and so on. and there is a whole area of study and record going over it and cross referencing it to check

    they did not include what they did not notice or know

    if audobon was born in the time of the pyramids, he would not have drawn birds with the detail he did the way he did…

    the striving to draw reality was the discovery of the nuance and basic rules of reality around us and represent it in some way.

    now its something else.

  38. T Says:

    “the cave man could not make ‘better’ drawings.”

    You miss the entire point. The “cave man” made the drawings that the cultural milieu demanded. If the culturwl milieu demanded other apporached, the cave man would have produced those.

    “for those of us that are artists, and study art history of man, and have 3 different volumes of jansons history of art on their shelves…”

    Arrogant aren’t we?

    Janson is a fundamental 101 textbook. Three Janson’s are repetitive fundamental textbooks with minor revisions. I’ll see your repetitive 3 Janson’s and call your hand with my Ph.D. in art history and my twelve years’ experience teaching it in a school of art.

  39. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and Primitive Food Observationist Says:

    That’s sturdy bread–your teeth know immediately the reality of the bread.

    .. and if you’re lucky, you get to keep them all when you’re done eating the bread!

  40. T Says:

    Aartfl dgr,

    Your 7{17 post evinces a tremendous lack of knowledge about art and its history; you don’t know what you don’t know.

    “todays art IS better…
    because we can draw like all the forms and ideas BEFORE us”

    Once again, artistic knowledge is NOT a linear progression. Better is a qualitative judgement and you have just contradicted your own thesis. Today’s are is better? Then Serrano’s “Piss Christ” is better than majesterial Egyptian tomb art because we can do what they did, but they can’t envision what we would do. Yet, you yourself call 20th century abstract art the equivalent of pornography. Which is it? You can;t have it both ways.

    “i can make fake cave paintings…i can also make egyptian style drawings’

  41. T Says:


    “. . . i can also make egyptian style drawings”

    So what? This makes you a copyist. How does this ability make what you produce any better art than any art that has come before you? Is Stravinsky a better musician than Bach because Stravinsky knew Bach’s work? Is Bach an inferior musician to Stravinsky because he didn’t know Stravinsky’s? You may like it better, but again, that is a quality judgement not an absolute fact-based judgement.

    “better is having more choices. more tools in the toolbox.” ??? This is incoherent. More and better are two distinctly different qualities. You may equate them but that is simply your opinion. This is nonsense.

    “if audobon was born in the time of the pyramids, he would not have drawn birds with the detail he did the way he did”

    This statement alone reveals precisely how limited your knowledge is on this subject. Egyptian renderings in tombs are so accurate that 5000 years later we can identify species and types. These bas-relief carvings and paintings have been favorably compared to Audubon drawings for their zoological specificity. In fact, contrary to what you believe and state, Audubon would have felt quite at home with these images.

    The bottom line here, Artfl dgr it that you believe the force of your argument substitutes for its veracity. You proffer your opinion as if it were fact in an attempt to demean those who criticize your theses, yet there are very few facts evident in your screed above. I have seen you do this before with Neoneocon herself.

    You are certainly entitled to your opinions and I write this without any illusion that I will change your mind; I will not. You simply, in this forum, know very little whereof you speak; your three Jansons not withstanding.

  42. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and Primitive Food Observationist Says:

    “if audobon was born in the time of the pyramids, he would not have drawn birds with the detail he did the way he did”

    This statement alone reveals precisely how limited your knowledge is on this subject. Egyptian renderings in tombs are so accurate that 5000 years later we can identify species and types. These bas-relief carvings and paintings have been favorably compared to Audubon drawings for their zoological specificity. In fact, contrary to what you believe and state, Audubon would have felt quite at home with these images.

    This is a decidedly inappropriate comparison/claim, T.

    He’s saying that the Audobon stuff uses a truly massive degree of enhanced drawing concepts which the Egyptians truly did not have — concept of perspective, depth effects, and so forth leave Autobon’s illustrations light years ahead of anything the Egyptians ever dreamed of in terms of photorealism.

    It’s possible for a modern artist to produce a Trompe-l’œil — no one in Egyptian times could have ever managed such a thing. They probably would have thought one the work of a demon (or the Eqyptian equivalent), I’d argue…

    I concur with you on the dfifference between “more” and “better”, for the most part, but Audobon was clearly superior by “most reasonable standards” to any Egyptian wall art. Most Egyptian wall art more closely resembles the work of elementary school children than that of ANY modern artist attempting to do photorealism. And that’s what pretty much ALL artists in all cultures were attempting before modern photography made it less appreciated as a talent.

  43. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and Primitive Food Observationist Says:

    BTW, if you’re going to attempt the argument that the classical Greeks could achieve Trompe-l’œil’s, I’d suggest that also ties to the observer.

    Just as the original King Kong had women in the audience fainting at its “realism” — realism that nowadays looks almost comically inept — those classical Greeks were probably fooled by much less impressive Trompe-l’œil’s than are produced in modern times. Things that a modern eye catches readily were not necessarily present in the mind’s eye of the classical Greeks.

    Heck, more recently, look at the original Star Wars. I recall seeing that one in the theater and not noticing ANY of the stuff that I can see NOW, because I know what’s wrong with the imagery. Matte lines that were invisible in 1977 are glaringly obvious these days.

    Another example is if you go back and look at Star Trek. What used to be really state of the art looking is kind of cheesy and obvious these days…
    And I’m talking about ST:NG, not ST:TOS!
    Not just style but visual effects.

    The art eternally advances, until eventually the brain won’t be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality.

  44. T Says:

    Smock puppet,

    “Most Egyptian wall art more closely resembles the work of elementary school children”

    This statement is decidedly ill informed. First of all you make the same error artfl dgr does by assessing not only that 3-d illusionism is better than flattened abstract forms, but also by narrowing that to a particular type of illusionism.

    You’re essentially saying that the Egyptians, who possessed the skill and precision to build a pyramid very precisely oriented and inches within the measurement of a perfect square base over ~700+ ft were not equally technically capable of developing a Renaissance-like 3-d illusionistic style of representation. This is non-sense.

    The point I’ve been making all along is that the culture dictates the fundamental precepts of the art. If the Egyptians didn’t illustrate with the same 3-d intent as, say, the Renaissance it wasn’t because they couldn’t, rather it was because that particular artistic vocabulary wasn’t important for them so they had no need to ever learn and develop it. Not lack of skill as artfl posits, but lack of need to have that skill in the first place. To judge a culture’s art by that one peculiar 3-d western standard is like reading a German novel in German without ever having learned the language and pronouncing that said work as a terrible example of English literature. Of course it is, it’s German!

    A 3-d image in space bespeaks movement and thereby a transitory here-and-now nature. Egyptian art was not about the transitory but about the eternal. Their perception of the world around them was quite keen. It is not at all a simply less skilled–more skilled artistic rendering as artfl believes and as you posit here. That latter is the real elementary point of view. It is also culturally chauvinistic; it implies that “if they could have done 3-d, they would have. That they didn’t means they couldn’t.” Again, non-sense.

    “It’s possible for a modern artist to produce a Trompe-l’œil — no one in Egyptian times could have ever managed such a thing” (cultural chauvinism alert!). No one in Egyptian times wanted to because their culture had no use for such transitory representation, Once again you are looking at Egyptian art with a severly limited outlook; you think that because there is no trompe l’oeil illusionism implied on a flat surface that this is evidence of an elementary (or underdeveloped) understanding of the visual image. Nothing can be further from the truth. The (lack of) 3-d depth aside, Old Kingdom illustrations of flora and fauna are technically and graphically as accurate as Audubon; the lack of a supposed space receding from the viewer doesn’t change that. You can disagree with that if you wish, but you would be wrong. Botanists and zoologists have looked at Egyptian illustrations and can easily identify and type species; that’s how accurate they are. Further look especially at Middle Kingdom statuary. The portrait likenesses of the individuals are not only strikingly realistic but they also imbue the subject with a delicacy and personality that rivals any Rembrandt portrait—my favorite is a Middle Kingdom statue in the MFA in Boston. I offer that any artist at that level of skill could easily have developed a trompe-l’oeil method of rendering 3-d on a 2-d surface if the cultural need had been there in the first place.

    It is not a lack of technical skill and it is not that it took until the the “sophistication” of the Renaissance to awaken and develop such a technical skill. It’s that earlier cultures were pursuing different goals which did not require the representation of an object in such an illusory three dimensional space. They were not inferior rules and precepts, they were just different than what we’ve been told is the norm (cultural chauvinism).

    Remember a 3-d illusion is also a distortion. It distorts true shape in order to render relationships in “space.” It is neither more nor less valid than an art which opts to represent a purer truer form and is willing to distort spatial relationships to achieve that end.

  45. sergey Says:

    The more interesting example (than that of Egypt) of qualitatively different style of art is Eastern Orthodox religious painting – icons. They arose in 4 century in East Roman Empire, that is, mainly Greece, and became entirely new style and purpose of art – while classic Greek art still was present everywhere, so there were no time and culture discontinuity. These two cultures coexisted within the same nation. And here, too, 3D illusionism was absent, while in classic art it was present. This was not a bug, but a feature: it symbolized another, sacred space and another, sacred time, by a gimmick of so-called inverse perspective.

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