Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Victor Shklovsky, who was a pretty smart guy, wrote:
Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife... and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things.... The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects unfamiliar, to make forms difficult.
It's easy to understand what he means when you look at these brilliant pictures by illustrator and watercolorist Winslow Homer.

If you saw a boy in the woods with dogs, your eyes would recognize the subject and move on. But aaahhh, not so fast. Look at the wonderful service Homer has performed for you:

He has made commonplace objects unfamiliar, merging the patches of color on the dogs with the patches of color on the leaves. By showing us the abstract design in the world, Homer "increased the difficulty and length of our perception."

These stray branches would not be nearly so astonishing if Homer had not studied them with new eyes:

Another example is Homer's lovely watercolor of two girls standing in an orchard:

Homer seems to say. "Have you noticed the effect of the bonnets illuminated white from above and pink from behind? Or the shapes created by the dappled sunlight on their blouses?"

Your mind habitually allocates just enough attention to low hanging branches to keep you from walking into them. Homer shows you a display of leafy illumination that puts the grandest stain glass window to shame:

These pictures make you realize the extent to which we stumble like sleepwalkers through a world of familiar sights.