Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

I See: Sfumato, Anamorphism, Explosions, and Suchness

Artists and Object-Making in the Art Market

Notes for Subject A, Semester One #exMFA. from Leonardo’s Brain by Leonard Shlain

So the Memorial Day weekend had me a bit distracted. It’s been four days since I spent time with this material and it’s starting to fade. I’m coming back to the quotes I selected on this subject & the few notes I have on them. What I was looking for in these selections from the book was the way that artists have a unique ability to see. Here, I focus on how Da Vinci was able to see the world in a way that surpassed the observations and visual record that preceded him. Besides being supremely gifted, he seems to have been led by insatiable curiosity and determination to see & record directly from the source material, not being limited by how or what others had observed in their work, but really looking from his own perspective, answering his own questions. As an artist, I note that I need to bring myself to that moment of “suchness”, observing with my own eyes, my own experience, my own total perception, bringing these observations to my work in a way that only I can do. Coming back to the subject I’m focusing on, the object-making in the art market, I’m reminded again that this process has nothing to do with where I plan to show the work, or how I will sell it. The focus is on the seeing process & bringing that to my making process.

Sfumato: the technique of allowing tones and colors to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms.

Anamorphism: a distorted projection or perspective; especially an image distorted in such a way that it becomes visible only when viewed in a special manner

Explosions: multiple views of the same object shown simultaneously

Suchness: also, Tathatā, is variously translated as “thusness”. It is a central concept in Buddhism, and is of particular significance in Zen Buddhism… As no moment is exactly the same, each one can be savored for what occurs at that precise time, whether it is thought of as being “good” or “bad”.

“Although he was not the first artist to make this observation regarding the nuances of perspective, Leonardo’s mastery of sfumato so surpassed any other artist that his name is inextricably associated with the technique.” pg.49

“Carrying sfumato to the extreme, Leonardo began to blur the distinction between figure and ground by blending, ever so subtly, the borders of his figures with the surrounding ground.As his work progressed, it became increasingly unclear where one began and the other ended.” pg.64

“He felt constrained by the monocular view demanded by perspective. He sought a way to show multiple points of view of the same object, simultaneously. He needed a better way to envision the relationships of parts to the whole, and to each other.” pg.59

“He solved the problem of how to demonstrate the many different sides of an anatomical feature simultaneously and the relationship of parts to contiguous structure by inventing the exploded view. Leonardo drew the same object on the same page but rendered it from different angles of vision, thus allowing a viewer to envision simultaneously multiple aspects of the same object.” pg.59

“At the heart of all these works in the principle of conveying information about an object’s suchness (to borrow a term from Zen.)” pg.59

“At the age of twenty-one, Leonardo paused on a hill overlooking a valley near his hometown of Vinci. Moved by the sheer beauty of the scene, he used pen, ink, and some watercolors for shading to quickly sketch in that fleeting moment all that his restless eye surveyed (Val d’Arno).” pg. 45

“While working at the French court, Leonardo… [invented] anamorphism, a form of painting that distorts perspective so that the anamorphic (distorted) object, when viewed in the conventional manner from the front of the painting, appears either grossly distorted or as it would in a funhouse mirror. In most cases, [it is] unrecognizable. When viewed from an extreme angle off to the side, however, the anamorphic object springs out of what is a markedly distorted main image to appear realistically drawn.” pg.49.

%d bloggers like this: