29 Feb 2016

Re-writing Writers on Art

Years ago I thought that the Renaissance humanists who fought to have painting accepted as a liberal art knew a lot about the subject. It seemed a natural assumption but I was wrong. For us in search of art’s underlying meaning, it’s more important to absorb literature's philosophy and...

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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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29 Oct 2015

On Art’s Unity


If anyone doubts that there is more unity to visual art than is currently recognized or imagined, think about what Maya Angelou, the American poet, had to say about art in general. She was not given to hyperbole or exaggeration and chose her words carefully.

"All great artists draw from...

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25 Mar 2015

Wisdom, Art and a Cat

I'm always on the lookout for written expressions of the basic ideas about visual art conveyed on EPPH. Here's one that backs up the concept that art and the practice of it leads to wisdom. A beautiful old Irish poem, now known as Pangur Bán after the anonymous author's cat, dates from no...

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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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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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08 Nov 2014

3 Practical Ways to Understand Art

Artists of the past generally practised their craft from a very young age.They often prayed at their easels too. Today we who wish to understand their works cannot mimic their practice to any great extent. Yet their experience helped form their art. It probably included intellectual discussions...

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28 Jul 2014 | 4 Comments

Ego’s Poetic Powers

EPPH has long argued that artists mute their ego to gain access to poetic depths. Yet in the passage below Colin Wilson, the English philosopher and novelist who died last year, describes a more balanced understanding in which poets identify with nature (see, for instance, Artists as Animals)...

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05 Jul 2014 | 1 Comments

Why art’s meaning repeats

There is never any new content in art [see definition below].1 Art’s meaning is true. Truth is constant. Thus, it must always be true. And it must always have been true, at least since the development of mankind. So, if art expresses fundamental truths about the human condition, it has...

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13 Jan 2014

Good Art is Not Original

There are some no-nos on EPPH to make conventional minds scream. No biography. Who cares how many women Picasso lived with? It makes no difference to the meaning of Guernica or even to images nominally depicting his loves. No historical or literal reading either. Art is for the ages; the true...

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14 Oct 2013

The Error of Art History

Yesterday I wrote about how some errors make the world interesting and beautiful. This one does not. 

Read the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who rarely saw great art, and you will learn about it on every page because the truths he knew are those of poetic painters too. The biggest mistake...

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21 Sep 2013

Pens, Palettes and their Visual Metaphors

Thoth was an Egyptian god best known in art as having the head of an ibis (above left). He had many functions but was perhaps most celebrated as the scribe of the gods, the inventor of heiroglyphs and writing, and who, when people died, wrote down the weight of each heart as they entered the...

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