Monday, November 13, 2006
Turner and Crary
"The work of Goethe, Schopenhauer, Ruskin, and Turner and many others are all indications that by 1840 the process of perception itself had become, in various ways, a primary object of vision. For it was this very process that the functioning of the camera obscura kept invisible. Nowhere else is the breakdown of the perceptual model of the camera obscura more decisively evident than in the late work of Turner. Seemingly out of nowhere, his painting of the late 1830s and 1840s signals the irrevocable loss of a fixed source of light, the dissolution of a cone of light rays, and the collapse of the distance separating an observer from the site fo optical experience. Instead of the immediate and unitary apprehension of an image, our experience of a Turner painting is lodged amidst an inescapable temporality. ... The sfumato of Leonardo, which had generated during the previous three centuries a counter-practice to the dominance of geometrical optics, is suddenly and overwhelmingly triumphant in Turner. But the substantiality he gives to the void between objects and his challenges to the integrity and identity of forms now coincides with a new physics: the science of fields and thermodynamics."
-- Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer (p. 138)
Wondering how to best figure this out so that I understand it viscerally: the historical chain of scientific progress, particularly in optics, opened up huge doors in our (Western) comprehension of visual and mental perception. By the time Impressionism rolled around, artists could claim this inspiration as physical, optical fact and inspiration. Eventually that proved not to be a satisfying parameter--the artists of 20th century modernism shaped the materials art to fit in visual perception their mental perceptions, i.e., expressionism in any and all of its forms. The movement from Impressionism to Expressionism was one that opened to floodgates of the mind/eye to science, then pushed the deluge back out into the world ...
(Sorry if the formatting is bad here.)