Art’s Timelessness

One of the exciting changes that can happen to you with an EPPH perspective is to discover that we all have the ability to see links between very different images. And the ways we do that are so far removed from conventional understanding that the method and its results never cease to surprise. Take, for instance, Villard de Honnecourt’s 13th-century drawing of a sleeping monk (top left); Egon Schiele’s 1912 watercolor of two lovers (right) and Robert Motherwell’s 1989 lithograph of The Poet’s Eye (lower left).

Villard de Honnecourt, a folio sketch (13th century)

Villard’s graphic but unrealistic pose seems designed to make the monk’s head and arms resemble the close-up of an eye with the top of his head and hair as its pupil. The two hands emerging from the "eye" convey that an artist’s hand (craft) and eye (intellect) are linked and that the duality of craft (an external activity) becomes one in the inner eye of a spiritual mind. Focused inwards, the monk sleeps in the metaphoric darkness of his mind but the pupil of his inner eye paradoxically resembles the rays of the sun (Christ) shining light into the dark. 

Egon Schiele, Embrace (1912) Watercolor on paper.

Egon Schiele’s lovers do much the same. The head of the man, whom I take to be himself, is also an “eye” but curiously flecked with red. Whatever that means, it seems intended to highlight the importance of his inner eye. His lover’s breasts next to his head are joined by the illusion of a third breast emerging in profile from his shoulder at the top. There may even be a fourth slightly below it, its breast and nipple outlined on his shoulder blade in penciled circles. Once again the duality of our external life becomes unified on the inside, this time in the circular embrace of the two genders, two bodies but one form. The woman, eye closed, focuses inwards like both Villard’s monk and Schiele’s own head in the center. It suggests that we too should focus inwards and that, if we do, we will find unity, androgyny, fertility and insight are everyone’s natural inheritance.

Robert Motherwell, The Poet's Eye (1989) Lithograph on paper.

And that brings us to the visual poetry of the American Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell. As I noted of The Poet's Eye in an earlier post: “…eyes are not really that shape and pupils are much larger. It looks more like a woman's breast. The nipple within the breast is in the correct proportion (but not as a pupil) and the roundish form is angled like a breast too. It is therefore both "breast" and eye because the inner eye of this visual poet is the eye of his fertile imagination” which, being both male (artist) and female (breast), is androgynous.

What is telling is that these works by three very different artists use similar methods and convey similar meaning. All three depict inner eyes through the use of ambiguous eye-forms that can also be read as heads or breasts; all three suggest the artist's own inner focus, from Villard’s sleeping monk to the implied inner eye of Motherwell’s title; and all convey a similar message, that inside our mind lies unity. 

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