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Artist's Eyes: Vision and the History of Art

Overview

In this fascinating juxtaposition of science and art history, ophthalmologists Michael Marmor and James Ravin examine the role of vision and eye disease in art. They focus on the eye, where the process of vision originates, and investigate how aspects of vision have inspired and confounded many of the world's most famous artists.

Why do Georges Seurat's paintings appear to shimmer? How come the eyes in certain portraits seem to follow you around the room? Are the broad ...

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Overview

In this fascinating juxtaposition of science and art history, ophthalmologists Michael Marmor and James Ravin examine the role of vision and eye disease in art. They focus on the eye, where the process of vision originates, and investigate how aspects of vision have inspired and confounded many of the world's most famous artists.

Why do Georges Seurat's paintings appear to shimmer? How come the eyes in certain portraits seem to follow you around the room? Are the broad brushstrokes in Monet's Water Lilies due to cataracts? Could van Gogh's magnificent yellows be a result of drugs? How does eye disease affect the artistic process? Or does it at all? The Artist's Eyes considers these questions and more.Using key works of art as well as innovative illustrations that simulate different artists' vision, Marmor and Ravin shed new light on the story of art.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This engrossing, unusual nexus of science and art studies the evidence and impact of eye diseases on the creations of artists throughout history. Ophthalmologists Ravin (Toledo Coll. of Medicine) and Marmor (Stanford Sch. of Medicine) posit that when eye maladies alter optical perception, artists no longer see nor depict the world normally. They meticulously begin by exploring the eye's dynamic optical mechanisms, which can be functionally impinged by innumerable factors. Delving deeper into the topic brings them to address certain peculiarities in the work of specific artists—and it is at this point that the book becomes especially interesting. Stylistic changes in elderly masters are discussed and illustrated: Claude Monet's cataracts played a significant role in the appearance of his late Giverny work; the macular degeneration afflicting Georgia O'Keefe and Edgar Degas resulted in a degradation of style and eventual cessation of painting. There are many insights about others as well, including Chuck Close, Georges Seurat, James Thurber, and El Greco. The affect of disease upon the work of artists prior to the 1851 invention of the ophthalmoscope is more speculative, yet well informed by the extensive study Marmor and Ravin have put into this interdisciplinary field. VERDICT At once demonstrating how truly miraculous our sense of sight is, along with our resultant ability to produce great works of art, this book is itself a rare accomplishment. Highly recommended for all libraries.—Douglas F. Smith, Berkeley P.L., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810948495
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 686,254
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Michael Marmor is one of today' s leading experts in retinal disease and retinal physiology, and the author of more than 150 scientific papers. He is Professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine. He lives in Stanford, California. James Ravin is an opthamologist with an interest in the effects of illness on artists. His investigations have been featured on CNN, The Today Show, and in other national media. He lives in Toledo, Ohio.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Marriage of Science and Art

    THE ARTIST'S EYES: VISION AND HISTORY IN ART is an illuminating book written with intelligence and considerable insight by Drs. Michael Marmor and James Ravin who share the common threads of interest in their study of vision and the anatomy and physiology and function of the eye and their passion for art. The result is a book of great interest for scientists, art collectors, art historians, and student and practicing artists. The authors have presented the aspects of vision - the normal visual perception and all of its variations (astigmatism, nearsightedness, farsightedness, changes with age, use and lack of use of corrective lenses, diseases of the eye (glaucoma, cataracts, etc), and diseases of the body (metal poisoning, infection, drugs side effects, etc) that alter the manner in which the eye perceives and object. According to Cezanne 'Monet is only an eye, but what an eye!' and 'The sky is blue, no? It is Monet who discovered that.' Such quips are dusted throughout this fascinating book on how the eye functions and fails to function.

    Divided into chapters or sections that deal with variations of normal vision, each of these sections features artists whose impairments altered the way they viewed their subjects. 'Why do Georges Seurat's paintings appear to shimmer? Why is it that the eyes in certain portraits seem to follow you around the room? Are the broad brushstrokes in Monet's Water Lilies due to cataracts? Could van Gogh's magnificent yellows be a result of drugs? How does eye disease affect the artistic process? Or does it at all?' The authors discuss artists from Rembrandt to Chuck Close with the bulk of exploration being with the Impressionists - a fitting group to study as they were presenting impressions of the world through their eyes and less concerned with the camera obscura detail that fascinated earlier artists. A description of the effects of bilateral cataracts on Monet's painting is one of the longer episodes in this book: 'I no longer perceived colours with the same intensity, I no longer painted light with the same accuracy. Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate or lower tones escaped me. As for forms, they always appeared clear and I rendered them with the same decision. At first I tried to be stubborn. How many times ... have I stayed for hours under the harshest sun sitting on my campstool, in the shade of my parasol, forcing myself to resume my interrupted task and recapture the freshness that had disappeared from my palette! Wasted efforts. What I painted was more and more dark, more and more like an 'old picture', and when the attempt was over I compared it to former works, I would be seized by a frantic rage and slash all my canvases with my penknife.'

    At times the writing feels as though the artistic gifts of the artists discussed are too categorically described by disease or dysfunction of vision. Doubtless it added to the way they painted, but does it explain the special gifts of expression that have guaranteed them a place in visual history? There is a point when the arts can be 'explained ' by scientific method but beyond that is the quality of genius that filled the brains and hands of these gifted men, with or without perfect vision.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2010

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