Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

Seeing -

I am reading Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer.

I am especially fascinated with his words on Paul Cezanne and The Process of Sight.  I excerpt from the chapter here what especially interests and excites me.

He begins by reminding us how shocking was the unveiling of the postimpressionist paintings where Cezanne starred.

"The psychology of the time continued to see our senses as perfect reflections of the outside world. The eye was like a camera: it collected pixels of light and sent them passively on to the brain. The founder of this psychology was the eminent experimentalist William Wundt, who insisted that every sensation could be broken down into its simpler sense data.  Science could peel back the layers of consciousness and reveal the honest stimuli underneath.

Cezanne inverted this view of vision. His paintings were about the subjectivity of sight, the illusion of surfaces."

"Cezanne believed that light was only the beginning of seeing.  "The eye is not enough," he declared.  "One needs to think as well."  Cezanne's epiphany was that our impressions require interpretation; to look is to create what you see."

"We now know that Cezanne was right. Our vision begins with photons, but this is only the beginning.  Whenever we open our eyes, the brain engages in an act of astonishing imagination, as it transforms the residues of light into a world of form and space that we can understand.  By probing inside the skull, scientists can see how our sensations are created, how the cells of the visual cortex silently construct sight. Reality is not out there waiting to be witnessed; reality is made by the mind."

"Cezanne's art exposes the process of seeing.  Although his paintings were criticized for being unnecessarily abstract - even the impressionists ridiculed his technique - they actually show us the world as it first appears to the brain.  A Cezanne picture has no boundaries or stark black lines separating one thing from the next.  Instead there are only strokes of paint, and places on the canvas where one color, knotted on the surface, seems to change into another color.  This is the start of vision: it is what reality looks like before it has been produced by the brain.  The light has not yet been made into form.

But Cezanne did not stop there.  That would have been too easy. Even as his art celebrates its strangeness, it remains loyal to what it represents. As a result, we can always recognize Cezanne's subjects.  Because he gives the brain just enough information, viewers are able to decipher his paintings and rescue the picture from the edge of obscurity..... "

"This is Cezanne's genius: he forces us to see, in the same static canvas, the beginning and the end of our sight.  What starts as an abstract mosaic of color becomes a realistic description.  The painting emerges, not from the paint or the light, but from somewhere inside our mind.  We have entered into the work of art: its strangeness if our own."


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