20 Mar 2015

Whose God is on the dollar bill?

Art is too often seen as a literal representation of the artist's own small, physical world. The idea that it uses metaphoric language to express much larger, eternal truths shared by all mankind is seldom realized. The same happens with the dollar bill. Six local Republican legislators want to...

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05 Dec 2014 | 2 Comments

As in Painting, so is Poetry

The image above, a detail of a painting by Balthus called The Painter and His Model, goes particularly well with the poem below by James Merrill. Balthus, his head wrapped in a cloth to keep paint off his hair, seemingly pulls the curtain aside but, on our level, he really has the extended arm...

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02 Dec 2014 | 11 Comments

Your Go: Explain this picture!

OK, readers, this a chance to practice your own powers of perception and interpretation before I comment: 

Explain below what this Crucifixion scene might mean and the oddity of Christ’s loincloth. I am drawing attention to that particular detail because, as always, oddities, "errors" and...

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06 Oct 2014 | 1 Comments

Dürer, Titian, Art and Blasphemy


For those who have trouble - I certainly did - understanding how artists like Dürer (top) and Titian (below) could have portrayed themselves as Christ, here is a poem attributed to an 11th-century spiritual master of the Greek Orthodox Church.1 The truth he writes about - that we are...

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24 Sep 2014 | 2 Comments

Reading Art: Manet, Picasso and Alfonso Ponce de Leon

My vision, like most people’s, is often cloudy which is why when the sun breaks and I gain some understanding, I get excited. You must excuse me. It may sometimes seem as if no-one before me has made similar observations. After all, all my entries on EPPH must include something unknown to...

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03 Sep 2014 | 1 Comments

Leonardo’s Skull Rocks

Art is visual which means, contrary to a lot of theoretical discourse, so are its secrets. And if you train your eyes to search for similarity rather than difference, you'll be amazed at what you can discover. 

Few paintings have been analyzed as much as Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks in...

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27 Aug 2014

God help me!

Failure can scare anyone, let alone artists like Paul Klee who sometimes imagine that they are performing at such a high level that the consequences of a bad showing will be free fall. Yet, like tightrope walkers, they have practiced their craft endlessly to a point at which the most profound...

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25 Jun 2014 | 2 Comments

Is self-representation self-centered?

(On vacation. A re-post from last summer)

The practical and philosophical issue of whether figures in art depict the artist or the apparent character is well expressed by two different translations of the same text in a Upanishad. The passage in question helps explain why art, though focused...

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01 May 2014 | 1 Comments

An Intriguing Self-portrait, c.1345 BC

One of the earliest surviving self-portraits from antiquity is that of Bak, chief sculptor to the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. It is beautifully preserved in Berlin (above) and is very intriguing given Western art history’s traditional description of Egyptian art as something foreign.

As...

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13 Apr 2014

The Artist is Always Present

Very few novels use the first person pronoun, most using an impersonal narrator to describe the scene. The author David Henry Thoreau noted that, with the ‘I’ omitted, the reader forgets that it really remains there because the novelist is confined to his theme by the narrowness of his own...

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03 Mar 2014

The Brush-Sword of Mattia Preti

After the recent post on a new book of cartoons, Daggers Drawn, this one is on the same subject 350 years earlier.

Mattia Preti (1613-1699) was a major Italian artist who is little-known because he spent much of his life on the island of Malta where many of his pictures remain. Here he...

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18 Feb 2014

Art’s Purpose

To become like God (ie, gain access to Wisdom) has long been the principal goal of all who practice inner-focused spirituality. The group includes not only monks and nuns in cloistered communities but spiritual seekers in the wider world as well, including true philosophers, esotericists of...

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04 Feb 2014

A Musical Note and Letters

It's a red-letter day for Raphael. I have been showing a lot of letters recently, how Raphael and Renoir each used objects shaped like an R, how Manet and Matisse used M’s and Ingres used an I. And I doubt before this evening that anyone has ever shown that the Virgin in Raphael's great...

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05 Jan 2014 | 2 Comments

How God became Woman

Art is so pregnant that it can take months for its hidden meaning to emerge in your thought. That’s why we try to enter the artist's mind, not just through social customs and the religious dogma of a period but also through art's own culture which, though barely known, is simpler to recall...

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15 Dec 2013

Your Self is My Self

You can find wisdom within all major religions (and an awful lot of nonsense too). Some of the Eastern traditions which openly concentrate on training the mind and looking inwards are particularly useful for understanding art in all media. That’s partly why the Beatles went to India in the...

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