"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."
—Roy Batty, BLADERUNNER
Every time we open our eyes in the morning as each new day breaks, two worlds flow forth, each penetrating into the other, as the celestial portal gate separating them is once again raised. One’s inner world, of mind and being, pierces the outer world of light and raw data, seeking to hunt and gather mental sustenance. The outer world floods into our minds like a data tsunami, seeking to reconfigure the secret landscape of last night’s perfectly crafted dream state. Both worlds do battle to rearrange and make sense of the other. It is the yin and yang, by which we create and recreate the world – and the world invades and recreates each one of us. And the gatekeeper, in fact the very gate separating the two worlds we each inhabit, is the eyes. Is it any wonder that the eyes themselves are the subject of so much art?
The elaboration of the eyes through artistic eye make-ups runs the gamut from simple daily mascaras and eyeliners to the most astonishing painting, beading and artificial lensing. The eyes become an artwork in themselves – and then are photographed or drawn by an artist, becoming artworks that are the subject of other artworks. It is as if the instruments by which we take in the world to interpret it to ourselves are as much a fascination to us as the actual data they enable us to gather. So much of our art is a tribute to the eyes -- the eyes that are the very reason we can appreciate art in the first place.
Beyond the Importance of the Eyes
In our concept of primal beauty is the core notion of the eyes in our concept of mystery, of our need to decipher hidden information. And so the eyes are so ubiquitous in our symbology. From the back of a dollar bill to the sacred insignia of just about every religion or cult imaginable, you’re always sure to find an all-seeing eye. Even a “third eye” is invoked as the key to all knowledge. Sinister all-seeing “Big Brother” eyes have been a symbolic hallmark in movies from “Citizen Kane” to “Brazil” -- and let’s not forget to mention the “Eye Of Sauron.” In “Bladerunner”, characters’ eyes are examined as the only way to distinguish true humans from android “replicants,” and eyes serve as a central motif throughout, emphasizing the fragile veil separating our perceptions of “reality” and non-reality.
On the other hand, much of our art reflects the eyes as a positive symbol of our eternally seeking truth, beauty and enlightenment.
The Real and the Mythical
That is the conundrum of the eyes, of those “second star to the right” portal gates separating the two worlds – the “real” and the “mythical”, the world of the Inner Being and the world of the Outer Data Storm. Art is compelled to explore both. There is the artists’ impulse to capture the eyes of others, to record their beauty and magnetism, from the perspective of every human being’s condition of being forever “outside” all others, looking in. And in so doing achieve the impossibly rare but hopeful capture of a momentary remedy to the feeling of being alone in this world. And then there is the impulse to illuminate, often employing symbolism, sometimes as if painting with one’s own “third eye,” what it is to be forever locked in one’s own inner being, alone and looking out, trying to decipher the universal mysteries. In either case, Art will always seek to tell the story of our eyes, probably because, as Mark Twain so rightfully said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
"You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
Questions for the Reader:
- Are the eyes always the most powerful and compelling element of any photograph or other artistic representation of a human figure? Or can nudity, striking costuming or background effects overpower and diminish the primacy of the subjects’ eyes?
- Do you think elaborate eye make-ups can accentuate or spotlight the actual “essence” of an individual’s eyes – or are such creations only distractions or separate “messages” masking the true message in the subject’s eyes?
- What is about animals’ eyes that inspires so much artwork? Is it because of the connection that can be felt through the eyes that makes verbal communication unnecessary?
- Is the artist’s “exaggeration” of a subject’s eyes (making them larger or intensifying their color, etc) a legitimate form of poetic license?
What are your nominations for most amazing representations of eyes:
- Single eye or pairs of eyes in close-up.
- Eyes in a portrait of a face.
- Animal eyes.
- Symbolic eyes.
- Cartoon eyes.
Questions for Louis Schwartzberg:
Are you ever truly satisfied that a visual moment captured by your camera technology is equal to the vision of that moment as experienced through your own eyes? Or is the continuing desire to capture what cannot ever be captured - a moment seen through your eyes - the important thing? Is the essence of vision its inducement to want to infinitely see what's next?
For me it is like trying to catch a wave. You first have to be in the right place and time and anticipate the light and all the variable elements to capture the magic moment. And with the experience of knowing the tools of cinematography I try to enhance, compress, refocus, and intensify the emotional feeling I had at the moment I squeezed the trigger. The end result can be better than what the eye sees, because with additional post processing I continue to enhance the image and focus the emotional feeling into a purer and more intensive expression of the original visual moment.
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