Art and the Artist

By Jin-yeong Yi

HAL 9000

The naked eye

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”

—Pablo Picasso

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”

—Jackson Pollock

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

—Paul Klee

The Victorian Bedroom at DalgarvenVincent van Gogh - Bedroom in Arles

In my view, the point of art isn’t to perfectly replicate something. If it were, cameras and computers would be the best artists. As artists like Eugène Delacroix, Remembrandt van Rijn, Henri Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh demonstrated, the “point” of art, if there is one, is to express one’s unique perspective of something. It’s sort of like the difference between typing and writing by hand in that one’s personality comes through in the latter. That, for me, is the beauty of art: the subjective human eye sees something that the coldly objective camera eye does not…one might go so far as to say that all humans are artists simply by virtue of being human. One doesn’t need to be a virtuoso in order to capture something and make it one’s own. In this respect, the clumsiest scribble of a small child has more artistic value than a snapshot of the most powerful digital camera.

Theotokos of VladimirLeonardo da Vinci - Madonna Litta

Consider Frithjof Schuon’s discussion of art in The Transcendent Unity of Religions:

“The majority of moderns who claim to understand art are convinced that Byzantine or Romanesque art is in no way superior to modern art, and that a Byzantine or Romanesque Virgin resembles Mary no more than do her naturalistic images, in fact rather the contrary. The answer is, however, quite simple: the Byzantine Virgin—which traditionally goes back to St. Luke and the Angels—is infinitely closer to the truth of Mary than a naturalistic image, which of necessity is always that of another woman. Only one of two things is possible: either the artist presents an absolutely correct portrait of the Virgin from a physical point of view, in which case it will be necessary for the artist to have seen the Virgin, a condition that cannot easily be fulfilled—setting aside the fact that all purely naturalistic painting is illegitimate—or else the artist will present a perfectly adequate symbol of the Virgin, but in this case physical resemblance, without being absolutely excluded, is no longer at all in question. It is this second solution that is realized in icons; what they do not express by means of a physical resemblance they express by the abstract but immediate language of symbolism, a language that is built up of precision and imponderables both together. Thus the icon, in addition to the beatific power that is inherent in it by reason of its sacramental character, transmits the holiness or inner reality of the Virgin and hence the universal reality of which the Virgin herself is an expression; in suggesting both a contemplative experience and a metaphysical truth, the icon becomes a support of intellection, whereas a naturalistic image transmits—apart from its obvious and inevitable falsehood—only the fact that Mary was a woman. It is true that in the case of a particular icon, it may happen that the proportions and features are those of the living Virgin, but such a likeness, if it really came to pass, would be independent of the symbolism of the image and could only be the result of a special inspiration. Naturalistic art could moreover be legitimate up to a certain point if it were used exclusively to record the features of the saints, since the contemplation of saints (the Hindu darshan) can be a very precious help in the spiritual way, owing to the fact that their outward appearance conveys, as it were, the perfume of their spirituality; but the use in this limited manner of a partial and disciplined naturalism corresponds only to a very remote possibility.”[1]  

Vincent van Gogh - Paul Gauguin's ArmchairHenri Matisse - Fruit and Coffeepot

William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Aldous Huxley spoke of how mescaline made even commonplace objects, such as chairs, vivid and enchanting.[2] Art is not so much about the subject itself, but the way in which it is rendered on canvas, because the way in which something is perceived and interpreted is more important than the thing itself. In this way, we can see how everyday objects or scenery, no matter how mundane, can be worth painting or drawing. Art, like dreams, is one of the means by which the ordinary can be made into the extraordinary.


[1] From Chapter 4 (“Concerning Forms in Art”)

[2] The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley