Reading an article a student sent me about the fly on Pence’s head during the vice presidents debate, and how flies have been used through the centuries in paintings, made me think about the importance of art. Art makes us reflect on the deeper meaning of things that happen in the world.
Flies have long held symbolic meaning in the history of art. In portraits made in Renaissance Europe, the presence of a fly symbolizes the transience of human life. In the great scheme of things, our lives are no longer than that of a fly.
For me as a painter of ‘trompe l’oeils’, the article was a moment to reflect not only on the history of flies in western painting, but to begin considering how much we like to be deceived.
This deception of reality by painters, the so called ‘trompe l’oeil’, has been a part of my life as a painter. Trompe l’oeil, meaning “fool or deceive the eye,” is a French term for paintings that imitate natural appearances so convincingly that viewers momentarily mistake the object depicted for the real thing.
The moment of deception, however, is brief. Uncertainty over what is real and what is illusion is soon replaced by amusement at having been tricked and admiration for the artists’ ingenuity and skill.
Both witty and serious, trompe l’oeil is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.
In all illusionistic paintings, painted objects look like their real counterparts; in trompe l’oeils, the painted object appears to be the thing itself. To achieve this deception, objects are rendered life size, in their natural colors, and in their entirety. Most trompe l’oeils are also meticulously painted with smooth brushwork that conceals any trace of the artist’s presence. Artists increased their chances of deceiving viewers by mimicking what people expected to see. Life-size figures appear to reach out of the picture plane or pull our eye into a spatial realm that seems to lie behind it–contradicting the fact that the picture is a flat, painted surface.
In my classes the first goal for beginners is to translate the three dimensional reality on a two dimensional piece of paper. In later classes we practice the illusion of a third dimension through observing the shadows and light on the object of our choosing. This is all I am teaching. This is the true mastery of learning to draw and it is fascinating to me. Why don’t you try it yourself? It is fun and it transports you temporarily out of the burdens of reality.
The hand touched a flat surface; but the eye, still seduced, saw relief; to the extent that one could have asked a philosopher, which of these two contradictory senses was a liar?