Once tobacco reached Europe, smoking became a visual metaphor in art for the imagination. True artists need to convey the process by which their minds form images and they found pipes and cigarettes a clever way to do so.
The smoker inhales nicotine from the exterior world and then blows the substance out of his body again as smoke, just as the mind of a poetic painter imports scenes from outer reality and then “exports” them again onto canvas as something else. Besides, tobacco stimulates the mind and encourages reflection, an idea easily conveyed by a smoker deep in thought. In another serendipitous characteristic, smoke itself changes shape in the air, providing a concise metaphor for the metamorphosis of visual form within the artist’s imagination.
Making as much as possible out of a single metaphorical subject, artists sometimes use the shape of a cigarette (long, thin with a burning, red tip) to suggest a paintbrush in the artist’s hand with a blob of red paint on it.
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A face formed from smoke in the Renaissance has been widely acknowledged as a veiled face
If this were an illustration of the American Civil War as many believe, it would not be by Winslow Homer. It would be by a mere painter, not an artist.
If a hand is missing, can it still represent the artist's craft?
Find out how Manet's observations of scenes in Parisian cafés are really something else entirely
Art scholars have sometimes wondered why the execution squad in Manet's Execution of Emperor Maximillian are so unrealistically close to their target. Indeed, on close inspection, their rifles are aimed as though they would miss.
See how Manet's son uses a cigarette to paint the image in the wimdow
See how Manet's identification with Courbet is recognized by a later artist who then used it in his portrait of yet another artist.
Keep an eye out for smoke. It's a common symbol for the imagination and the creation of art.
See how smoke and mirrors turn the outside of Manet's studio into the inside
What looks like nonsense from Picasso - pregnant men with breasts - make sense if you see it the way Picasso did.
Once you see how Norman Rockwell, the so-called illustrator, turned contemporary politics into a contemplation on the creative process, you should start to appreciate how ageless the theme is.
Yet another visual illusion that has never been published.
A much-loved painting contains a marvelous self-portrait in the clouds
How Van Gogh turned a self-portrait into an iconic landscape
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