21 Feb 2016

Harper Lee on Every Painter Paints Himself

Harper Lee’s passing reminded me of a deservedly famous line in To Kill A Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." To my mind she was not just portraying a wild imagination, as a surface reading suggests, but that what seems...

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01 Aug 2015

Joanna Woodall on Cooking Artists in Dark Rooms

Many are the ways to demonstrate that a given picture represents the artist in his or her mind: resemblance, pose, apparent errors, "nonsensical" shading, tools expressed in metaphor, etc. We have shown you at least thirty different methods, most of them unknown to art historians in...

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05 Jul 2015

How Every Writer Writes Herself

Short sayings like "Every Painter Paints Himself" are liable to shallow interpretation. How many, for instance, on first hearing those four words will recognize a whole philosophy? I didn’t and still haven’t plumbed its full depth and meaning. It grows and grows. You need time - and lots of...

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06 Mar 2015

C.S. Lewis on a Poetic Method

The late Sidney Geist, a sculptor and controversial interpreter of Cézanne's art, invited me about 12 years ago to come and see him at his studio in Manhattan. I had spent the past year studying everything about Edouard Manet and was excited to discuss with him some of what I had discovered....

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16 Jan 2015 | 2 Comments

The Centrality of Tools

Art sometimes seems like a meditation on the brush. Certainly visual metaphors for art's tools abound from, say, Edouard Manet’s early Boy with a Sword (in effect he holds a giant paintbrush, see explanation) to Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of the Infanta Margarita in the Louvre whose figure...

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29 Dec 2014

For how long have we read the Bible literally?

I learnt an astonishing fact today.1 The habit of reading the Bible as though it is historically true (especially the New Testament) started during the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 and lasted more than a century. For the first 1,500 years the New Testament like all scripture...

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10 Dec 2014 | 1 Comments

Van Eyck’s Alpha and Omega

The world seems to work in our favor. Things happen which I used to call coincidence but which, in hindsight, are often far too fortuitous to be chance. Carl Jung described such events, at least the unusually important ones, as synchronicity and did not think they were coincidence. As an idea I...

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13 Oct 2013

Higgs Boson and Mistakes

So, not long after the discovery of the Higgs boson and half a century after they predicted its existence, Higgs and Englert win the Nobel Prize in Physics. I don't often relate to advances in science but this one's a biggie. Last year, on news of the discovery, I wrote about how the knowledge...

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09 Mar 2013

Proust’s and Degas’ Disappearing Models

Literature and its methods are a useful yardstick by which to judge our knowledge and understanding of the visual arts. For instance, the known fact accepted by literary critics that many friends and acquaintances of Marcel Proust, the great French writer of the early 20th century, thought they...

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23 Dec 2012

1, 2, 3. Please start here.

"The poets", a great literary critic once wrote, "do not read the same books as the academics or do not read them in the same way." She added, to explain how all great poetry is on the same path, that the gnosis of mind, or inner wisdom they search for, has been known and formulated in every...

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11 Dec 2012

Memory Holloway and Picasso

Memory Holloway, an art historian at the University of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, has written a wonderful book on a magnificent group of etchings by Pablo Picasso. It is titled Making Time: Picasso's Suite 347. Suite 347 is the name given to 347 etchings that the Spanish artist produced in his...

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13 Nov 2012

Six Tips on How to Look at Art

The idea, peddled by many, that you can just stand in front of a work of art and let it speak to you is wrong. What, for instance, happens inside you when you look at the Mona Lisa? Probably not much. Indeed, as an adolescent trying to figure out why adults were going bananas over art, the Mona...

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04 Aug 2012

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty

I've been reading the Bhagavad Gita, India's gift to the world, and discovering how the themes and principles of good living that Krishna teaches are remarkably similar to those that both Christ and Buddha taught centuries later. No-one knows precisely how old the Gita is but it contains the...

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19 Jul 2012

Susan Sidlauskas and the Many Faces of Hortense Cézanne

In a relatively recent book on Paul Cézanne's portraits of his wife, Hortense, Susan Sidlauskas examines the nearly 30 images he made of her over a fourteen-year period in greater detail than has ever been done before. It is an important subject because, despite the many years in which the...

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03 May 2012

Art’s Tradition of Secrecy

Great poets are great poets because they have reached heights of spiritual understanding inaccessible to the crowd. The starting-point depends on the individual; some are born prophetic, others somewhere along the way. Those who begin at the bottom, so to speak, are the vast majority of adepts...

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