Friday, June 09, 2017

4. Eyes

“This book seems to give me eyes.” —Charlotte Brontë, on John Ruskin’s Modern Painters
It’s all about seeing, Ruskin argues in those first volumes, all about opening your eyes to the natural world and seeing it as it actually appears. That’s what J. M. W. Turner does in his paintings, says Ruskin. If a Turner doesn’t look like we conceive the world around us, the problem isn’t with the Turner, but with our conception of visual reality. Where do we get that everyday conception (the sky is blue, clouds are white, trees are mostly green, shadows are black, etc.)? It’s a shorthand, a reduction, derived from memories of our rare moments of actual looking and (more importantly) from representations of the world we’ve looked at—Old Master paintings, in short. “The Ancients,” Ruskin calls them.
It’s another battle of the Ancients and the Moderns, and the Moderns (with Turner at their head) come out on top this time. Turner can paint landscape, seascape, skyscape more truly than any other painter because he’s actually looked at those things, seen them without the goggles of convention. Modern Painters begins as a book-length cheering-session for Turner, but it turns into a course on how to look at nature—what nature “really” looks like.
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion,—all in one.”

No comments: