Behind the Artist’s Eye

This group of images is really a sub-set of the Hand and Eye theme. In depicting their own imaginations at work, some great artists have set their scene where, if you think about it, we ought to expect it: behind the eye or, more exactly, behind their eyes in their imagination.  Yet we are so accustomed to the idea of painting as a mirror of nature, or as a view through a window, that even when we know for certain that the scene is set inside an artist’s imagination we think of it as outside, in nature. It is a failure of the viewer's imagination which, to understand the artist on the poetic level, must be equally imaginative. That's why a great artist's true audience is other great artists, not you and me.

In accepting the current art historical paradigm as the correct one we fail to imagine that the scene takes place where it obviously would. In the examples below there are eye-shaped openings in the background or diffused light filtering in from the outside as though through a lens or, as in examples by Rembrandt and Goya, the action seems to take place in the darkeness of a cave with the cave’s opening as an ancient orifice: the human eye, the artist's. Sometimes, as in paintings by both Michelangelo and Heironymous Bosch, the location is so precisely described that optical nerves are represented as well. This type of setting is so important to both the artist’s meaning and the new paradigm proposed by this site that I have created a separate section for it. Yet despite its importance only one art scholar, to my knowledge, has ever recognized this: John Ciofalo writing on Goya.1


1. John Ciofalo,  The Self-Portraits of Francisco Goya (Cambridge University Press) 2001, pp. 122-8


All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)

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