When thinking about a possible questions for my dissertation I knew I was drawn to the works of the 19th century artist; Paul Cezanne. I love his method of applying paint to canvas and I’m interested in the contrast of the critical understanding in the ideas behind his works and the artist himself. And more specifically wanted to write about the way in which modern day research into human perception has altered our understanding of the artists intentions and methods of depicting the truth in visual experience, with regards to the phenomenology of perspective. I wanted to explore these ideas further and see for myself how much they can be used a justification for Cezanne’s art making.
Although I have always been fascinated by Cezanne’s methodology of creating art, in order to achieve a comprehensive grasp on this I intended to compare the juxtaposing viewpoints of critics over the passage of time who attempt to decipher his concepts and methods of painting, creating a cross-analysis from his contemporaries to modern day critics, especially when dealing with the artists handling of perspective. The reason I wanted to write about Cezanne’s influence on depicting visual space was because I felt the ‘master of Aix’ methods of conveying an experience of nature were revolutionary for his time, and is still relevant now. Cezanne’s work has always been integral to my artistic practice and I always find myself referring back to his paintings, if I’m not inspired by the subject matter I’m always inspired by his method of constructing his sensation of visual truth on the canvas and bringing harmony to the composition of his painting. I love the way he brings form into realisation through firstly breaking it everything down to their most simple geometric form and then he uses the gradual tonal gradation of colour to construct his objects. He usually applies his paint through same directional hatchings of colour, this technique would be used to compose the entire construct of his painting so that form and background are integrated into each other through colour. This then creates an ambiguity as to when the form ends and the background begins. I believe this was important because It really hones in on the idea that in our nature everything is connected through colour, what we perceive in nature is just a fluctuation of hues across the surface of the environment and it is our understanding of nature that separates everything into recognizable forms. Cezanne also does this by doing away with the outline of objects, like in nature we do not see an all-encompassing outline that separates things, instead we see a tonal gradation of colours, so Cezanne has instead used repetitive outlines to suggest where forms end and It is up to us as the viewer to decide where the outline is, like in real visual perception. There is also suggestions of contradicting viewpoints within his paintings to suggest visual perception moving across the surface of a landscape. One could find something new to consider every time they look at his painting. This is probably why there are many different interpretations of Cezanne and I have grown an interest in the development of these concepts and how they came to realization, this was the premise of choosing my question.
I was aware that Cezanne was one of the first to radically breakaway from the classical means of depicting pictorial space because it did not satisfy him as a means of creating a true representation of nature. However after tutorials with John Clarkson and through some research that was recommended I soon realized that although Cezanne is considered by many to be the father of modern art the debt he owed to classical art is evident in his use of pictorial constructing. It was later clear when comparing his paintings with the works of the classical artist Nicolas Poussin through visual analysis we can see clear mirroring in the way Cezanne has arranged his composition with pictorial understanding of space. For example like Poussin , he has used the motifs in his painting to frame his landscape and complement each other this is part of what brings harmony to the entire paintings. This revelation changed my standpoint whilst I was writing, I now feel like his means of depicting our sensation of visual truth was done through the use of his instantaneous perception and then with an awareness of classical understanding make solid forms of the objects he perceived in a composition that would bring harmony to the 2d depiction of his 3d subjective reality in accordance with mathematically/scientifically measured space.
I was also surprised to discover the debt Pablo Picasso and George Braque owed to the master of Aix, it is believed that Cezanne was a major influence to the birth of Cubism. I found that looking at Cubist paintings, (which I believe are an exaggeration of Cezanne’s means of depicting visual space) gave me a clearer understanding of ideas behind Cezanne’s concepts. In cubist paintings we see a total breakdown of forms into their simplest geometrical forms and the breakdown between subject and background (compressing the depth of the pictorial space) This suggests a new means of representing the truth of visual space as it pushes the boundaries of questioning how our eyes perceive reality. We can’t see outlines, instead we see everything as a flux of hues which tonally changes over the surface of our vision, it is our understanding that separates everything into recognizable objects and both Cubists and Cezanne were searching for a means of seeing with a naivety of vision.
I have read commentaries from Emile Bernard and Emile Zola who both believed in Cezanne’s talent but later believed that his temper and his manifestation with his ideas behind painting ultimately caused his failure. I found that Marleau-Ponty believes that Cezanne relied ultimately on instantaneous perception to depict his reality. However I’m not sure that, since looking at Cezanne’s similarities with Poussin, he was unaware of the importance of constructing a composition. Also when we consider the writings of Michael Podro, he states that Cezanne, through his paintings of distortion was creating visuals cues that forced the viewer to participate in recognizing the object depicted, in the same way as in natural perception, we cannot see every single detail but it is then down to our understanding and knowledge to recognize the object, this is also seen in synthetic Cubism. A deconstruction of a motif where the audience would recognize elements in the painting to then construct the whole image from within their own perception. Pepperell also questions the accuracy of using linear perspective to depict human experience of visual space. He questions if it is different to how we actually perceive visual reality, for example when we concentrate on an object it appears larger to our perception, this does not adhere to the laws of linear perspective. Ultimately despite the contrast of critical ideas on Cezanne I believe the major critics that I have looked at show Cezanne’s motivation was attempting to depict nature truthfully and was trying to find new means of resembling how we perceive nature in real vision through art.
Although I have found writing this essay very challenging as I’m stronger at expressing ideas through painting rather than academic writing I’m pleased with what I have achieved as I feel I have learnt so much more about Cezanne’s works and the gravity of the ideas he was working under. Writing this essay has also impacted my ideas of making art, I believe it is important when painting to consider the harmony that can be created through composition, the application of colour and pictorial space, however it is also important to create a connection with the viewer to expresses your own perception of reality. I realise there is strength in creating an intimacy between painting and viewer, regardless of which medium you work in. The research I have done on instantaneous perception has directly impacted my subject work and my method of working. I now feel that being too precious about how ‘correct’ you can depict an object doesn’t make for the strongest results, being looser with the application of paint allows creativity to flow more and could be a closer representation of nature through creating an instant portrayal of our perception.