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Transparent Eyeball - Perspectives No. 389

Transparent Eyeball

Perspectives No. 389

Transparent Eyeball, ca. 1836-38, Christopher Pearse Cranch
Transparent Eyeball   ca. 1836-38 Christopher Pearse Cranch

   Both Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892) were graduates of Harvard Divinity School and both served as ministers after their graduations. But both turned away from more traditional religious institutions and toward transcendentalism, a philosophical movement of which Emerson was a leader. The movement incorporated, among other tenets, what its believers saw as the sacred power of nature.

   The idea of the “transparent eyeball” was originated by Emerson to illustrate his belief that in becoming one with nature, one must become a transparent eyeball oneself—an eyeball that absorbs, rather than reflects, allowing the observer to perceive all of nature’s details. Emerson believed that one should experience solitude in nature to experience its power and that nature should not “be a toy to a wise spirit.”

Landscape with Couple Boating, 1860, Christopher Pearse Cranch
Landscape with Couple Boating   1860   Christopher Pearse Cranch

   To illustrate Emerson’s transparent eyeball concept, Cranch created a caricature. Cranch was a poet, caricaturist and landscape painter. His paintings were in the style of the Hudson River school, perhaps influenced by the Barbizon school in France, but, his most well-remembered artwork is this simple hand-drawn caricature.

   Whether an artist is searching for a religious experience when painting nature or not, spending a prolonged time working en plein air does have its revelations. The longer that we spend quietly watching and working outdoors, the more we see. As Nature slowly reveals herself, the notion of "the transparent eyeball" becomes clear. Non-judgemental seeing beyond our familiar labels for objects opens us up to a larger, more varied and interesting world. It is not easy to do, but with patience, we find ourselves suddenly noticing colors, details and even new compositions which we were not even aware of at first glance. As has sometimes happened to us, we might even exclaim, “Was that rock always there?” We do well to try to use our eyes to absorb all that nature has to offer. It is bound to inform our art in wondrous ways.




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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