Hand and Eye
God in medieval and Renaissance art is often represented only by his hand, as in the hand of an artist extending from the heavens. Indeed Genesis describes God as a model craftsman carefully checking the quality of his daily production with the phrase : "and God saw that it was good." God is an artist and his hand symbolizes Creation. For this and other more mundane reasons the hand became a symbol of the artist’s craft while the eye came to represent the mind or imagination. These meanings are often missed because the current art historical paradigm takes images literally and fails to recognize that all figures, including their body parts, are representations of the artist.
As we demonstrate in a number of entries below, the hand and eye are often juxtaposed in art as well, one placed next to the other. There is meaning to this because without the hand, the conception in the artist’s eye is just a conception; without the conception, the hand has nothing to craft. Both are needed. With this simple idea many now-mysterious works of art can be explained. Nevertheless, not all representations of eye and hand are quite so obvious because, as poetic elements, artists often disguise them in visual metaphors: the eye as a window, a lighted doorway, the sun or moon etc. The hand may likewise be represented by an animal’s paw or an empty glove. Keep an eye out for these clues to art's meaning. They are important.
Most Recent Articles
Look at art from every which way you can. You never know what you might see.
All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)
Is this merely a scene of everyday life or something more important?
Remember a few general principles and you will find that the art of understanding art is much easier than you might magine
Even anonymous art can be enjoyed through EPPH's methodology
Learn how one scene can turn into another through visual metamorphosis
Learn how to deconstruct a portrait by Balthus using a few simple principles
An artist's identification with God was as common in the 20th century as in the Renaissance
How Bonnard turned his creative process into a scene in modern Paris
See how the second of a pair of paintings by Bosch is also "behind the eye."
This masterpiece, like many before and since, must have been the source of inspiration for Picasso's Cubism. As unlikely as that may sound, it all depends on what you can see in The Birth of Venus that experts never have. You'll be one of the first...
Learn how to note passages between one level of reality and another
Unless you knew that there might be a self-portrait in this Reclining Nude, you'd probably never see it.
"Mistakes" in representing reality are cues to the scene's underlying meaning
Learn how additions to a painting's narrative often provide access to the composition's underlying meaning
One of my first discoveries remains, for me, an object lesson in art. Perhaps for you too.
A long-mysterious image succumbs to interpretation if seen through a different paradigm
See how a self-portrait viewed through a different perspective changes everything
Yet one more artist who sees himself as an animal, even as a creating animal
What can one learn from the single fragment of a larger painting? A lot, if you look.
See how Durer shaped the Virgin and Child into the form of his own monogram
How Daumier turned a kettle-drum into symbols...
If you can't make a sense of an image beyond what it appears to be, keep looking until you can. Come back to it, time and again, until you do.
See how the meaning behind this image changes our entire understanding of Degas' oeuvre
Another example of St. Irene "painting" St. Sebastian
Learn how an artist's sketches and unfinished drawings help explicate a painting
Here, in a novel turn, the American artist turns a paintbrush into the oars of a scull
Find out how Eakins' portrait of his father becomes one of himself
See how a contemporary artist still uses the language of the great masters
See how Hals used his monogram to signal an alter ego
Learn how an artist can link himself through music to great painters before him
What you can see in a self-portrait when you think creatively. Indeed it's your job to become the painter...
Even at 17, Giacometti understood the hidden meaning of art
Goya often used bright eye-shapes in the background to indicate that the scene itself is inside his mind.
Change your perspective: looking at Goya from the inside out
© Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.