Do You See What I See? How People See Pictures
Leo Segedin | 4/16/1995 | Print this essay
Paper given on April 6, 1995 at the Phillips Gallery, Barrier Island Group For the Arts, Sanibel, Florida
If someone asks us, "What do you see in that painting?", we might answer by describing what we saw represented or what appeared to be happening in the picture. More likely, we would assume that the questioner really wanted to know what we saw in the painting that made it significant to us. What did we see in the painting that was being communicated to us? Then we might answer by describing the mood of the picture or our feelings when we looked at it. We could describe the feelings expressed by the people being represented. We might explain what we saw as an indication of what the artist was feeling when he painted the picture, his state of mind or what he was trying to convey. The questioner might want to know what we saw in, say, Elsworth Kelly's 'Red, Blue and Yellow', implying that he saw nothing of significance in the object. He might be asking, "What is there to be seen in the work of Van Gogh or Picasso which would make it worth so much money?" All these kinds of 'seeing' can be called metaphoric, subjective or personal opinion rather than pure sensory experience, but they are not necessarily imaginary or fantasy and , in a very fundamental way, they do determine what we actually see. Even though we can see the characteristics we describe and although the same visual information which is available to us is available to anyone else who is standing where we are, everyone will literally not see the same thing. This is because what we see is not a copy of what is in front of us but is rather the result of a dynamic interaction between ourselves and the picture. Beyond primitive visual recognition, all perception is mediated. There is no 'objective' seeing, no such thing as an 'innocent eye'. We literally learn to see. Our perceptions differ because they are derived from different personal and cultural histories. Because they develop out of differing kinds of knowledge, perceptions involve interpretation and do not passively represent visual information. They are 'projections' or 'readings into' what is 'in' the picture. We select from the same available information, but create different kinds of significance. The perception of pictures, like all perception, is constructive before it is descriptive because it is built on the assumptions we possess before coming to the picture. Not only do we learn to see what we are describing on the basis of what we presume the picture to be; our perception changes when our understanding of the picture changes.
Even the ability to recognize and describe the shapes, colors, people, animals and depth in pictures is culturally mediated although the extent to which this is so is controversial. But beyond such perception, in most societies, pictures are ways of articulating experience; they are objectifications of personal and social value and therefore require knowledge in order to be understood. We have to learn to see what they are about. Often, we actually see what we have learned from what we have read or been told. That is how we know what is going on in a Persian, Chinese, or Medieval European painting, what myth or historical event is being depicted, who is being represented and where the scene represented is located. But even beyond that, if we are serious about art, we would want to know what the professional art historians and critics say about the history and milieu of the work, the biography of the artist and the form or the ideas underlying the work. We would want to have some idea about how we were expected to respond. Some people today reject this approach as being 'elitist' - we have a right to respond anyway we want - but wouldn't we be missing much in the works of artists like Monet, Picasso, Duchamp, Pollack, DeKooning and others without the words of the art historians and critics? When we discover the way Monet painted a picture, the kinds of colors he used and the way the brushstrokes were applied, we learn to see 'broken color' as well as sunlight and atmosphere in his garden at Argenteuil or the beach at St. Addresse. We can visualize him sitting in his garden or on the seashore, in front of his easel, painting what he saw on the spot. To a great extent, our perception of his paintings is determined by this kind of knowledge.
Let us assume that we have learned to see such characteristics in Monet's paintings; but then acquire new knowledge about him and his work Suppose we are told that he actually painted a good part of the work in his studio, rather than out of doors, that he painted his Haystack series not only to describe the changing effects of sunlight, but also because he had his eye on the American collectors who were buying his work. Suppose we are told that he had cataracts or that some of his colors might have faded. Wouldn't our perception of Monet's paintings change? How does the knowledge that Van Gogh was sometimes insane, that he cut off his ear, and committed suicide or that he copied from Japanese prints affect our perception of his work? Suppose that we are told that the painting we were looking at was really a fake? What do we 'see' in the painting that wasn't 'there' before we received this information? Or better still, what don't we see that we saw before?
We have been taught that a particular painting 'has' certain qualities, and if we have learned to see such qualities, they are 'there' -'in' the painting, but, we also know that in the past, such qualities in paintings which we now consider to be masterpieces were not at all apparent or appreciated. In fact, professional art critics then literally could not see what we now take for granted. For example, when we look at a nude by Renoir, we are likely to admire the colors he used, especially the vibrancy of the colors in shadow areas. Yet as recently as 1876, the French art critic, Albert Wolff, wrote:
. . . .try to explain to M. Renoir that a woman's torso is not a mass of flesh in the process of decomposition with green and violet spots which denote the state of complete putrefaction of a corpse.1
Another critic suggested that "perhaps his model had spent several days under water."
Colors which represent reflected sunlight to our eyes indicate decay of a body to the eyes unfamiliar with the conventions of Impressionist painters over a hundred years ago. The point is, not only that they were wrong, not even that they could not see what we see now, but rather that they actually saw what they described.
Sometimes, the critic attributes his perceptual incomprehension of the picture to the mind and intention of the painter. Earlier in the same article, Wolff refers to:
. . . five or six lunatics - among them a woman - a group of unfortunate creatures stricken with the mania of ambition . . . it is a frightening spectacle of human vanity gone astray to the point of madness. . . 2
Another critic wrote about an Impressionist exhibition in 1877:
It appertains to madness; it is a deliberate excursion into the realm of the horrible and execrable. One might surmise that all these pictures were painted with closed eyes by the insane, who on tin palettes mixed, haphazard, the most violent colors.3
On the basis of what he knew, the critic made assumptions about the mind and intentions of the artists. Because the pictures were unfamiliar, he judged the artists insane and Impressionist 'broken color' describing the subtle qualities of light and atmosphere appeared 'horrible', 'execrable', 'haphazard ' and 'violent' to him. His judgements determined his perception.
In 1863, Manet's painting, Luncheon in the Grass, in the Salon de Refuses' was denigrated by almost all critics (the major exception being Emile Zola) as being pornographic. It was condemned as being "immodest" by Emperor Napoleon III. The British art critic, Philip Hammerton, concluded a vicious attack on the painting (in which he refers to the"stupid look of bliss" on the faces of the two seated men), by saying " . . that the nude, when painted by vulgar men, is inevitably indecent." 4
Manet's reputation never recovered from these attacks. Yet, in the same exhibition, a painting of a nude by Alexandre Cabanel , The Birth of Venus, was described by the critic, Paul Mantz, as being, although "wanton and lascivious", . . . "not in the least indecent" and charmed because she was
. . . cleverly rhythmical in pose, offers curves that are agreeable and in good taste, the bosom is young and alive, the hips have perfect roundness, the general line is revealed as harmonious and pure." 5
The painting was purchased by the Emperor, won Cabanel the Legion of Honor and election to the Institute. The painting was very popular; several copies of it were made and sold making Cabanel a wealthy man.
Even among the great artists and critics, we find the same kind of 'blindness' to what we see today. Michelangelo said that Titian would have been a far greater painter if he had only learned to draw. El Greco said the same thing about Michelangelo. William Blake attacked Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, he said, "fancies himself a great master, and has painted a few wretched pictures." Reynolds attacked both Michelangelo and Raphael as knowing nothing about art as an object of imitation.6 Michelangelo wrote that Flemish painting
. . . is done without reason or art, without symmetry or proportion, without skillful selection or boldness, and, finally, without substance or vigor. . . . (It was bad) because it attempts to do so many things well (each one of which would suffice for greatness) that it does none of them well.7
Rembrandt suffered the same kind of criticism. A contemporary of Rembrandt, Gerard de Lairesse, wrote about him a few years after his death, "A master capable of nothing but vulgar and prosaic subjects . . . who merely achieved an affect of rottenness." 8 In 1864, the art critic, John Ruskin, wrote, ". . . It is the aim of the best painters to paint the noblest things they can see by sunlight. It was the aim of Rembrandt to paint the foulest things he could see by - rushlight." 9 "And as late as 1914, the art critic, Clive Bell wrote, "Except in his later works Rembrandt's sense of form and design is lost in a mess of rhetoric, romance and chiaroscuro." 10
Such taste and judgments permeate the perception of pictures. We can like or dislike a picture for any reason. The Mona Lisa can be described as a sensitive, graceful, spiritual, delicate and quietly expressive painting, but to some people, it is weak, decadent, effeminate and insipid. The same visual information can be described both ways. A work can be called rhythmic or jerky, lucid or obvious, true or trite, monumental or pompous, detailed and painstakingly developed or fussy and overworked, deeply felt or sentimental, etc. depending on how the viewer feels about such characteristics. 11
What we see is derived from our cultural experiences in even more basic ways. For example, when we see a picture in which a person is represented with one side of her face darker than the other, we would assume that side of her face was in shadow because the light is coming from the other side. Most people brought up in the Western tradition or familiar with photography would interpret the picture that way and assume that everyone else would see it the same way. Yet when the Chinese, 200 years ago, first saw Renaissance style pictures like the Mona Lisa, they wanted to know why she was darker on one side of her face than the other. Perhaps one side of Europeans were actually darker than the other or perhaps their faces were dirty.12 If we see a picture in which some people appear smaller than others, we are likely to interpret them as being farther away; people unfamiliar with western pictures would interpret such pictures to indicate that they were physically smaller. Blown up pictures of insects are seen as being literally larger.13
The history of art is full of examples of periods in which people did not see what we see. The sacred, tribal arts of Polynesians, Africans and American Indians were not appreciated by westerners for their aesthetic qualities; they were often destroyed as 'abominations,' the idols of heathen, uncivilized people. When such objects were collected, it was as curiosities or artifacts made by savages in foreign, exotic places. The Spaniards melted down the golden artworks of the Incas and Aztecs. Byzantine and Medieval people did not see Classical statues as something worth looking at; they melted down the bronze statues to be used to make weapons and ground down the marble ones to be used for fill in constructing buildings and roads. The famous Unicorn Tapestries were discarded as rags and used to cover hotbeds (manure) in gardens. French connoisseurs of the seventeenth century saw Medieval art as primitive, religious objects with no aesthetic qualities. The labels which we now give to major historical art periods were derived from a lack of perceptual comprehension. Gothic (meaning barbarous), Baroque (meaning odd, distorted, eccentric), Impressionism (meaning sketchy), Fauvism (meaning the work of'wild beasts) and Cubism (meaning the painting was nothing but cubes) all began as derisive descriptions of incomprehensible, unfamiliar art styles.
In point of fact, all we can know about what people see in pictures is what they say about them. This is true for the artist, the art critic and historian - and us. There is really no way of knowing what people see because there is really no way of describing a painting directly. This is because all descriptions consist of words; words perhaps can point to things in the painting to look at, but for the most part, they can only describe what we have thought about what we have seen. They can describe the effects the paintings have had on us. They can explain why we think that they might have such an effect. However, even if we took the time to describe every little detail of everything we saw, our words could never recreate the direct perception of pictures. Try describing a painting to someone who has never seen it without giving your interpretation, without referring to your own feelings about it, or to something else like it that might have the same effect. In short, what we experience in a painting is to a great extent a result of language and that it is useful to discuss then is not only how we see the paintings, but also the words which other people have used to describe them. 14
Perhaps the painting about which the most words have been written is the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the world's most famous art masterpieces. Ever since Leonardo's lifetime, over 400 years ago, when it was already being used as a model by artists, the painting has had a remarkable history of appreciation. It has, as they say, stood the test of time. What have people seen in this painting to create such a reputation? What have they said about it?
The Mona Lisa has been said to be one of the greatest works of art by the world's greatest genius and to express his feelings, his ideas, his inspiration, his intuition, his imagination and his creativity. The painting has been said to express the ideas, the values, the attitudes, the Zeitgeist or spirit and world view of the Renaissance. but it is also, not only original and authentic, but unique, one of a kind. It creates a strange, mysterious mood or feeling in the viewer. By the 19th century, the language becomes exceptionally effusive. To Napoleon Bonaparte, she was "the Sphinx of the Occident" and to the Marquis de Sade, she was "the very essence of femininity"; he was excited by her "devoted tenderness," Perhaps the most famous glorifying description of the Mona Lisa is by Walter Pater written in 1873. It begins:
The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all 'the ends of the world are come', and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions . . . 15
And so forth. You may notice that none of these words describes the painting itself. Even if we described the Mona Lisa simply as a beautiful painting of a beautiful woman, we would still be discussing only our reactions to it.
Do their words indicate that all these commentators have seen the same thing? We all know that the Mona Lisa is most famous for her smile. More words have been said about that 'enigmatic', 'Gioconda' smile that any other aspect of the painting. In the 19th century, the language describing the smile was especially purple. John Addington Symonds wrote in 1877:
This smile, this enigmatic revelation of a movement in a soul, this seductive ripple on the surface of a human personality, was to Leonardo a symbol of the secret of the world, an image of universal mystery. It haunted him all through his life, and innumerable were the attempts he made to render by external form the magic of this fugitive and evanescent charm. 16
Even before that, in 1863, in the middle of another passage of purple prose, Theophile Gautier saw that
...the sinuous, serpentine mouth, turned up at the corners, in the violet shadows, mocks you with so much gentleness, grace, and superiority, that you feel suddenly intimidated, like a schoolboy before a duchess. 17
Hippolyte Taine (1865) found the famous smile "doubting, licentious, Epicurean, deliciously tender, ardent, sad," and Arsine Houssaye refers to her "charm, provocative and ineffable, cruel and divine, sibylline and voluptuous." 18 Charles Blanc and Paul Mantz saw that the smile, " . . . at certain moments, seems satanic and still magnetizes us by its long and voluptuous glances.19
By the middle of the 19th century, it would seem that Mona was seen as a femme fatale. Before that, however, she, and women in general, were seen quite differently. Women might have been seen as cruel, coquettish, vain, deceitful, gentle, fickle, tender, weak, tremulous, without discretion, needing good company, ruinous, inconstant, lachrymose, lovely, etc., but never enigmatic. They became enigmatic when they became liberated. They did not become enigmatic until the German Romantics called them so.20
Later, the famous art connoisseur and historian, Bernard Berenson, referred to "a smile of anticipated satisfaction and a pervading air of hostile superiority." 21 and the art historian, Kenneth Clark, said that "in its essence Mona Lisa's smile is a Gothic smile, the smile of the Queens and Saints at Rheims and Naumberg." 22 , but Freud found that the smile was due to a 'mother fixation,' "a seductive image of a smiling mother, repressed, but psychically potent." 23
When the Mona Lisa was first described, back in the 16th century, however, she had none of these psychological characteristics. Then it was seen as a realistic, lifelike, skillfully painted portrait. This is the way in which Giorgio Vasari described it in 1550, about forty years after Leonardo painted it:
. . . The eyes have the lustrous brightness and moisture which is seen in life, and around them are those pale, red, and slightly livid circles, also proper to nature, with the lashes, which can be copied as they with the greatest difficulty; the eyebrows also are represented with the closest exactitude, where fuller and more thinly set, with the separate hairs delineated as they issue from the skin, every turn being followed, and all the pores exhibited in a manner that could not be more natural than it is: the nose, with its beautiful and delicately roseate nostrils, might be easily believed to be alive; the mouth . . . has the lips uniting the rose-tints of their colour with that of the face, in the utmost perfection, and the carnation of the cheek does not appear to be painted, but truly of flesh and blood: he who looks earnestly at the pit of the throat cannot but believe that he sees the beating of the pulses, . . . there is so pleasing an expression, and a smile so sweet, that while looking at it one thinks it rather divine than human, . . . 24
There are several observations which can be made about this passage. First, the painting was admired not because of the effect of the painting on the observer, or the self expression of the artist, or Mona's 'inscrutable' personality, or as an ideal reflection of a milieu. Rather, it was admired as an accurate description of Mona. Second, much of what Vasari describes can not be seen in the painting today. Where is the "lustrous brightness" of the eyes, the lashes, the eyebrows, the "roseate nostrils," the "rose tints" of the lips, the "carnation" of the cheeks, the pulse in the throat? Granted that the painting has faded and been retouched. Grant even that he never actually saw the painting. He must have known of it from descriptions he had heard. What did the viewers of the painting actually see? And third, Mona's smile was not then seen as "licentious" or "voluptuous", but rather as "sweet" and "divine".25
As we can tell from such descriptions of paintings, art language also reflects the times in which it was written. Tom Hess wrote:
A writer's words, like a painter's "look," decide his generation - words fixed in their time, like potsherds in layers of garbage. The form of discourse is also its content.26
In the 1910s, art critics described paintings as symphonic (good), or mechanical (bad), electric, debauched, naughty, plastic, and sublime. In the 20s, paintings became extrovert or introvert, experimental (good), anecdotal (bad), clean (good), mythic (good) and cerebral (bad). In the 30s, we would read that paintings were dialectical (good) or reactionary (bad), alienated (good), awkward (good), brutal (bad), intellectual (bad), experimental (bad) and precious (bad). In the 40s, paintings were awkward (bad), brutal (good), intellectual (good), eccentric (bad) and obscure (good). 27
In 1961, you might read in an art magazine a positive review of an art exhibition such as the following:
Willem de Kooning continues to explore daring new color space concepts in a blue and brown 'A Tree in Naples', 1960. Forward thrusting elements are countered by forms that recede into infinity without diminishing surface tension. This picture is expansive and volatile, impulsive and masculine, and fluent: the explosive violence that characterized past works has given away to a tough lyricism. 28
During the 60s, we might also read about "the progressive surrender of the resistance of the medium." (Clement Greenberg).29 In the 70s and 80s, if we read that "The assembly line mentality that characterizes so much art making today causes the artist to lose that necessary irrational contact with the flow of life", we are in contact with a 'Philosophical' critic (Suzie Gablik), and if we read that ". . . (art) is 'about' its own strategies of construction, its own linguistic operations, its revelations of conventions, its own surfaces," we are dealing with a 'Structuralist' (Rosalind Krauss). If you keep in mind that there are also 'Deconstructive', 'Impressionist', 'Post 60s Liberal', and 'Political' critics during this same period, each writing in their peculiar language to their own people, you can understand why the art of the period is so confusing. You can also see why the artworks themselves disappear into this mess of verbiage.30
.I hope I have shown that what we think about what we are looking at can determine what we see. This is significant, not only for our understanding of a painting; but also for its economic value. The works of certain artists are surrounded by an aura which makes them worth far more than the materials out of which they are made. The Mona Lisa is priceless and uninsurable. A work by Picasso was recently auctioned for over $50 million; a work by Renoir for more than $78 million, a work by Van Gogh for $85 million. Only as long as the buyers believe that the works are authentic and original do they have such value. If they are not from the hand of such artists, even though physically they have not changed, perceptually they become totally different pictures. The following is from a popular textbook, Art and Civilization, by Bernard Meyers, about the painting, The Man in the Golden Helmet, formerly attributed to Rembrandt:
Rembrandt's ability to evoke spiritual contemplation, to fathom the depth of the soul and its identification with the universe is felt in such a work as the celebrated, Man in a Golden Helmet. 31
Unfortunately for Professor Meyers, the painting wasn't by Rembrandt and when the painting was de-attributed in 1985, its value fell from $8 million to $337,000. What happened to those fabulous qualities? Since the number of assumed authentic artworks attributed to Rembrandt has ranged from 48 to 988, it is apparent that we cannot recognize the 'unique' perceptual qualities of a painting without being told. 32
Here are some quotes from Abraham Bredius, the most eminent Dutch art authority, in 1937, in an article in which he describes his experiences on seeing for the first time a painting which he thought was by Vermeer, but was really a forgery by Van Meegeren.
It is a wonderful moment in the life of an art lover when he finds himself suddenly confronted by a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter's studio! And what a picture! Neither the beautiful signature "I. V. Meer". . . nor the "pointille" on the bread which Christ is blessing, is necessary to convince us that we have here a - I am inclined to say - the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft . . . every inch a Vermeer...the colors are magnificent . . . and characteristic . . . the yellow of the famous Vermeer of Dresden . . . In no other picture by the great master of Delft do we find such sentiment, so nobly expressed through the medium of the highest art. 33
All these qualities which Bredius saw disappeared when it was established that the painting was by a second-rate painter named Van Meegeren.
What does the fact that our perception is mediated, that it changes when our knowledge and assumptions change mean for those of us to whom the experience of pictures is important? Obviously, it means that it is futile to argue about what we see or what we like; vision, taste and opinions are never intrinsically right or wrong. However, it also suggests that there are many ways to look at a work of art and that perhaps the more ways we can see, the more informed, the more sophisticated our experiences will be. Some works of art are greater than others because they allow for a greater number of interpretations. We say that they 'have stood the test of time' for this reason. We are not necessarily going to have the same responses to works of art, but the satisfactions we get from perceiving great pictures are not at all the same as the pleasures of a hot bath, beautiful interior decoration or even sex. As we have shown, because pictures are ways of articulating experience and social value, in order to be understood, they require both intellectual and visual knowledge. Some experiences are based on more knowledge, more different kinds of knowledge and more accurate knowledge than others. In this sense, we can distinguish between ignorant and educated perception. But knowledge is not absolute; we bring new 'perspectives' to bear; we can understand the same information in different ways; we learn new things and develop new insights. This is why we study art, the reason for art education. Learning new descriptive languages enables us to see things which we could not see before. We see old things in new ways. Great pictures are renewable over the generations because there are always more ways to 'read' them. There is always more to find, more to learn from them. Over the years, they have taken on more different kinds of significance and therefore there are more reasons to find them valuable. Even though people at different times and in different places recognize and interpret pictures differently, we might agree that the more ways we understand and see pictures, the broader and more profound our experiences will be and the richer our lives will become.
- In the newspaper, Le Figaro, quoted in Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. N.Y.: Museum of Modern Art, 1961. p. 370.
- Quoted in Rewald. p. 69.
- In the magazine, Le Pays, 1877, quoted in French Impressionists, N.Y.: Abrams, 1953.
- Quoted in Rewald. p. 85.
- Quoted in Rewald. p. 88.
- Sidney Harris in the Chicago Sun-Times. April 3, 1978. p. 39.
- Quoted in Goldwater, Robert and Treves, Marco, (ed.). Artists on Art. N.Y.: Pantheon. 1966. p. 68.
- Quoted in Copplestone, Trewin, Rembrandt, N.Y.: Marboro. 1960. p. 49.
- Quoted in Copplestone, p. 63.
- Quoted in Copplestone, p. 64. But about the same time, Fromentin, wrote, "He accosts with his dark lantern the world of the marvelous, of conscious and the ideal. He has no equal in the power of showing the invisible." And earlier in the century, the great Romantic painter, Delacroix, wrote in his journal, "Perhaps we shall one day find that Rembrandt is a greater painter than Raphael. I write down this blasphemy which will cause the hair of the schoolmen to stand on end without taking sides." (Quoted in Copplestone, pp. 62-63.)
- Shaw, Theodore. Hypocrisy About Art. Boston: Stuart. 1962. p. 25.
- See Forsdale, Joan and Forsdale, Louis, "Film Literacy" in AV Communication Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, Fall, 1970, pp. 263-276.
- See Baxandall, Michael. Patterns of Intention. New Haven: Yale. 1985.
- he Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, N.Y.: Mentor. 1959. p. 90
- The entire passage goes: The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all 'the ends of the world are come', and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have the power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secret of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps the fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her as the sound of lyres and flutes, lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all the modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.
- The Fine Arts. N.Y.: N.Y.: Capricorn, 1961. p. 230-231.
- Quoted in Boas, George. "The Mona Lisa in the History of Taste", in Gasser, John and Thomas, Sidney (ed.). The Nature of Art. N.Y.: Crown, 1964. p. 10.
- Quoted in Boas, p. 10.
- Quoted in Boas, p. 11.
- The Study and Criticism of Italian Art (third series), 1916.
- Leonardo da Vinci, 1939
- Quoted in Boas, p. 4.
- There may be another explanation for Mona's smile. This is from a Renaissance book on advice for women of fashion:
From time to time, to close the mouth at the right corner, with a suave and nimble movement, and to open it at the left side as if you are smiling secretly...not in an artificial manner, but as though unconsciously - this is not affectation, if it is done in moderation and in a restrained and graceful manner and accompanied by innocent coquetry and by certain movements of the eyes . . . (from Agnolo Firenzuolo's "Della perfetta belliezza d'una donna," 1541.)
And, as Mona was probably a lady of fashion, she probably would have plucked her eyebrows and the hair on her forehead as was the custom in those days. (see portraits of Queen Elizabeth I)
- Art News. Oct. 1958. p. 19.
- Art News. p. 19.
- Sandler, Irving . "10 Americans" in Art News, Summer, 1961. p. 10. In 1959, John Canaday, then art critic for the New York Times, in his book, 'Embattled Critic" wrote in disgust with this kind of language, about a picture (it also appeared on TV.):
The huge central element, generally globular in shape, is the very apotheosis of the inertness of matter, while the small, stem-like trail that runs beneath it is abruptly terminated as if an attempted escape from the limitation of material things has been thwarted. . . . Obviously Denada's biomorphic suggestions hint in the main mass as Miro. But in place of Miro's witty vivacity, Denada employs an almost ponderous weightiness, of such power that where one's first reaction in front of Miro is delight, one responds to Denada with the abrupt realization that one's concept of the world id being challenged, and that an answer is being offered.
Unfortunately for those who took Canaday seriously, the whole thing was a spoof of contemporary art criticism. What he was discussing was a blown up photograph of a dripping tempera blob.
- Greenberg, Clement. quoted in Danto, Arthur, Embodied Meanings. N.Y.: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994. p. 364.
- Frank, Patrick. "A Fan's Guide to Art Criticism, in New Art Examiner. April, 1985. p. 24-25.
- N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 1967. p. 309.
- Bailey, Anthony. "The Art World," in The New Yorker, March 5, 1990. p. 48.
- Quoted in Werness, Hope, in Dutton, Denis (ed.) The Forger's Art. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif., 1983. pp. 30-31.