View Full Version : Reality and faith

09-12-2003, 07:05 AM
I seek to express my own faith without trying too hard, in the belief it has to be a natural flowing out through the brush. However, there is something more for me. There is the reality we all see which Hindus call Illusion, although it is solid enough for me. It does seem that the real is something else behind the surface. Sorry that doesn't express the idea very well. This is what I seek to show. So far my work is just getting more real to life as we know it naturally.

I have tried to express it here, but am not at all sure if I have the question let alone the answer. Maybe I'm just barking up a gum tree. I'd like to discuss it anyway.


The Other in Art
One day Monet was taking a walk with a child through a field, as no doubt he had done many times before. Suddenly he had one of those rare defining moments, which even for the atheistic artist must have seemed almost like an epiphany. On this afternoon the landscape was different, for there was a certain something which demanded to be caught on canvas. The child was made to go back and get the paints, however, as any artist will know, the light changes very quickly and the essence of what Monet had seen with it. Yet from that afternoon Monet would produce paintings of haystacks, which critics agree, have an intangible sense of otherness.

Perhaps most of us have had such experiences for that brief moment in time when nature has seemed more intense and beautiful. We may wonder if it was the warm breeze on a twilight evening, the redolence of a meadow, and the sound of bees gathering pollen, or heat haze over a field. An emotion is provoked within us, which seems to have new depth, yet so very often the moment passes and we pass on our way untouched. Or was it something of nature opening itself to us, something in another dimension we cannot see?

It was in 1922 that a young physicist Kuluza teamed up with a mathematician Klein offering a theory, which should have changed to face of all science. Kaluza himself had one of those rare moments when he realised that there is in fact another dimension behind the three known to our cognitive awareness. This new theory was mostly ignored at the time, yet now physicists are indicating as many as 26 mathematically proven dimensions. These String Theories are far from complete and the math amazingly complex, yet they have now entered into the mainstream of science. Other physicists and mathematicians such as Roger Penrose and John Wheeler are trying to push science far beyond the limitations of human understanding where things are not computable. They say that nature and indeed the universe has more to do with human consciousness than we had realised. Wheeler seems to be saying that matter only exists at all when observed. Clearly Wheeler is too down to earth than to mean the moon only exists because we can see it. Possibly he is struggling with some idea just outside the field of his own intellectual awareness, which is presently defying expression.
No doubt the light, which is so very important to painters, exists in another dimension where it is invisible. What we see is simply the interaction of light with matter. Sound is nothing but variations in air pressure striking our eardrums. Our sensory organs send messages to the brain, which then processes the information to make of it what, it will, and we know much of that depends on our own cultural inheritance. Artists such as Monet and Manet were setting out to record nature and the world before them as they saw it. Often this would mean breaking free from the way almost everybody else saw things, as they strove to understand what really was before their eyes.
During the centuries before artists had tried to paint reality. Jan Van Eyk in the early Quattro Centro had produced a hyper real style of painting, although his aim was clearly not to show the viewer reality at all. He had statues of virgins who would climb down and walk through an imaginary cathedral, and the faithful of those days had actually claimed to have seen such things. Importantly many other artists took up the technique in order to paint some resemblance of reality. Further on in the Renaissance artists had dropped the superstition and belief in hallucinations. The virgin who might be the artists own wife had much less of a stylised face and her body was undistorted. Perspective had been understood scientifically, and the way light works in shadows perceived.

The impressionists were certainly aware of these things at they studied the old masters. However, their idea of reality was not necessarily in showing detail. It was their first sight of a scene, which mattered, the essence of what was before their eyes. They used the Renaissance discoveries, for example, of how it is not simply possible to cast a shadow by laying down a glaze of blue paint. In the shadows things are seen with softness, obscuration is at play, tonal variations are subtle, and colour works differently. In spite of the rapidly changing light they were able to use to the advantage of tube paints to observe and paint nature directly, out of the studio. We may feel that the time of impressionism is past and all done, but should we not learn the same lessons.

Our eyes first look at a scene, on which every small detail capable of being resolved is transmitted to the visual cortex. The brain in a fraction of a second, after which the first impression is given, processes this incredible amount of information. We do not actually perceive all the detail, as our brain will have edited out the unnecessary. After this we usually select detail as a conscious function. We will all walk along a certain street and see things according to our own mind set. A lawyer asking the various witnesses to a street crime for hard evidence would no doubt bear this out. However, we do know that our brains can be trained to see far more than is normally the case.

It would seem that our first lesson would be to like Monet and take those rare moments of heightened awareness seriously, accepting them as natures invitation to learn how we should see. It is an exciting possibility, which can open up a whole new world. Yet how can we capture that otherness? If it truly is an intangible, a reality working in other dimensions possibly affecting our own, is this possible? Water colourists especially will tell us that much of what they do is happy accident as the paint spreads over the paper of its own accord. Certainly the brush strokes are not entirely controlled by the intellect and we usually find our greatest success by relaxing our minds and hands in a sense of play. The constant training of exercises will then pay off. The answer must be in loving and absorbing the essence of what we paint, then being passionate about the paint itself as it goes onto the canvas. This is not to say that we should like Pollock, go into some kind of Dervish trance, or like Clifford Still take up New Age activities in order to paint. Still and Rothko were concerned with expressing their own inner states not what they saw before their eyes. Figurative artists may well want to use their unconscious, but will need the mind to be boss. Anybody who wants a case for the necessity of inner vision should think of Monet again. Practically blind, he produced what is arguably his most profound work. Telling a child to select his tube of colour he would then put paint to canvas and so the masterpiece. And is not the great artist the one who pursues his or her vision regardless of the cost or difficulty.

Here Monet, 60 years old, describes his difficulty: "Other artists paint a house, a boat, a bridge, and that's the end. They've finished. I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat, the beauty of the air in which these objects are located, and that is nothing short of impossible. If only I could satisfy myself with what is possible."

Sources: sorry, forgot I have actually tried to give thoughts which might be verified from academically suitable sources rather than just offer a subjective opinion. They are available online, or in the Rugby library. Van Eyk, The Play of Reality, Harbinger, Reaktion Books Monet: Quote from Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tiede 1895, used by Denvir, Thames and Hudson, 1993.

09-12-2003, 01:43 PM
This gives me much to think about. I'd be interested in reading more of your "barking."

I've have had a terrible time in trying to capture that certain essence of reality and the intangible stream of synaptic responses that go with it (as I experienced it). I'm sure there is an expression/phrase for it in another language -- much better than what I tried to get across. :)

Oh, to be able to master time and perceive all dimensions at one's leisure! You'll probably find me over in the corner staring at my hand, wondering if it's really there and puzzling how it came to be.

09-12-2003, 03:37 PM
I don't seem to be getting very far with this, but have been writing a sci-fi novel which deals with the subject. Virtual Reality may cause us to ask what is reality at all. If we do get immersed in Virtual reality, which from what I've read seems unadvisable, is there then something else? You seem to have read Penrose, or something like it.

I could get obsessed with this idea, so have to let it go and relax a bit.


09-12-2003, 04:54 PM
Thanks Mikey, for a very thought provoking and well written thread. As artists, we have a unique opportunity to show others this 'other world' that we see, because many adults, even many artists, accept the photograph as the beginning and end of reality.

As your statements imply, there is much much more than just the light that hits a camera's lens, or even our own eyes. The fact that we infuse even televised shadows with our own input, getting angry or sad for characters we know to be fictitious, should illustrate how interactive even the most sanitary observations really are.

It may be thought that an artist faces an impossible task if they are trying to convey this other reality. But to my thinking, what we really convey, when we are successful, is a reflection, interpretation or distillation of our subject, whether it is a landscape, person, dream, or something else, as it resonates in our own minds.


Keith Russell
09-12-2003, 05:54 PM
What I've read about superstring theory states that eleven dimensions are necessary, in order for certain methematical equations to work.

Most, if not all, of these dimensions are extremely small, existing an the vibrations of the smallest particles of matter/energy yet theorized.

While it may be interesting to imagine such things strictly as a visual or creative exercise, even if such things exist, they don't even much of an indirect impact on the lives, thoughts, ideas, and values of human beings.

And, for me at least, art is the most interesting when it relates to human lives--both inner and outer.

Mikey said:
"I seek to express my own faith without trying too hard, in the belief it has to be a natural flowing out through the brush."

Keith: There are many definitions of 'faith'. To what, specifically, do you refer, by your use of the word 'faith' in the above sentence?

Mikey: However, there is something more for me. There is the reality we all see which Hindus call Illusion, although it is solid enough for me. It does seem that the real is something else behind the surface.

Keith: What evidence suggests to you that 'it does seem that the real is something else behind the surface'?


09-12-2003, 06:02 PM
A good point, but scientists seem reluctant or unable to deal with the relevance of String Theories on the macro scale. I think Penrose et al with his ideas of gravity and the mind (have I got that right) are making a brave attempts to tie a few things together. We might, of course, ask if so much of this is truly science and how much.


Keith Russell
09-12-2003, 06:05 PM
Mikey, claims are not 'science'. The scientific (or, at least, the 'rational') approach is to present a falsifiable theory, and to accept it only if there is substantial evidence to support it, and little or no evidence that contradicts it.


09-13-2003, 02:39 AM
Hi Keith,

Penrose et al are not doing true science, however even the Theory of Relativity was not really considered as such until it was proved by gravitational lensing. However, most theories begin with an idea. If, as Penrose says, certain things are not computable then we are in trouble. If I'm writing Science Fiction it only has to be convincing, yet I would rather write truths, or at least make it clear I only raise questions.

I'm off for the weekend now, but would like to continue this discussion next week. I think the new ideas on gravity are worth consideration.


Keith Russell
09-13-2003, 06:27 PM
Mikey, even before Einstein's theories were proved (or even supported by evidence) they were falsifiable, they were scientific theories that could be proven right or wrong.

The idea that our perceptions do not provide an accurate picture of 'reality', or the belief that 'reality' is utterly inaccessible to human beings, is not a scientific one, since it cannot be falsified.

There is no way to prove that concept right or wrong, since it questions the very things whose accuracy would determine the answers to the question in the first place: the senses, and the validity of the perceptions they provide.


PS, the word 'faith' can refer to several different concepts. Which concept you have in mind, isn't terribly clear.

Could you please explain in more detail what you mean by 'faith' in your first post, and the title of this thread?


09-14-2003, 05:45 PM
Hi Keith,

I became a Fundemental Christian in a Pentecostal Church many years ago. Being a creative, original thinker (no comment on quality of output) I had a few problems, but tried to conform. This gave me more problems. Not to worry about that, or Adam and Eve being the first two actual people. Some bright spark asks, so who did Cain marry, well not his unmentioned sister, surely not? That wouldn't do at all would it. Having got that out of the way, I regard such discussion as pointless. We should get to the real intent and meaning of what is written.

I'm having to assume that you know a whole lot more about science than I do and this make you a useful person to talk with. You may be aware of the latest type of thesis about gravity and the grid, bosuns and all that kit. So here I touch on your previous question: what have String Theories got to do with us on an everyday practical level. I think it may be more the other way round. What are we humans doing the the underlying strucure of this planet? I few simple nuclear explosions shouldn't make too much difference, after all we understand that volcanoes are very powerful. Yet I do suspect something amiss.

Getting back to faith and I admit my terms were indeed obscure, so take the word entropy. You may disagree, but it seems to me that the curse after the Fall of man was entropy. Apart from wind and animals mankind had largely to rely on his own muscles for power. Almost every attempt to overcome these limitations has resulted in increasing problems. This is too obvious, so let's leave it there.

Now another aspect of faith, Paul tells us, and I hope that you are not a chapter and verse type, that God's word holds the worlds together. Most of my brethren will be happy with that. Maybe I should as well. This would presumably mean that God the creator is still the force behind the grid of photons which scientists are talking about. Presumably we'll never get to proving that either way and it matters not to my personal faith, which is not based on such knowledege.

As you seem to say, it's going to be impossible to come to the point of a useful scientific hypothesis in the way I have attempted to lay down my terms. My point is, can we as creatives come to an understanding, or should I say some kind of awareness of these things. Can such things be described in visual, or verbal terms. We might just have to say that the things some of us feel or have an awareness of will either have to be described with metaphors, are beyond human cognition. Just maybe nature, or God, will not open up any such secrets. Doesn't the possibilty of tapping the resources of the Universe for free energy terrify you? It does me. OK my Philosophy is even worse than my science. My brain is made of cotton wool these days.

By the way I've just had a great weekend in Gloucester and have just got back.


Keith Russell
09-14-2003, 09:30 PM
Mikey, me, a 'chapter and verse' kinda guy?

Not hardly. (LOL.)

As an atheist, I enjoy finding the contradictions, but don't really care about either chapter or verse.

As for your question:
"Doesn't the possibilty of tapping the resources of the Universe for free energy terrify you?"

Are you kidding? No more electric bills? No more having to buy batteries?

Terrified by the thought? No, I'm ecstatic!